The Massachusetts Appeals Court today ruled that Springfield police officers lacked constitutional authority to search a car associated with an alleged drug dealer which resulted in the seizure of a large amount of heroin and a gun. The name of the case is Commonwealth v. Luna.
A confidential informant told a Springfield Police narcotics investigator that the defendant would be delivering a large quantity of heroin to a particular intersection on a particular date in April of 2015. The informant provided specific information about the defendant, including his nickname and the type of car he would be driving to the drug deal. The informant was also able to provide the defendant’s address and said he had bought heroin from the defendant within the past three days. The cops were able to confirm the address provided by the informant matched the defendant’s address, and also that the defendant had a residence in Chicopee. The police had knowledge that heroin addicts hung around at the intersection where the drug deal was scheduled to occur.
On the morning of the defendant’s arrest, the cops watched the defendant leave his Springfield apartment and place two large containers in the back seat of his car. The defendant drove to his Chicopee home and retrieved a plastic bag from the trunk of red Honda parked in the driveway. The defendant then got back into his car and drove toward the subject intersection. As he approached, the defendant began driving erratically and the cops concluded he was conducting counter-surveillance to determine if he was being followed. Before the defendant arrived at his destination, the police stopped him and removed him from his car. An officer patfrisked the defendant and removed a large package containing packets of heroin from his pocket along with the keys to the Honda that was parked at the defendant’s Chicopee residence. The defendant was arrested and the cops traveled to Chicopee. After determining nobody was home, officers used the keys seized from the defendant to open the Honda and found a gun along with several bricks of heroin. Charges ensued and the defendant filed a motion to suppress the evidence seized from the Honda. After a superior court judge denied the motion, the defendant appealed.
The Appeals Court first concluded the police had probable cause to stop and arrest the defendant based on the information provided by the informant and the observations of the investigating officers. The police were able to corroborate much of the information provided by the informant and the defendant’s conduct was consistent with drug dealing activity. Therefore, it was proper for the police to stop the defendant’s car, arrest him, and search his clothes incident to the arrest.
The search of the defendant’s Honda in Chicopee was a different story. Massachusetts law generally prohibits a police officer from acting outside of his jurisdiction absent statutory authority. In this case, Springfield cops were executing a warrantless search in Chicopee. Chicopee cops were not part of the investigation and were not present when the search was conducted. Therefore, according to the Appeals Court, the drugs and gun discovered in the Honda should have been suppressed by the superior court judge.
The case was remanded to the superior court, where the defendant will go on trial for charges related to the drugs seized from his pocket.