In 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.
The inspector pretended to be a postal carrier at one point and delivered the package to the porch at the address. The car with the two people moved in front of the address, looped around the neighborhood, and came back. A woman wearing pajama bottoms came to the front yard, talked to the people, went up to the porch, and held up the contents of the box that had been delivered. She put back the contents of the box, left the box on the porch, and went inside. The defendant then went to get the box, came back to the car, and drove off with the other person.
The police captain stopped the car. When he went up to the car, he saw a clear plastic bag of blue pills that he recognized as “blueberries” or oxycodone, lying between the defendant’s feet. He gave Miranda warnings to the two people, but it was later disputed exactly when the warnings were given.
The appellate court explained that the police needed a reasonable suspicion that the people in the car were engaged in a crime in order to stop the defendant’s car. The motion judge had ruled that there was a reasonable suspicion, even though the police didn’t know what was in the package, based on the suspicious behavior related to the package delivery. It found that even if the postal inspector’s suspicion of illegal pills could be characterized as just a hunch, the hunch turned into a reasonable suspicion because of the defendant’s actions.
The defendant argued that he was already under arrest by the time the police captain saw the pills, and when the cops put him under arrest, they didn’t have probable cause. He believed that the Miranda warnings were given to him before the police captain saw the pills.
The appellate court agreed with the defendant that the lower court’s finding about when the Miranda warnings were given was in error. It also agreed that because of this, the defendant may have been put under arrest before the captain saw the pills. However, it determined that the pills were found by the captain in plain view during a traffic stop.
Under the plain view doctrine, when an inherently incriminating object is located without a warrant, it can be brought into evidence if an officer is in a lawful position to spot it in “plain view.” Here, the officer was allowed to stop the car and was legally in a position to spot the pills before approaching the car. The judgment was affirmed.
If you are charged with a drug crime in Massachusetts, 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