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Criminal Defense-Vehicle Exit Orders

Do you know your rights if you have been stopped by a police officer within a vehicle? Do you know when a police officer can properly request that you exit your vehicle? The following blog briefly touches upon vehicle exit orders under Massachusetts law. If you have been charged with a crime after being stopped by the police, contact Lake Shore Legal and allow one of our attorneys to assist you with your criminal defense.

Article 14 of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights and the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution provide certain protections to individuals who have been stopped within their vehicles by police.  The US Supreme Court and the Supreme Judicial Court in Massachusetts have long held that individuals enjoy a lesser expectation of privacy in their vehicles. As with the Terry stop of a person, police officers may stop a vehicle in order to conduct a threshold inquiry if they have a reasonable suspicion that the occupants have committed, are committing, or are about to commit a crime. The police officer’s suspicion must be based upon specific, articulable facts and reasonable inferences drawn from them. A mere hunch by the police officer is not sufficient.

If you have been stopped by the police, whether for a civil motor vehicle infraction or other offense, a police officer may in certain circumstances make an “exit order” requesting that you exit your vehicle. The Fourth Amendment allows police considerable latitude in ordering an occupant out of a vehicle stopped for a routine traffic stop. However, under Article 14 of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights, the exit order rule is much more constrained. Massachusetts case law holds that police may not order a driver or a passenger from a vehicle in a routine civil motor vehicle stop unless there is reasonable apprehension of danger to the officers or the general public. This does not mean that the police officer must have specific articulable facts that the driver or passenger is armed and dangerous, but rather specific facts that in the totality of the circumstances there is a reasonable apprehension of danger. It should be noted that mere nervous behavior by the driver or passenger without more is not sufficient to allow a police officer to request an exit order. If an exit order has been made in violation of Article 14, any evidence gathered by the police would be subject to a Motion to Suppress under the “Fruits of the Poisonous Tree” doctrine.

What happens if your vehicle has been stopped and police walk a canine around the vehicle? The US Supreme Court has found that a dog sniff of a lawfully stopped vehicle is not a search in the constitutional sense, because a dog sniff does not infringe upon a constitutionally protected privacy interest. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court has also held that an exterior sniff of a properly stopped vehicle is not a search within the meaning of Article 14. Therefore, if you have been stopped within a vehicle for either criminal activity or a civil motor vehicle infraction, the police are allowed to perform an exterior dog sniff of the vehicle without an infringement upon your right to privacy. If the dog sniff alerts the police to criminal activity, such facts and circumstances likely allow the police to order an exit order from the vehicle and a subsequent search of the vehicle.

Additionally, with the decriminalization of marijuana in 2008 many individuals became curious as to their protection within a vehicle that contained marijuana. The mere presence of marijuana odor emanating from a vehicle no longer suggests that a crime is being committed in Massachusetts. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court has held that “the odor of burnt marijuana alone cannot reasonably provide suspicion of criminal activity to justify an exit order.” The Supreme Judicial Court later extended its ruling to unburnt marijuana in 2014.  Additionally, while possession of an ounce or less of marijuana remains illegal under federal law, the Supreme Judicial Court has rejected an argument that the federal law may be used to justify a search based upon the odor of marijuana within a vehicle.


If you have been stopped by the police and a subsequent search of your vehicle resulted in the finding of potential illegal items contact Lake Shore Legal. Our attorneys can review the specific facts of your case from the legality of the stop, to whether an exit order was done properly, and if the search of the vehicle was legal. With proper knowledge of the law and facts our attorneys can discuss the potential for a Suppression Motion in your case and the most effective means to defend you moving forward during the criminal proceeding.

Contact Lake Shore Legal today. (508)943-7800;

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