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.
Can The Police Stop Me And Search My Car?
The answer is yes, but only if they have probable cause. Take the recent case of Cape Cod resident Candace Johnson. Supposedly the police were following her for a month. Then one day, they follow her to Dorchester and observe some alleged convoluted maneuvers involving Johnson and three others. The cops suspect drug activity and follow the car back to the Cape where a stop is made. Johnson and three others, Charles DeJesus, Marcus Gomes and Jonathan Depina are arrested. All are charged with some sort of cocaine related felony; either possession with intent or trafficking. When I read about this case I asked myself “is this it?”. Candace Johnson is under surveillance for a month and then stopped, searched and arrested for being with friends in Dorchester and then driving back to the Cape? No way. Absent any additional information this case would likely get dismissed. Suspicions, hunches and good guess work do not permit the police to take action they did in this case. There has got to be more or the case will get dismissed.
What Additional Information Would the Police Need to Make a Legal Stop?
They would need reliable and corroborated information that in fact Johnson was involved is some sort of drug crime. In this case, I have no doubt that the police were using an informant to get their information. To beat the motion to suppress that Johnson’s lawyer will likely file the district attorney is going to have to show that the informant was reliable; that he or she had provided reliable information in the past to law enforcement. There will also have to be some police corroboration of this information. Johnson’s defense team might want to find the informant and interview him. The information learned during this interview might lead result in a demonstration that the police lacked probable cause to stop and search the cars. It is important to remember that not all police investigations are done properly. It is the job of your criminal defense lawyer to point this out and attack it to help ensure success in your case. Johnson’s lawyer will request the judge order the district attorney to provide her with the details, times, dates and chronology of events that resulted from the surveillance activities. These “month long” investigations often lack the information necessary to support the stop and arrest.
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