Over two weeks ago police in Norwood, Massachusetts executed a Search Warrant at an apartment complex. This followed an investigation into alleged Drug Dealing activities by Henry Samuels, a twenty-four year old Norwood resident. In August of 2012 Samuels was arrested for selling marijuana to minors. At that time he was charged with Distribution of Marijuana, a Second and Subsequent Offense. Authorities claim that Samuels was selling marijuana from his apartment and that the landlord was alerted to his activities. At the time it was suggested to the landlord that he evict Samuels from the property. Apparently he did not. Since that time, Samuels remained under investigation by local police for drug related matters. Then, on June 5, 2013, armed with what they believed was probable cause, the police obtained a Search Warrant. During the execution of the search they found several bags of marijuana with an estimated street value of five thousand dollars. Samuels was not home at the time but his mother, Lashauna Pettway was. She was arrested and charged with Possession With Intent to Distribute Marijuana and Possession of Marijuana. Samuels faces the same criminal charges. The landlord, who is not named in the article, is being charged with misdemeanor charges of permitting someone “to remain a common nuisance by the sale of controlled substances” in his building. The cases are being prosecuted in the Dedham District Court.
As a Massachusetts Criminal Lawyer I am most intrigued by the charge against the landlord. Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 139 Section 20 makes it a crime for a landlord to permit tenants to engage in gambling, prosecution, the illegal sale of alcohol, the sale of drugs on their property. The statute requires the landlord, after proper notice, to take appropriate steps to evict the tenant. A failure to do so can result in a criminal prosecution and a sentence of up to one year in jail and a fine of one thousand dollars. The statute is rarely implemented, which, from a law enforcement perspective makes no sense. There are only three criminal cases in Massachusetts addressing this issue, and none of them firmly address the crime.
Here is what the law requires relative to this case. Back in August, once the landlord learned that Samuels had been arrested for selling drugs, he was required to commence eviction proceedings. In other words, the law imposes on him an affirmative duty to spend money on lawyer and go to court to remove someone who might not have been convicted and enjoys the presumption of innocence. No wonder this law is rarely employed. It might not survive a challenge to its constitutionality. Laws like this one if properly attacked can result in a dismissal of the criminal charges.