Search and Seizure

Nervousness Isn't Probable Cause

Massachusetts court says police can't search a vehicle just because a driver shakes like a leaf


For many drivers, being pulled over can be traumatic. A nervous reaction to the sound of a siren, flashing lights in the rear view mirror and a trooper at the window asking for license and registration does not, however, justify a search of that motorist's automobile, according to the Massachusetts Court of Appeals.

On Thursday, a three-judge panel considered the case of Jeromie Johnson who did not react well on April 30, 2009 when Boston police Officers Dennis Medina and Brian Ball and State Trooper William Cameron pulled him over in the Roxbury section of town, allegedly for making a rolling right-hand turn on red without signaling. When asked for his license, Johnson's hands were shaking and he "fumbled with his wallet." He did not look at the officer at his window, but his hands always remained within sight and he made no furtive gestures.