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In a recent opinion from a Massachusetts court involving a motor vehicle stop, the defendants’ request for evidence to be suppressed was denied. The defendants were found guilty of possession with intent to distribute class A substance as well as conspiracy to violate a drug law. They appealed, arguing the police officer’s stop of their vehicle was illegal. The appellate court denied the appeal because it found that there were no legal issues with the officer’s conduct during the motor vehicle stop.

Facts of the Case

According to the opinion, in May 2015, a police officer in Massachusetts observed a black Jeep Cherokee speeding at approximately 80 miles per hour in a 65 miles per hour speed zone. Once the officer saw that the car was drifting in and out of its lane, he put on his blue lights and signaled for the vehicle to stop. While he was following the vehicle and waiting for the car to pull over, the officer saw the front passenger bend down completely out of sight. The vehicle did not pull over until the passenger sat back up.

The two defendants were the driver and passenger of the vehicle. The officer noticed that the defendants were shaking and avoiding eye contact, as well as that their pupils were constricted. The officer then ordered the defendants out of the vehicle. He searched the defendants and their car, finding a white substance that the defendants identified as heroin.

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When pursuing criminal prosecutions, the government is required to disclose evidence in their possession or control that could clear the defendant from guilt. This obligation to disclose exculpatory evidence to a defendant or their lawyer is to ensure fairness in our justice system. Prosecutors are supposed to seek the truth, not simply a conviction. If legitimate evidence exists in a prosecution or police file that helps a defendant, intentional failure by the prosecution to disclose that evidence is unacceptable, as it diminishes public confidence in the integrity of the criminal justice system.

The Massachusetts Supreme Court recently issued an opinion in a case that centers around a dispute between prosecutors and defense counsel surrounding the breadth of the government’s obligation to disclose exculpatory evidence.

The defendant in the recently decided case was charged with a drug crime after substances were allegedly found on his person during a search. The substances were processed at a lab contracted by the state to determine their composition and were found to contain illegal drugs. After being charged with the drug crime, the defendant retained an attorney who discovered that a chemist employed by the drug testing laboratory had been credibly accused of tampering with drug evidence in other cases. The defense attorney demanded that the prosecution review the facts related to the chemist’s performance and disclose any potentially exculpatory evidence that was found. The prosecutor partially complied with the defendant’s request, turning over 140,000+ hard copy pages of investigative reports and documents related to the chemist and the laboratory. The prosecutor claimed that their office has an “open file” policy and that defendants were entitled to search through the files to find any exculpatory evidence themselves.

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.

Most people are familiar with the fact that a defendant can file an appeal if they are convicted of a Massachusetts crime. One aspect of the appellate process that is less commonly realized is that the court does not necessarily need to suspend a defendant’s sentence pending appeal.

Recently a state appellate court issued an opinion in a Massachusetts drug trafficking appeal in which the defendant challenged the court’s decision to keep her on house arrest while her appeal was pending. In that case, the defendant was arrested and charged with several drug offenses back in 2014. At her arraignment, the defendant was released on her own recognizance, meaning she was not required to post bail. House arrest was not a condition of her release, and she showed up at every court date without issue.

At trial, a jury convicted the defendant of drug trafficking, and the judge sentenced her to five years of incarceration. The defendant appealed her sentence, which, if granted, may require a new trial. The defendant asked the court to suspend her sentence while her appeal was pending. In support of her request, the defendant told the court that all her family lives in the area and that she was released on her own recognizance pending trial without ever missing a court date.

Earlier this month, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court issued an opinion in a drug case, requiring the court to determine whether the lower court properly dismissed the defendants’ motion to suppress. The court ultimately held that the lower court improperly denied the motion because that court determined the police officers’ conduct did not constitute a “search” under relevant state and federal constitutional principles.

The Fourth Amendment protects all U.S. citizens against unreasonable searches and seizures. Primarily, the United States Supreme Court is responsible for determining what constitutes a search and whether police officer conduct, in general, is reasonable. It is then left to the lower courts to apply the facts to relevant Supreme Court precedent.

However, states also have their own constitutions, which may provide additional rights. Thus, while certain rights may not exist under the U.S. Constitution, a state may determine that such rights exist under the state constitution. That is what happened in this case.

Earlier this year, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a Boston drug case involving the defendant’s motion for additional discovery related to the confidential informant that police officers used to conduct the pre-arranged buys that lead to the defendant’s arrest.

Police officers frequently use confidential informants, rather than an undercover police officer, as a part of their investigation when they suspect someone is selling drugs out of a house. Typically, police officers will give the confidential informant marked bills and wait in a car and watch as the confidential informant approaches the defendant’s home and engages in a transaction. The confidential informant will then return to the officers, bringing them whatever the defendant allegedly sold to them. However, often, the transactions occur inside the home, beyond the sight of the police officers. Based on their observations, police officers will then complete an affidavit for a search warrant, and search the home.

Of course, from the defense perspective, the use of confidential informants is concerning. First, these informants are often drug users themselves, who may have reason to curry favor with local police officers. Also concerning is the fact that it is not uncommon for confidential informants to be paid for their services, raising the issue of bias. In other words, maybe a confidential informant is making up allegations to make a few dollars. Finally, as a general rule, the identity of a confidential informant is protected, thus, they will not appear at trial and the defendant will not have an opportunity to confront them.

Recently, the state supreme court issued an opinion in a Boston drug crime case involving a large quantity of drugs that was seized after the police ordered the defendant out of his car. The case discusses the type of evidence that a police officer must have to order a motorist out of their car when the motorist is suspected of a crime.

According to the court’s opinion, police officers received an anonymous tip that a Volvo containing a large amount of narcotics would be present at a particular intersection in the Roxbury area of Boston. The police set up surveillance and watched as a pedestrian approached the vehicle. The pedestrian engaged in conversation with the driver, and the driver then reached down toward the floor of the passenger side of the car. The officers could not see if anything was exchanged between the men, but they thought that the interaction was consistent with an exchange.

The officers followed the Volvo as it pulled away, and they initiated a traffic stop based on their suspicions. When they approached the Volvo, the defendant was the sole occupant. The police officers claimed that the defendant was avoiding eye contact and breathing heavily. The officers ordered the defendant out of his car and, as the defendant was exiting the vehicle, noticed that there was a large wad of money in the compartment along the inside of the driver’s side door. The police frisked the defendant, finding nothing, and then searched the vehicle, finding a large amount of cocaine.

Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a Massachusetts manslaughter case discussing whether the evidence was sufficient to support the defendant’s conviction. Ultimately, the court concluded that the prosecution’s evidence was insufficient and reversed the defendant’s conviction for involuntary manslaughter. The court upheld the defendant’s conviction for distribution of heroin.

According to the court’s opinion, the defendant was a student at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, and was also a heroin user. One day, another student who lived in the defendant’s neighborhood learned that the defendant frequently made trips to New York to buy heroin, and asked the defendant to pick him up some heroin on the next trip. The defendant agreed, and brought the other student back nine packets of heroin. The next day, the student’s father found his son dead from a heroin overdose in his apartment. The student had consumed three of the packets given to him by the defendant.

The defendant was charged with the distribution of heroin as well as involuntary manslaughter. At trial, the defendant was convicted of both counts. The defendant appealed each of his convictions on the basis that the evidence presented by the prosecution was insufficient to sustain a conviction.

Earlier this year, federal agents conducted an undercover sting operation resulting in the arrests of three men and the seizure of $100,000 in U.S. currency, as well as an additional $200,000 worth of the cryptocurrency, Bitcoin. According to a recent news report, covering the operation and subsequent arrests, the three men who were arrested are believed to be a part of a larger Boston drug syndicate.

Evidently, an undercover federal narcotics agent ordered MDMA from the darknet site “EastSideHigh.” The agent arranged to have the seller of the drugs leave them in a U.S. Post Office collection box in Stoughton. When the seller arrived on scene and transferred Bitcoin to the agents, they arrested him on Boston drug distribution charges.

After the first man’s arrest, officers obtained a search warrant for office space in Stoughton. When officers arrived to execute the warrant, they allegedly discovered the two other men in the office space, one of which was wearing a ventilator mask. Police told reporters they believe that the men would receive large shipments of drugs to the office, where they would process and manufacturer street drugs including MDMA, Ketamine, and Xanax.

Instead April of 2019, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court issued an important opinion in a Massachusetts drug case discussing whether police officers can use a GPS tracking device to track the location of a suspect without first obtaining a warrant. The court held that police needed to obtain a warrant, and, by failing to do so, anything they recovered as a result of the information obtained was suppressible as “fruit of the poisonous tree.”

According to the court’s written opinion, police officers were in the process of investigating a homicide and obtained the cellular site location information (CSLI) for one of the suspect’s phones. Police suspected that the homicide was drug-related, and that there were several people involved, including the defendant. The cell phone the police tracked was registered to the defendant but used by another individual. However, the police had reason to believe that the defendant would be traveling with the user of the cell phone.

The CSLI data eventually led police to the defendant’s residence, which was a three-story building with multiple rooms available to rent. Police knocked on the door and were admitted into the home. Police eventually made their way up to the third floor, where they encountered the defendant. The police explained that they were investigating a homicide and that they believed the suspect may be in the building. They also mentioned that narcotics were involved. The defendant gave his consent for the officers to enter his room and conduct a search. During the search, the police found $2,200 in cash and two bricks of cocaine. The cocaine was located in a crawl space. The trial court ultimately granted the defendant’s motion to suppress.

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