Wiretaps in Massachusetts

When a police officer seeks a wiretap to obtain evidence against someone suspected of illegal activity and a prosecutor tries to use that evidence, certain rules must be followed. A recent case arose after a defendant was convicted of drug and firearm charges in connection with wiretap evidence. The police started investigating him for drug dealing in 2009, using various surveillance tools including a GPS tracking device on his car and following him. These methods didn’t provide enough information so the officers applied for a wiretap under G. L. c. 272, § 99 to wiretap the defendant’s two cellphones.

The officers attested to their prior investigation efforts and stated that they wouldn’t be able to figure out the scope of the defendant’s drug dealing otherwise. The court granted their application, permitting them to start in July and granting them an extension. They arrested the defendant in August and charged him.

The defendant filed a motion to suppress the evidence obtained from the wiretap, which was denied. At trial, the jury came back with a mixed verdict. He appealed the decision on the motion to suppress. The appellate court explained that a warrant permitting a wiretap is only appropriate if the applicant can demonstrate that ordinary investigative procedures were tried, but failed.

In this case, the State had asked for the wiretap with a 52 page affidavit describing all the techniques they had previously tried. Three confidential informants had provided information used in the affidavit. They informed about the defendant’s sales of cocaine and pills, but the information was limited. They were anonymous and scared of the defendant (who owned firearms).

The affidavit also included a description of a conspiracy in which the defendant extorted pills from patients at the doctor’s office where his wife worked and drove a girlfriend’s car. The conspiracy was bigger than what the officers could see simply watching the defendant’s activities. Accordingly, the appellate court found there was no error in denying the defendant’s motion to suppress the wiretap evidence.

The defendant had also argued that the judge should have granted his motions for required findings of not guilty on conspiracy drug charges and receiving stolen property. The government’s recorded phone calls showed the defendant had engaged in a conspiracy to traffic cocaine. The defendant argued that the calls were too vague to demonstrate that cocaine was being talked about because the phone calls referred to ‘nine,’ ‘ten,’ and ‘eleven.’ An expert had testified that these were common ways to refer to cocaine. The court explained it was reasonable for the jury to conclude the defendant conspired to traffic in cocaine.

The defendant had argued that simply referring to packages did not mean he conspired to distribute Percocet or cocaine. However, two officers had testified that based on knowledge, background and narcotics experience, the defendant was talking about cocaine and using terminology related to the price of a Percocet. A conversation was presented to the jury in which a female who had been in rehab for “Percs” was trying to buy pills. Taken together, the appellate court explained, these could cause a jury to conclude a conspiracy to distribute Percocet.

The appellate court vacated a judgment regarding stolen goods, but otherwise affirmed the lower court’s judgment.

If you have been charged with a drug crime such as possession, sale or distribution, you should contact an attorney with experience in these types of cases. Failure to consult with an attorney can lead to devastating consequences including a prison term and steep fines. Contact the Law Office of Patrick J. Murphy today to discuss your Massachusetts drug crime 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

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