The Massachusetts Appeals Court today reversed a superior court judge’s decision to exclude from trial the heroin found on an alleged drug dealer. The name of the case is Commonwealth v. Freeman.
The Middlesex Grand Jury returned indictments against the defendant charging him with possession of heroin with intent to distribute (second or subsequent offense) and a school zone violation. The charges resulted from the defendant’s arrest by undercover narcotics officers of the Cambridge police department in July of 2011. The officers saw a known drug user meet with a second (unidentified) man in an area of Cambridge that had seen more than a dozen drug crimes during the preceding two months. The officers watched the two men walk together for a couple of blocks and then separate. The unidentified man then met with the defendant. They began walking together toward one of the undercover police officers. The unidentified man handed what appeared to be unfolded money to the defendant, who passed a small object back to him.
The unidentified man walked away and was not confronted by the police. The defendant continued toward the undercover officer, counting money as he walked. The officer identified himself to the defendant and said he was conducting a drug investigation. The officer handcuffed the defendant and searched him. A hidden pouch containing eight packets of heroin was found in the defendant’s crotch. The defendant denied that he had met with anyone else on the street but admitted that he had heroin on him.
The defendant filed a motion to suppress, arguing that the police lacked reasonable suspicion or probable cause to stop and search him. The superior court judge agreed, ruling that an exchange of money and a small object between two unidentified men on a public street does not amount to reasonable suspicion that a crime has been committed. Instead, the police officers had a hunch (which turned out to be correct) that did not allow them to stop and search the defendant. If the superior court judge’s ruling had been upheld, the drugs would not have been admitted at the defendant’s trial and the Commonwealth would have had to dismiss the case. Instead, the Commonwealth appealed and the Appeals Court reversed the superior court judge’s suppression order.
The Appeals Court noted that the area in which the defendant was located had been subject to numerous recent complaints for drug activity. An experienced drug detective is entitled to consider the unusual nature of the transaction, the location of the encounter, and the furtive conduct of the individuals involved to determine whether a drug transaction had likely occurred. The Supreme Judicial Court has previously compared observations made by experienced drug detectives to a “silent movie” where seemingly innocent activities are meaningful to the officers who have witnessed hundreds of drug transactions during their careers. In this case, the Appeals Court held that when viewed together, all of the activities observed by the drug detectives supported their conclusion that the defendant had sold drugs to the unidentified man. Therefore, the stop and search of the defendant was lawful and the drugs will be admitted against the defendant at his trial.
Most drug cases involve motions to suppress the evidence. If you have been charged with a drug crime, you should immediately consult with a criminal defense attorney to explore your options.