A Lowell District Court judge today agreed with Attorney Chris Spring’s argument that his client had been illegally searched by a Lowell police officer. Accordingly, the judge ordered the bags of Fentanyl seized from the defendant’s pocket to be suppressed, which will likely result in a dismissal of the case.
The officer was on patrol in the area of Middlesex Street to investigate reports of drug activity in the neighborhood. He took notice of the defendant, who was running back and forth between buildings. The defendant appeared to be avoiding contact with the officer and he was continuously talking on his phone. After noticing the defendant had a wad of cash in his hand, the officer parked and exited his cruiser. According to the officer, the defendant approached him and engaged him in conversation. When the officer asked where he was traveling and why he was moving so quickly, the defendant was unable to provide a satisfactory answer. The officer then noticed the top of a plastic baggie sticking out of the pocket of the defendant’s shorts. Knowing that drugs are often packaged in small plastic baggies, the officer told the defendant to put his hands on the police cruiser. The officer then reached into the defendant’s pocket and removed three baggies containing a powdery substance that was later determined to be Fentanyl. The defendant was charged with possession of a Class A substance.
Attorney Spring filed a motion to suppress the drugs, arguing the police officer’s search of the defendant’s pocket was unconstitutional. At today’s hearing, the officer testified about the series of events that led to his search of the defendant. When Attorney Spring asked him why he didn’t arrest the defendant immediately after noticing the plastic baggie, the officer acknowledged he had not idea what was in the baggie until he removed it from the defendant’s pocket. Attorney Spring argued the officer’s removal of the plastic baggie constituted a warrantless search, and was therefore legal only if the officer had probable cause to believe the defendant possessed contraband. The prosecutor argued the officer had probable cause at the time of the search to believe the defendant was possessing drugs. The defendant’s conduct was surely suspicious. Running back and forth between buildings while holding a fistful of cash and speaking nonstop on the phone is consistent with street-level drug dealing activity. However, the officer acknowledged he could not hear the substance of the defendant’s phone conversations and never saw the defendant exchange objects with anyone else. While his conduct was suspicious, it failed to rise to the level of probable cause to search.
Given the judge’s allowance of the defendant’s motion to suppress, the drugs are no longer admissible against the defendant at trial. Without the drugs, the Commonwealth will have no choice other than to dismiss the case unless it decides to appeal the suppression order. This case presents a reminder that even when suspects are caught possessing drugs, there are often motions that can be litigated in court that will result in charges being dismissed. If you are charged with a drug crime, it is important for you to consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney immediately.