In a recent opinion, a state appellate court vacated a jury verdict that found the defendant guilty of a Massachusetts drug offense. The jury convicted the defendant of distributing and of committing the crime within one hundred feet of a public park. The defendant appealed the second portion of the conviction, contending that prosecutors did not prove that the park was “public” in accordance with the statute.
According to the record, the police detective solicited sellers on an online forum, purporting to look for SKI, which is a street term for cocaine. The defendant responded, and the two communicated through text and agreed on the terms of the deal. The detective asked the defendant to get together in a lot near a highway. When the detective arrived, the transaction took place, and the defendant was arrested after departing the meeting location. The location was a parking lot of a public recreation area with vast acreage. Some testimony explained that the town owned portions of the park; however, there was no evidence of which specific areas the government owned. The defendant did not contest her involvement in the transaction; however, she argued that, under the law, the location was not in a public park, as defined by the relevant statute.
Under the relevant law, a “public park” is one that is open to the public and owned or maintained by a governmental entity. The known definition of a “park,” is a “tract of land maintained by a city or town”, for public recreation or beauty. Case law maintains that inquiries regarding ownership and maintenance of a park are a jury question. Questions regarding whether a park is “public” require courts to review the word’s plain meaning.