People living in an area of Tower Hill in Lawrence, Massachusetts were becoming concerned about what they believed to be drug deals occurring in cars in their neighborhood. In response they called the police. Two nights ago, following up on the complaints, an unmarked cruiser was patrolling the area. They observed a Toyota Camry parked in the troubled area. The Camry left the area. The cops followed it. The car then stopped a short distance away, in the middle of the street near another car. Officers saw what they believed to be a hand-to-hand drug transaction and they pulled the Camry over. Inside were Meghan Sardella, the driver of North Andover and Christopher Venezia, the passenger of North Reading. Sardella was found to be in Possession of Heroin for which she has been charged. Venezia has been charged with Knowingly Being Present Where Heroin is Kept. The cases will be prosecuted in the Lawrence District Court.
The crime of Knowingly Being Present Where Heroin is Kept in Massachusetts is a misdemeanor. The statute, Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 94C Section 35 controls this crime. The statute reads that “[a]ny person who is knowingly present at a place where heroin is kept or deposited in violation of the provisions of this chapter, or any person who is in the company of a person, knowing that said person is in possession of heroin in violation of the provisions of this chapter, shall be punished by imprisonment for not more than one year or by a fine of not more than one thousand dollars, or both.” First time offenders can get their convictions sealed after they fully satisfy their conditions of probation.
From the perspective of a Massachusetts Criminal Defense Lawyer this law is extremely troubling. It cuts against well established Massachusetts case law that makes someone’s presence at the scene of a crime without more insufficient to convict that person of the crime. In a well constructed opinion in 2009, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court reaffirmed its position in this regard and expanded on it in detail. See Commonwealth v. Zanetti, 454 Mass. 449 (2009). In Zanetti the Court stated that presence alone does not establish a defendant’s knowing participation in the crime even if he knew about the crime and took no steps to prevent it. There must be a showing that the defendant participated in the crime or that he had a shared intent to commit the crime. Simply being present is not enough. Very few cases in Massachusetts even discuss the statute in question here and no case defines it. The constitutionality of that statute is in my opinion and should be challenged.
Our office defends people accused of all different types of crimes including Drug Crimes in Lawrence, Massachusetts. There is a defense to every case and we are ready and prepared to help you set out that defense. Call us at 617-263-6800 or contact us online. We want to help you fight against the charges you are facing.