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Showing Someone Else Committed a Drug Crime in Massachusetts

pills-707274-m.jpgIn Massachusetts, there are five different categories of controlled substances that are grouped based on their composition. Class A includes designer drugs and heroin. Class B includes methamphetamine, cocaine, ecstasy, and oxycodone (obtained without a prescription). Class C includes various hallucinogenic drugs and prescription narcotics like Vicodin. Class D includes marijuana and phenobarbitol. Class E includes prescription drugs that have weak amounts of morphine and other opiates. Except for one ounce of marijuana, possession of any of these can lead to severe criminal penalties.

Generally in Massachusetts, a criminal defendant can use evidence that tends to show somebody else committed a crime or had opportunity, motive or intent to commit the crime in order to exculpate themselves. However, it can be difficult to introduce evidence that is overly speculative on this point. In a recent non-precedential case, a defendant appealed from his drug crime convictions. He argued that the judge shouldn’t have excluded evidence of a third-party culprit and permitted testimony that the defendant was investigated for drugs.

The issue in this case was whether the defendant was in constructive possession of drugs found in an apartment bedroom in 2009. The defendant tried to blame the son of the primary apartment-dweller. He wanted to admit non-hearsay evidence that the son had been arrested for selling crack cocaine there 3 1/2 months after the search warrant had been executed. The son had been contacted by the police on the home phone and had been witnessed coming and going.

The appellate court explained that claims of impropriety in excluding third-party culprit evidence are reviewed to determine if an error was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. It explained that hearsay evidence on the issue of whether a third party was the culprit that does not fall with a hearsay exception is allowed only if the judge believes: it is otherwise relevant, won’t prejudice the jurors, and there are other substantial connecting links to the crime. Even if it is not hearsay, the evidence must tend to prove the issue that is raised by the defense and cannot be overly speculative.

The evidence regarding the son in this case was found to be too speculative. There was a 3 1/2 month gap, and selling drugs did not in and of itself distinguish the son as the culprit of this particular drug crime. The court explained that if there had been evidence showing the son had access to the apartment when the search warrant was executed, the arrest for a drug crime would not have been overly speculative. This evidence would have shown he had access to the same apartment and sold drugs there. However, the defendant had not offered this evidence.

The defendant had also presented hearsay statements about booking reports that showed his address was actually his mother’s apartment. The court also found these too remote and noted they didn’t create a substantial connection between the son and the apartment in that month.

In criminal trials, the prosecution can introduce out-of-court statements to show what the police knew if it’s based on the police officer’s own knowledge, is limited to those facts required to establish the police officer’s knowledge, and is just those facts needed to establish the officer’s state of knowledge.

The defendant argued that what the Commonwealth tried to present was inadmissible hearsay. The evidence was that the target of the drug evidence was a 6-foot-tall black man in this 30s who went by the street name Kevin. The appellate court disagreed, explaining that an arresting officer should not have to suggest he just happened to find the defendant. The jury would be wondering why the police had aggressively executed the search warrant and searched the defendant. Rather, the police officer needed to be allowed an explanation for why he was at the scene. In this case, the police had used surveillance outside the apartment and had seen the defendant who matched the target description that was to be introduced into evidence. The appellate court affirmed the conviction.

If you were arrested for a drug crime, contact the Law Office of Patrick J. Murphy today to discuss your Massachusetts criminal charges. Call us at 617-367-0450 or through this website.

More Blog Posts:

U.S. Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Defendant in Mandatory Minimum Case Alleyne v. U.S., Boston Criminal Defense Lawyer Blog, published December 19, 2013
Court of Appeals Ruling Affirms Prior Conviction Record Insufficient to Establish Identity, Boston Criminal Defense Lawyer Blog, published December 11, 2013