In Commonwealth v. Dominguez, a Massachusetts Appeals Court considered a drug distribution case. The defendant, Jose Dominguez, was convicted of distributing the class B substance of cocaine, which is a violation of MGL c. 94C, § 32A(b), and doing so in a school zone, thereby violating MGL c. 94C, § 32J. The defendant appealed, arguing that the evidence was insufficient and that the judge shouldn’t have admitted implied hearsay by two police officers.
The case arose when an officer and a detective were in an unmarked car near the door of a CVS. They were conducting surveillance and saw Danielle and Alan Frieta standing nearby. Danielle was looking at her cell phone, and the detective thought she looked like she was hoping to buy narcotics. Danielle walked toward the CVS and met Dominguez there. Talking, they stepped into the vestibule. Their hands touched, but the officer saw nothing in their hands and the two left the vestibule. Then Dominguez walked one way, and both Danielle and Alan Frieta walked a different way, going into a car parked on the side of the road.
The officer got out of the police car and stopped Dominguez. He identified himself as an officer and read the defendant his Miranda rights. He then searched the defendant’s pockets and found a one-dollar bill in one pocket and four twenty-dollar bills in a different pocket. Nothing else associated with a drug transaction was found on the defendant.
The detective pulled over behind the Frietas’ car. He saw Danielle bend toward her feet. Then, the Frietas left their car, and Alan consented to a search of the car. The detective found a pocketbook, inside which were two cigarette boxes. One had cigarettes inside, and the other had a twist of cocaine weighing .34 grams. He also found a prescription bottle with nine pills containing a controlled substance. The detective arrested the Frietas.
At trial, two officers and a detective testified that the location of the arrest was a high crime area. The officer who had seen the defendant and Danielle gave an opinion that the defendant had seemed to perform a hand-to-hand transaction inside the vestibule with Danielle.
The appellate court explained that to establish distribution of a Class B substance, the Commonwealth needed to prove: (1) the substance was a Class B substance (in this case cocaine), (2) the defendant distributed some amount of the substance to someone else, and (3) the defendant had done so intentionally or knowingly.
The defendant argued that the evidence was insufficient to prove distribution, but the appellate court disagreed. It explained that the officers’ testimony about Danielle’s actions while waiting for the defendant, and the hand-to-hand transaction inside the vestibule, were sufficient, even if the officers didn’t see anything in their hands.
However, the appellate court held that the evidence did not allow the jury to find beyond a reasonable doubt that what the defendant gave Danielle was in fact the cocaine in her purse rather than the pills, which were also in her purse. The court explained that if the evidence equally supported two inconsistent propositions, neither of them would be considered legitimately proven. It explained that the only evidence of cocaine distribution was a statement made by Danielle to the officer when she was arrested, but this statement was excluded as hearsay, since Danielle didn’t testify at trial.
The defendant argued that the officer’s testimony on this point was backdoor hearsay, and the appellate court agreed. Since the hearsay was the only evidence to support an element of the cocaine distribution charge, it had to have materially influenced the guilty verdict. The judgments were reversed, and the verdicts were set aside.
If you are charged in Massachusetts with a drug crime, contact the Law Office of Patrick J. Murphy today to discuss the criminal charges. Call us at 617-367-0450 or contact us through this website.
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Assault and Battery Causing Serious Injury in Massachusetts, Boston Criminal Defense Lawyer Blog, published January 14, 2015
Receiving Stolen Property in Massachusetts, Boston Criminal Defense Lawyer Blog, published December 15, 2014