Massachusetts Defendant Withdraws Four Guilty Pleas for Drug Crimes

In Commonwealth v. Martin, a Massachusetts court considered a drug case in which a defendant filed motions to withdraw four guilty pleas related to 30 drug offenses. The case arose during the investigation of the defendant’s boyfriend. Contraband was discovered in the defendant’s car, a search warrant was executed at the defendant’s home, and a controlled buy was conducted with the defendant’s boyfriend’s half-brother. After the investigation, there were four sets of indictments involving 12 substantive drug crimes involving cocaine trafficking, as well as school zone and conspiracy charges.

The defendant pled guilty to the 30 drug offenses. All six of the cocaine trafficking charges were reduced to a lesser offense: possession with intent to distribute. She pled guilty to these and all remaining charges except a charge of possession to distribute a class D substance, a school zone violation, and a firearm violation. She was sentenced to 5-8 years in state prison on the possession with intent to distribute charges and all but one conspiracy charge. She was also sentenced to five years of probation that would follow her time in prison on a conspiracy charge.

Three years later, she filed a motion to withdraw the pleas, arguing there had been no factual basis to establish some of the charges, her guilty pleas weren’t made voluntarily or intelligently, and her attorney was ineffective in failing to file a motion to dismiss certain conspiracy counts that were duplicative and a motion to suppress. Her motions were denied. The judge ruled that the record showed that the defendant was informed of all elements and that the prosecutor recited facts establishing all of the charges.

The defendant appealed. The appellate court explained that a defendant’s admission of guilt is insufficient to support a conviction. It must also have a strong factual basis. Accordingly, the judge must separately, independently determine that there are enough facts to support the charges. This evaluation is separate from the judge’s obligation to assess whether a guilty plea is voluntary and intelligent.

In this case, the defendant pled guilty to drug crimes charged as distribution or intent to distribute. Her guilt was based on the prosecution’s theory of joint venture or constructive possession. With the former, the prosecutor must prove a defendant knowingly participated in committing the charged crime and possessed the requisite state of mind. The latter requires the prosecutor to prove knowledge and the ability to exercise dominion and control over the drugs. The defendant’s presence at the scene is not enough for the charges to stand.

The appellate court explained that the defendant in this case must have been aware of the drug crimes occurring because she shared a home with the defendant. All of the factual recitations supported the defendant’s presence nearby at controlled buys, but they were insufficient to support a guilty plea. Similarly, there were no facts that showed a connection between the defendant and the residence where drug sales took place, other than the defendant’s boyfriend’s presence in the home.

The Commonwealth argued that there was a preamble given by the prosecutor before reciting the facts that showed the defendant’s intent to participate in the drug transactions. The court found that the preamble didn’t reference a specific charge, and therefore it couldn’t be used to fill the requirement of a factual basis for intent. The court found that without a factual basis, it wasn’t clear the defendant actually understood the charges. Moreover, the judge didn’t tell the defendant of the mandatory minimum or maximum sentence when imposing probation for the conspiracy charge. The orders denying the defendant’s motion to withdraw the guilty pleas were reversed.

Since the consequences of a criminal conviction are so severe, it is important to understand the criminal charges being brought against you in Boston. If you are charged 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.

More Blog Posts:

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

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