Search and Seizure: Fourth Amendment Allows Questioning Bus Passengers

The Massachusetts Court of Appeals provided some welcome clarity to its Fourth Amendment jurisprudence regarding the issue of what may constitute a “seizure” when officers board a bus in order to question a passenger. In Commonwealth v. Browning (Appeals Court 20-P-240), Boston police, during their investigation of a series of late-night robberies, noticed a bus passenger matching the description of the robber. The officers recognized the passenger as their suspect and arrested him. The Court of Appeals found that officers do not engage in a “seizure” of the suspect by boarding the bus at its usual bus stop, even though the suspect could not leave the bus once it was in motion.

Cities and towns in western Massachusetts often see lawsuits involving damages claims for civil rights and Fourth Amendment cases under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. If your officers are facing a lawsuit from an aggrieved bus passenger, the Browning case may form the basis for a qualified immunity argument.

DWPM’s municipal attorneys have a wealth of knowledge of municipal law, including many years of experience with cases brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Please contact our attorneys if you need assistance with any municipal law matters.

Author: Diana Day, Esq.