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Articles Posted in Drug Crimes

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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Last month, a Massachusetts appellate court issued an opinion in a Massachusetts drug case describing the circumstances under which a strip search is appropriate. In this case, the court held that the strip search conducted by police was unsupported by probable cause, and violated the defendant’s constitutional rights to be free from unreasonable searches. Thus, the court granted the defendant’s motion to suppress the narcotics that were recovered as a result of the search.

According to the court’s opinion, police officers were in an unmarked car in a high-crime area conducting surveillance. During their surveillance, the officers noticed the defendant, who was standing on the sidewalk outside an apartment complex. Over the course of 20 minutes, the defendant went in and out of the house several times. At one point, an individual approached the defendant, and the two went around the corner for a few moments before returning. Police officers believed that the defendant was engaged in the sale of narcotics.

When another individual approached the defendant, police followed as the two men walked around the corner. One officer saw the two men standing face-to-face, and believed he was witnessing a drug transaction. The officers stopped the other man, searched him, and found a bag containing about $20 worth of cocaine. Police then patted the defendant down, finding $20, but no narcotics. Police arrested the defendant, transported him to the police station and booked him. Because the officer believed that it was common for street-level drug dealers to conceal narcotics in their groin area, the officers instructed the defendant to undress. Once the defendant was completely naked, the officers saw a red bandana, and inside the bandana were seven packets of cocaine.

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As a general matter, police officers must be justified in their approach and questioning of a person. This includes both pedestrian stops as well as motor vehicle stops. Typically, an officer must be able to present articulable facts supporting the officer’s reasonable suspicion that the person who was stopped had committed, was committing, or was about to commit a crime.

Massachusetts courts have held, however, that when an officer is not investigating a crime but instead checking in on the wellbeing of a person (or the occupants of a vehicle) the questioning does not need to be supported by probable cause or reasonable suspicion. This is known as the community-caretaking exception. A few years ago, a state appellate court issued an opinion in a Massachusetts drug possession case discussing the community-caretaking exception. The case also provides an in-depth discussion of Massachusetts law as it pertains to drug-sniffing dogs.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, the defendant ran out of gas while driving on Route 140. A state trooper saw the defendant’s vehicle move into the breakdown lane with the hazard lights flashing so the trooper pulled behind it, engaging the cruiser’s blue emergency lights. The defendant exited his vehicle, explained he was out of gas, and asked what he should do. The defendant then called and asked a friend to bring him some gas.

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Recently, a state appellate court issued an opinion in a Massachusetts drug possession case discussing whether evidence seized as a result of the police officers’ decision to “freeze” a home while the officers obtained a search warrant. The court ultimately determined that the officers were unable to identify any “specific information supporting an objectively reasonable belief that evidence will indeed be removed or destroyed.” Thus, the court held that the defendant’s motion to suppress should be granted.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, police officers were investigating a home after they received a tip that the house was involved in a prostitution ring. An undercover officer entered the home and pretended to be a customer. After being offered sex for money, the officers called in backup to arrest several people inside the house.

Evidently, the arresting officers noticed that other people were in the home, and decided to “freeze” the home, meaning to conduct a search to remove all occupants. In an upstairs bedroom, police found the defendant who was in possession of crack cocaine. The defendant was arrested and charged with possession of a class B substance.

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Recently, a state appellate court issued an opinion in a Massachusetts drug case discussing whether the search warrant obtained by police was valid. The case involved the use of a confidential informant who did not know the defendant and did not ever mention to officers that the defendant was involved in the sale of narcotics. However, the court upheld the search that was conducted after officers obtained a warrant to search the defendant’s apartment through the officers’ independent investigation.

The Facts of the Case

Police received numerous tips that a man was selling narcotics out of a gold sedan. Several of the tips indicated that the sedan had a strap holding the vehicle’s truck in place. One of the tips came from a confidential informant who told officers that he had purchased narcotics from a man in a gold vehicle who was accompanied by a woman. Police went to the location provided by the tipsters and witnessed the subject of their investigation leave a residence and enter a gold sedan with a strap holding the trunk in place. A woman accompanied the subject.

Police ran the vehicle’s information, and it came back as registered to the defendant’s mother. Police also discovered that there had been a domestic disturbance call made about ten months prior by the defendant against the subject. Police began to believe that the defendant was the woman seen with the subject although they had no proof of that belief. Police officers conducted an investigation and obtained a phone number they believed to be the defendants. When police called as asked for the defendant by name, she replied “speaking.”

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