Articles Posted in Drug Crimes

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Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a Massachusetts drug trafficking case discussing whether the evidence seized by the police was done so in violation of the defendants’ constitutional rights. Specifically, the court had to determine if the defendants should have been provided with Miranda warnings prior to being asked questions by police. Ultimately, the court concluded that, although the defendants were not free to leave, they were not “in custody” for the purposes of the Miranda analysis.

InterrogationThe Facts of the Case

A police officer was walking into a store when he heard one of the defendants on the phone. The officer believed that the defendant was arranging a narcotics transaction, and he began to follow the defendant. The defendant ultimately met up with another man, and the two engaged in a transaction of unknown objects. This confirmed the officer’s suspicions, and he called back-up.

The officers approached the two defendants and separated them immediately. One of the officers claimed to have given one of the defendants some version of the Miranda warnings, but the officer was unable to recall exactly what was stated to the defendant. The other defendant was not read any of his Miranda rights.

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Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a Massachusetts drug trafficking case requiring the court to determine if a police officer’s traffic stop that ultimately led to the discovery of narcotics was longer than necessary, and thus was conducted in violation of the defendants’ constitutional rights. Ultimately, the court determined that the arresting officer exceeded his authority when he continued to ask questions of the defendants after they provided information that would have been sufficient to allow the officer to verify their identities.

Police CarThe Facts of the Case

The defendants were an African-American man and woman, both of whom were passengers in a car driven by a white female. As the three were traveling along the highway, a police officer noticed that the vehicle’s rear tail light was out. The officer pulled the vehicle over.

As the officer approached, he began to question the driver about the identity of the passengers. The driver identified the passengers as two friends, “J” and “T.” The officer noticed that the driver’s voice was trembling, and she appeared nervous, and also the two defendants were not wearing seatbelts.

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Over the years, police have tried a number of different investigative tactics to uncover illegal activities and arrest those they believe to be engaged in such activities. In general, the United States and Massachusetts constitutions outline the protections individuals have from intrusive, unfair, or coercive police conduct, and courts will apply these constitutional principles to enforce the rights of individuals when necessary. More often than not, this results in the exclusion of evidence obtained illegally through a motion to suppress.

Dropping a DimeOne way that police try to uncover illegal narcotic activity is through the use of confidential informants. A confidential informant is often a citizen with no law enforcement experience who agrees to cooperate with the police. Often, these individuals have some kind of “inside” knowledge through their relationship with those who are the target of the police investigation.

The use of confidential informants, however, presents major concerns because an informant’s tip can lead to the issuance of a warrant, or it may be the basis for an arrest or search. That being the case, Massachusetts courts only allow police to act on certain kinds of tips from confidential informants. A recent case illustrates how courts analyze cases involving confidential informants.

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Earlier this month, an appellate court issued a written opinion in a Massachusetts drug possession case requiring the court to determine if the evidence presented by the prosecution was sufficient to sustain the defendant’s conviction. Ultimately, the court determined that there was sufficient evidence to find that the plaintiff constructively possessed the drugs.

HandcuffsThe Facts of the Case

In January 2015, the defendant’s apartment was searched by police who had a warrant. The police were looking for the defendant’s boyfriend, and when the police located heroin in the defendant’s apartment, they arrested her boyfriend. One of the arresting officers warned the defendant to stay away from the boyfriend.

The next month, police again searched the defendant’s apartment, and again, her boyfriend was present. At the time the police searched the apartment, the defendant was not home. The police asked the defendant’s boyfriend if there were any drugs in the apartment, and he told them that there was some heroin under the dresser in the defendant’s room and that the drugs were his.

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bedroom tableIn a recent Massachusetts appellate case, a trial court judge allowed a criminal defendant’s motion to suppress evidence that had been seized by police executing a search warrant after first making two warrantless searches of the defendant’s apartment.

The case arose when police received a report that there was a smell like drugs coming from the defendant’s apartment. Later, they got another complaint from a neighbor describing a skunky and a minty smell and claiming she could see a bright light inside. Two days later, detectives went to the apartment and met with the neighbor. Nobody answered the defendant’s apartment door. The detectives weren’t able to see inside, but they could smell chemicals from beneath a running air conditioner.

A complaining neighbor told the detectives that two people, a boyfriend and girlfriend, lived in the apartment, and they usually left together in the morning. On that morning, the neighbor had spotted the defendant leaving alone. The detectives got the girlfriend’s phone number but weren’t able to get in contact with her. They went into the apartment to look for her. The building’s owner’s son took them through the basement, where the smell got stronger. When nobody responded to the detectives identifying themselves, they went in.

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roachIn a recent Massachusetts case, the court considered whether field sobriety tests were admissible in situations in which the police believe a driver may have been driving under the influence of marijuana.

The case arose in 2013, when the police watched a blue motor vehicle traveling south on Route 146 without its rear lights on. The police followed the car and activated their lights. The officer approached on the passenger side. There were three people inside:  the driver and two passengers. Smoke was in the car, and the officer smelled burnt marijuana when the window was rolled down. The officer also saw cigar tobacco on the floor and a cigar slicer on the key ring of the key that was in the ignition. The officer asked the driver for his license and registration.

The driver gave the officer his license but said he didn’t have his registration. The officer asked him how much pot he had in the car, and the driver answered there were roaches in the ashtray. Two mostly consumed rolled cigarettes were taken out of the ashtray and provided to the officer, who asked when they smoked pot. A passenger replied they’d smoked 20 minutes earlier, but the driver answered it had been three hours earlier.

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generatorsIn a recent Massachusetts case, the defendant appealed from convictions for receiving stolen property and trafficking in heroin. The case arose when the police received a report that someone had stolen a generator from a construction site. The surveillance video depicted a truck leaving the construction site with the generator. A few days later, the police were told that the replacement generator was also stolen from the site. The video showed that the same truck took the equipment and traveled onto Route 93.

About a week later, a construction company reported to a police department in Dedham that a trailer-mounted generator was stolen from a construction site. The generator had a wireless GPS tracking device that showed it was in Boston. When the police went to where it was located, they saw it was signaling in a parking area and a three-car garage. The officers peered through the fence around the parking area and saw the truck, as well as a generator that had the name of the second construction company on the side. The officers got a search warrant for the property and came back with a Boston police officer.

The Boston police officer also got a warrant to search a truck in Dorchester for construction equipment believed to be stolen. The police officer’s affidavit said he’d first come into the property with police officers under their search warrant for the stolen generator. He got another search warrant to investigate a different theft of a generator from a Boston construction site. On location, he got information from neighbors and also saw a metal stabilizer that would hold up a trailer.

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cocaineIn a recent Massachusetts appellate case, the court considered whether certain aspects of the Crime Bill applied to drug crimes. The defendant had been charged before the effective date of the law but convicted after it. The case arose when he was observed by cops performing what they thought were drug deals on the street. When they searched him, they found eight bags of cocaine weighing 28.14 grams.

In 2011, he was indicted for violating MGL c. 94C, § 32E(b)(2). This was a second-tier violation involving cocaine trafficking in the amount of 28 grams-100 grams. For a violation, the law required judges to sentence a defendant to at least five years, with at most 20 years imprisonment.

The Crime Bill was enacted in 2012 and changed § 32E by upping the weights that set the first tier to 18 grams-36 grams. Previously, the upper weight for this tier had been 28 grams. Judges were required to sentence defendants convicted of a first-tier offense to a minimum sentence of two years.

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pillsIn Commonwealth v. Marcelin, the defendant was convicted of trafficking in oxycodone, a Class B substance. After being convicted, he pled guilty to conspiring to violate drug laws.

The case arose in 2011, when a USPS inspector saw a package he believed might contain illegal drugs. What triggered his suspicion was that the package was mailed from Las Vegas, which was known to be a source city for illicit pills, and the sender listed didn’t appear in the postal service database. The addressee didn’t appear in the database as linked to the recipient’s address. The inspector contacted the police, who confirmed there was no record of the recipient living at that address in their database. The inspector learned on a different day that another package was due to be delivered at noon to the same address.

The police set up a controlled delivery by working with the USPS inspector and drug task force. On the morning of the delivery, five police officers used unmarked cars to watch the recipient’s address. They saw two people, one of whom was the defendant in a parked car, who were also watching the address. When another postal worker came to deliver mail, the defendant emerged from the car to watch the postal carrier. The two people looked around as if they were engaged in counter-surveillance.

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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.

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