Drug arrests are posted in media outlets throughout Massachusetts several times every day. The basis for these arrests is often the representation that surveillance of suspected drug dealers was conducted for weeks or months. Usually the suspects are driving cars. The cars are followed by the police and ultimately an arrest is made. What I find suspicious about these representations is that police observe a routine pattern of conduct that they see for a particular period of time. Then, all of the sudden, one day they decide to stop the suspect’s car. And guess what? That day the police find drugs in the car. This post looks at whether benign observations can legally lead to stops, searches, seizures and arrests without more.
Over the past several years a trend has developed enabling law enforcement to obtain search warrants for homes based on anonymous tips. Tipsters using apps that connect to local police departments provide information that the cops otherwise would not have had. The application is downloaded to smartphones and has several features geared towards improving public safety. Among these features are the ability to submit tips, ask questions, comment on police conduct or misconduct and access a local police department website. In a recent case in Peabody, Massachusetts a tipster used MyPD to complain to the police about suspected drug activity. In this case the investigation resulted in a search warrant execution and felony drug arrests of a juvenile and an adult. This post examines whether the police officer’s observations establish proper probable cause for the issuance of the search warrant.
Drug crimes arrests are made every day in Massachusetts and in virtually all cities and towns. No municipality is immune to the current drug problems plaguing this state. Newspaper articles of arrests and drug busts flood the internet daily in support of this statement. What many articles do not make clear however is what exactly happened. Rather, there is a tendency to post headlines only; i.e. that an arrest was made in a particular town for a particular charge. You don’t know how the arrest was made, why the arrest was made or just how strong the district attorney’s case is relative to the person being charged. Take for example the recent arrest of Brandon J. Sones and Michael Russell, two twenty-four year old men arrested in Marlborough and charged with a variety of Massachusetts drug crimes. Just how serious are these cases? What if anything will they be convicted of? What did they really do? Based on the press release alone this post takes a look at some thoughts I have in this case.
About six months ago the Massachusetts Legislature passed a law raising the age for adult prosecutions from seventeen to eighteen. The law had prospective application. There is however one school of thought that this law applies to cases that were pending at the time the law went into effect. Thus, a seventeen year old charged in adult court whose case was pending when the law passed could possibly have his case dismissed upon request. This is exactly what happened earlier this week when a Lowell criminal defense lawyer asked the judge to dismiss a breaking and entering case against her client. The crime was committed in July 2013. At that time the defendant was seventeen years old. He is now eighteen. The law became effective on September 18, 2013.
Police and district attorneys in Massachusetts have a tendency to charge people with crimes that are much more severe than the crime that they believe was actually committed. They are not supposed to do this. They are supposed to charge people solely for the crime they truly believe was perpetrated. The classic example of this is Massachusetts drug cases. Take for instance the case of Andre Jacobs, a twenty year old Stoughton, Massachusetts resident who was approached in his car by the police for a purported motor vehicle infraction. When the police approached him he made some “furtive movements” that led the officers to search. They found five and one half grams of heroin and some cash. Jacobs was charged with possession with intent to distribute heroin. This is a felony in Massachusetts and a very serious one at that. But why was Jacobs charged with possession with intent as opposed to simple possession? The answer is easy. Because that is the larger crime and one that is punished more severely in Massachusetts. This post examines the motives behind criminal charges in Massachusetts, particularly as they relate to drug crimes.
Once again I wake up and grab the local Lawrence, Massachusetts newspaper and read about another heroin bust. This one involved an investigation spanning Lawrence, Haverhill and Methuen, Massachusetts. The arrests were made after a brief investigation into local heroin use following several local overdoses, some fatal. The first thing that catches my eye is the case of Carl Saccoccio from Somerville who apparently drove to Lawrence to purchase a bag of heroin. Whether this was for recreational purposes or to support a habit is unclear but for certain there was no felonious intent. So what happened here is that rather than catch dealers or suppliers the cops caught, arrested and charged users. Catching users is apparently easier than catching distributors. This article identifies Saccoccio and fourteen others as being arrested for possession of heroin. No one was arrested for dealing. Most of the arrestees had outstanding warrants and I would be that nearly all of them have criminal records for drug convictions. Six of the individuals arrested are from New Hampshire or Maine.
First degree murder in Massachusetts can be proved by the district attorney through one of three theories. One is by deliberate premeditation. To prevail under this theory the prosecution must show an intent to kill and that the decision to do so followed a period of reflection. The second way is through the felony murder rule. There, the prosecutor can secure a conviction by showing that the victim was killed during the commission of a felony that is punishable by a life prison sentence. The third way is with extreme atrocity or cruelty. Under this theory the jury must find that one of seven specific factors existed at the time of the killing.
In almost every case involving child pornography prosecutors in Massachusetts are faced with what should be a difficult decision: to charge possession of child pornography or to charge distribution of child pornography. Let’s look at some common facts. Rarely, if ever is a defendant caught with one image or a few images. This is because child pornographic materials are accessed through file share programs. The files that people receive though peer to peer networks usually contain scores if not hundreds of images. Under Massachusetts law this permits the prosecution to charge the more severe felony, distribution of child pornography. And usually, the prosecution does just that, it charges distribution. However the charge of possession, a lesser included felony is typically charged as well. This post examines why that is done and some thoughts on defending these cases.
In 2012 the United States Supreme Court decided the case of Miller v. Alabama, 132 S.Ct. 2455 (2012). There, two fourteen year olds were convicted of murder and sentenced to life without parole, a mandatory sentence under their state law sentencing schemes. The Supreme Court held that sentencing laws that mandate life without the possibility of parole for juvenile offenders violates the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution. This is so because such laws do not permit the judge from considering age, maturity, family environment, appreciation for their actions and other circumstances attendant to their youth and the crime they committed. Exactly what that would mean to juveniles serving sentences of life without parole in Massachusetts was not made clear until Christmas Eve 2013 when the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court rendered its opinion in Commonwealth v. Brown, 466 Mass. 676 (2013).
At least once a week I get a call from a perspective client who wants to discuss a criminal case that he or she thinks is a classic case of entrapment. While the facts are always different a common theme underlies every story. An undercover police officer is involved in some sort of investigation. The officer is playing the part of a criminal or someone engaged in some sort of wrongdoing. My client takes the bait and enters into discussions and interaction with the officer. Then, either just prior to, or at the time of the consummation of the crime an arrest is made. My client claims to be the victim of entrapment. He’s right isn’t he? After all, he did not know that the person he dealt with was a cop. Shouldn’t they dismiss my case? Nope. This is not entrapment. It might be an underhanded police tactic. It might be a waste of the taxpayer’s money. But it is not entrapment.