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Application of the Plain View Doctrine in Massachusetts Drug Crime Case

bedroomIn Commonwealth v. Dow, a defendant appealed after being convicted of multiple counts, including possession of a class B substance under G. L. c. 94C, § 34, a class C substance under G. L. c. 94C, § 34, illegally possessing a firearm and ammunition, possessing without a firearm identification card, and possessing a large capacity feeding device.

The police had searched the defendant’s home after applying for and receiving a search warrant. The detective on the case had been an officer since 2001 and had experience with narcotics cases. He received a tip from a confidential informant that the defendant was selling cocaine from his cars. The informant told the detective detailed information about the cars and the defendant’s apartment. During 2011, the informant made four controlled buys of cocaine from the defendant, and during three of them, the police saw the defendant go from his apartment to the purchase location without stopping. The informant came back to the police station without stopping and handed them cocaine.

At that point, a warrant was obtained to search the defendant’s apartment. The warrant covered all class B substances, as well as paraphernalia and any materials used to prepare cocaine, money used to buy or sell cocaine, and personal property. While searching, the police found a $40 bag of cocaine, half of a Suboxone pill, a cell phone, and over $1,500. They also seized paraphernalia, $11,000, guns, ammunition, and a pill box filled with four different kinds of prescription drugs.

The prosecution presented testimony from a chemist about the drugs that were seized, both the prescription drugs and the cocaine. A primary chemist had analyzed the drugs, and then a confirmatory chemist performed a chemical structural analysis to confirm or deny the primary chemist’s lab results. Since the primary chemist had gone out of state, the confirmatory chemist testified as to the results.

Before trial, the defendant moved to suppress evidence seized from a search of his home. This motion was denied, and the defendant’s motion for reconsideration was also denied. The defendant appealed, claiming that the motion judge had made mistakes in finding the plain view doctrine allowed the police to seize prescription pills from his bedroom, denying his motion to suppress evidence, and allowing the prosecution to present drug analysis testimony from a confirmatory chemist.

On appeal, the defendant claimed that the affidavit attached to the search warrant didn’t show a link between the defendant’s home and the drug sales. The appellate court explained that a search warrant affidavit is supposed to give enough information to establish a timely nexus between the defendant and the place to be searched and allow a determination that certain objects from criminal activity are reasonably likely to be found there. The appellate court explained that police observations of a suspect leaving home and going to a particular prearranged place to sell drugs can support an inference that the suspect is storing drugs for resale at his home. In this case, the police had observed several controlled buys before obtaining a warrant.

The appellate court also explained that when searching, police can seize objects that are in plain view when the officer is lawfully in a position to see the object, the officer has a lawful right of access to it, the incriminating character of contraband, weapons, or other illegally possessed items is immediately clear, and the officer came across the object inadvertently. The defendant argued that it wasn’t immediately apparent the pills seized were illegal, since a prescription pill bottle was nearby. The court pointed out that the pills were packaged in plastic, and there was one prescription bottle but four types of pills. Therefore, the plain view doctrine was appropriately applied.

The judgments were affirmed.

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

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