Articles Posted in Drug Crimes

In the realm of criminal defense law, few issues are as critical as the effectiveness of legal counsel. The United States and Massachusetts Supreme Courts have both established that Massachusetts residents are entitled to a constitutional right to effective criminal defense counsel after being charged with a crime. A panel of The Appeals Court of Massachusetts recently reversed a lower court ruling denying a defendant the opportunity to withdraw a guilty plea for a drug possession charge, after his counsel failed to accurately advise him of the immigration consequences of the guilty plea.

The defendant, originally from the Dominican Republic, arrived in the Boston area in 2003. According to the facts discussed in the judicial opinion, the defendant was stopped by police in August 2008 on suspicion of a traffic violation. During the stop, police discovered suspected narcotics in his car’s center console, leading to multiple charges, including possession of a class B substance with intent to distribute. This charge carried a potentially severe punishment—up to ten years in a state prison.

In December 2008, the defendant opted to plead guilty to the drug offense and received a sentence of probation for one year, which he successfully completed. Fast forward to 2021, and the defendant, represented by new counsel, filed a motion for a new trial. His claim was centered on the allegation that his original plea counsel had failed to provide accurate advice regarding the immigration consequences of his guilty plea. According to the defendant’s affidavit, if he had been correctly informed of these consequences, he would not have pleaded guilty.

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Massachusetts law enforcement officers and agencies rely heavily on tips and testimony offered by confidential informants (CIs) when investigating and charging alleged criminal activity. Police often acquire CIs from the community in which they are investigating crimes. CIs who have previously been involved in criminal conduct are often offered incentives by prosecutors and law enforcement to encourage them to cooperate against their former compatriots. Because CIs are often involved in several investigations and are essentially working “undercover” in the criminal community while they are assisting law enforcement, the identities of active and inactive CIs are kept closely guarded by law enforcement agencies and prosecutors. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court recently ruled that prosecutors do not need to disclose the identity of a confidential informant, even after a defendant argued that the identity may assist in mounting a defense against charged crimes.

The defendant in the recently decided case was stopped and arrested on suspicion of selling cocaine after a confidential informant notified police that the defendant was selling drugs on a Springfield street corner. Based on the informant’s tip, surveilling police officers witnessed the defendant performing apparent drug transactions and ultimately stopped him based upon a traffic violation after he entered the vehicle to leave the street corner. Before trial, the defendant requested the identity and other information about the confidential informant who allegedly told the police about his criminal activity. The trial judge granted the defendant’s motion, ruling that the information would assist the defendant in defending against the charges.

The prosecution immediately appealed the ruling to a higher court, and it was put on hold pending appellate review. On appeal, the Massachusetts High Judicial Court ruled that state law requires a trial judge to apply a two-step formula in deciding whether to unmask the identity of a confidential informant. After finding that the prosecution has properly invoked the informant privilege, a court must balance the competing factors of the defendant’s right to mount a defense with the state’s interest in protecting the functionality and physical safety of the CI. Because the trial court in the recent case did not appear to perform the two-step analysis, the high court reversed the trial judge’s ruling. Furthermore, the high court found that under the two-step analysis, the defendant would not be entitled to know the identity of the CI. As a result of the appellate ruling, the case against the defendant will proceed with the CIs identity undisclosed.

  • In a recent Massachusetts appellate court opinion regarding a motion to suppress evidence from an illegal search, the court upheld the trial court granting of the defendant’s motion to suppress, albeit on different grounds. At trial, the judge allowed the motion on the ground that the driver of the vehicle did not commit a traffic violation warranting the stop. The appeals court instead found that the search of the defendant’s wallet was unlawful, and the evidence obtained therefrom was correctly suppressed. The defendant’s ensuing statements and the drugs recovered from his person were fruits of the unlawful search and, as such, were also correctly suppressed.

Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, in the late afternoon of November 20, 2020, members of the State Police gang unit were patrolling downtown Brockton in an unmarked cruiser. The troopers took note of a car parked at a gas station and, after running the license plate, learned it was a rental vehicle. The troopers then decided to follow the car. After following the car for a period of time, the officers activated their emergency lights and stopped the car, purportedly for failure to stop at a red light. Upon approaching the passenger side of the car, the troopers recognized the front seat passenger as the defendant, based on an intelligence bulletin they had received from the Brockton Police Department.

Seeing that the defendant was not wearing his seat belt, the troopers asked him for identification and spotted a large pocketknife in his pocket when he reached for his wallet. They then ordered the defendant out of the car. The officers handcuffed him and conducted a pat frisk, which revealed no weapons. When they again asked the defendant for identification, he stated that it was in his wallet, which he had left on the passenger seat of the car. When an officer retrieved the wallet, he noticed a folded twenty-dollar bill tucked in one of the card slots. Based on his training and experience, he guessed that the bill was used to hide narcotics. The officer then unfolded the bill and found a white powdery substance and asked the defendant if it was fentanyl, to which the defendant replied that it was “coke” or “powder.” The officer then told the defendant that if he voluntarily turned over any more drugs that the troopers would summons him instead of arrest him. The defendant relinquished additional bags of cocaine from his body.

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Earlier this month, a defendant in Massachusetts asked a court of appeals to overturn his conviction for possession of a class B substance with intent to distribute. On appeal, the defendant argued that his previous attorney had not properly advised him of the immigration consequences that he would face if he entered a guilty plea. If he had known these consequences, said the defendant, he would not have pled guilty in the first place. The court of appeals reviewed the defendant’s argument and ultimately agreed with him, reversing the lower court’s verdict as a result.

Facts of the Case

According to the opinion, the defendant came to the United States from Guatemala as a child. Because the defendant’s parents had neglected him in Guatemala, the defendant applied for a special immigration status called “Special Immigration Juvenile” status, which allows immigrants whose parents have mistreated them to gain status in the States.

While the defendant was awaiting a decision from the judge on his Special Immigration Juvenile status case, he was charged with drug possession after an officer found him with crack cocaine. The defendant received a court-appointed attorney to help him navigate the criminal case, and that attorney failed to mention to the defendant that if he pled guilty to the crime, he would no longer be eligible for the Special Immigration Juvenile status he had been working so hard to get.

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In a recent case coming out of a Massachusetts court, five codefendants appealed their drug-related convictions. According to the defendants, the wiretap warrants that law enforcement agencies used in their investigation were unconstitutional, thus the evidence discovered as a result of these warrants should have been suppressed. The court considered each of the defendant’s appeals and ultimately affirmed the convictions of all five individuals.

Facts of the Case

According to the opinion, law enforcement officials came to a Superior Court judge in 2017 asking that judge to grant a series of eleven wiretap warrants. According to the officers, they were investigating a criminal drug distribution network, which was complex and difficult to understand in its full scope. With the warrants, the officers could uncover drug stash locations, the sources of the drug supply, and the different individuals involved in the operation.

The officers also explained to the judge that they had been investigating this particular drug operation since 2001. They had used confidential informants, undercover officers, physical surveillance, and video surveillance. Even with all of these investigatory methods in place, the officers had not been able to uncover all of the information they needed. They also were apprehensive that other traditional methods, such as trash pulls or interviews, would be valuable in finishing up their investigation.

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In a recent decision from a court in Massachusetts, a lower court’s ruling that incriminating evidence should be suppressed was reversed. Originally, a lower court had determined that because a state trooper did not have sufficient reason to pull over the defendant on the highway, the drugs found in the defendant’s car should not be used against him in court. The higher court disagreed, saying the trooper did, in fact, have reason to pull the defendant over in the first place. It was thus acceptable for the State to use the incriminating evidence against the defendant at trial.

The Facts of the Case

According to the opinion, the defendant was driving on the highway when a state police trooper conducted a random check on the defendant’s vehicle to find out if it was properly registered. As a result, the trooper learned that the vehicle had failed its most recent inspection approximately two weeks earlier.

The scandal surrounding a chemist’s misconduct who worked at the Massachusetts State Crime Lab has had far-reaching consequences for thousands of Massachusetts defendants since it broke. After state chemist Annie Dookan pleaded guilty to tampering with evidence in 2013, defendants whose alleged drugs were tested by Ms. Dookan were entitled to have their convictions vacated. Since 2013, over 10,000 drug convictions have been vacated, and most defendants were not retried for their crimes. Defendants who were convicted of multiple crimes as part of one case however are required to fight harder to have all their convictions overturned. The Massachusetts Supreme Court recently heard a case in which a defendant sought to withdraw guilty pleas from several non-drug-related crimes that were connected to a drug charge that was vacated based on Ms. Dookan’s misconduct.

According to the facts discussed in the appellate opinion, the defendant in the recently decided appeal was charged with several crimes after he was suspected of committing an armed robbery. In addition to robbery and gun charges, he was charged with possession with intent to distribute cocaine. The defendant ultimately pleaded guilty to several charges, including both violent and drug offenses, and was sentenced to 3-5 years in state prison. Based on a broad ruling by the Suffolk County Court in 2017, the drug portions of his conviction were vacated, however, this did not benefit the defendant in any tangible way because the sentences for each of his convictions ran concurrently.

The defendant sought to withdraw his guilty pleas to the violent crimes, arguing that the plea agreement he made was based upon the strong drug evidence against him, and had he known that the drug evidence was tainted, he would have taken the other charges to trial. The trial judge denied the defendant’s request, finding that the gun charges against him were supported by strong evidence and that he would have accepted the plea offer even if the drug charges were thrown out.

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.

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