MA Crime Blog
Who doesn’t get upset when a police officer pulls you over when you are already running late? Nothing can be more frustrating than getting stopped for going only five miles over the speed limit. How many times have you wanted to tell the police officer just where he can put his ticket? Most of us do well to remain calm, either out of fear or respect. But what happens if you lose your cool? Can you really get arrested? One Massachusetts resident found out the hard way.
Watch what you say to the police
About three years ago in Lowell, Massachusetts, Officer Brian M. Kinney was called to investigate a report of an unwanted individual on private property. When he arrived at the house, he found Vesna Nuon, a Cambodian father of two, who was being belligerent and refusing to return to the house of the friend he was visiting. Nuon appeared to have been drinking. When Officer Kinney approached, Nuon shouted, “you’re a coward, hiding behind your badge.”
Here the stories diverge. Officer Kinney said that Nuon was being aggressive and rude from the very beginning, yelling at the officer and waving his arms angrily. Nuon told Kinney, “nobody wants you here.” Nuon’s position was that “[he] wouldn’t be rude to an officer who is responding to a crisis, a crime.” He claims that Officer Kinney was doing neither. When the officer asked Nuon for identification, he complied and went inside his friend’s house to get it. When the officer followed him into the house, Nuon objected, reminding him that he could not come into the house without a warrant. The next thing Nuon knew, he was under arrest and in handcuffs.
Was Nuon’s arrest justified?
Officer Kinney states that he arrested Nuon because he “reeked” of alcohol and was exhibiting “irrational behavior.” According to the officer, “[Nuon] was screaming and yelling at me over nothing. I was just looking at him, at first, thinking, I don’t know what this man’s problem is.’’ To the contrary, Nuon said he only had two beers that evening and was certainly not drunk.
Nuon was arrested for disorderly conduct and spent several hours in the city jail. The charges were ultimately dismissed but Nuon filed a complaint in federal court challenging the arrest and alleging that Kinney did not have probable cause. The federal judge hearing his case agreed with Nuon, and Officer Kinney was found liable for false arrest. In 2011, the lawsuit was settled for $50,000.
Disorderly conduct charges can cross the line when a police officer is insulted.
Surprisingly, Nuon’s case is not as uncommon as you may think. On March 24, 2011, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals held that a Kentucky man, Kevin O. Kennedy, had been arrested without probable cause and charged with disorderly conduct simply because he called an officer a “fat slob.” In March 2009, a federal judge ruled against a Pittsburgh police officer who issued a citation to David Hackbart, 34, for giving him the middle finger.
Then of course, there was the newsworthy case of Harvard professor, Henry Louis Gates Jr., who was arrested in July 2009 for screaming at a Cambridge police officer from inside his own home. The police were initially called out to the residence to investigate a possible break-in, as Gates was having trouble unlocking the door to his home. If these are all cases in which the courts determined the officers had crossed the line, where is the line actually drawn?
Disorderly conduct versus free speech.
As a former Newark Police Department captain, Jon Shane, has said, “[t]he issue is where you draw the line between free speech and disorderly conduct. That is a perpetual debate in law enforcement circles.’’ Under Massachusetts law, disorderly conduct means “publicly fighting, threatening, engaging in “violent or tumultuous behavior,’’ or creating a hazardous or physically dangerous condition. In the case of Nuon, the court determined that, even viewing the incident from the officer’s point of view, it was clear Nuon’s conduct did not meet this threshold. As such, Officer Kinney did not have probable cause to arrest him. As the court explained in its 20-page decision, “[e]xpressive conduct, even of a coarse and vulgar nature, cannot be punished as a disorderly offense.”
So, how can this abuse of arrest powers be curbed?
Sarah Wunsch, staff attorney with the Massachusetts ACLU, said the decision in the Nuon case is a reminder to police officers that, even when dealing with someone who is belligerent or irritated, that person is still protected by the Constitution. Wunsch said of police officers in general, “They don’t have an easy job. They do have to put up with people who are yelling at them and disapproving of what they’re doing. But they’re supposed to be trained to deal with that. . . . They’re supposed to remain calm.”
In light of Nuon’s case, Lowell city officials are looking at training options to better ensure that officers are not overstepping their authority by making arrests improperly based on insult or emotion. Otherwise, more and more municipalities and law enforcement organizations will be faced with lawsuits for violations of civil and constitutional rights.
Resisting arrest is one thing, assaulting an officer in the process is yet another. Assaulting a police dog? That will certainly make the headlines. When police were called to the scene of a disturbance and found a San Jose man vandalizing cars and brandishing a weapon, they employed the skills of their German Shepherd. However, they didn’t expect the man to bite the dog.
An unusual case of resisting arrest.
In Santa Clara County, California near San Jose, Sheriff’s deputies responded to a call and found Frank Garcia, 34, armed with what appeared to be a knife. He had slashed a tire on one vehicle and smashed in several car windows. Officers attempted to talk him down so they could take him in, but he stabbed himself three times.
As his self-inflicted injuries were not life threatening, the deputies made the decision to release their K-9, “Ski” in an attempt to subdue the man. However, Garcia allegedly, punched, choked and bit the dog until the deputies were able to tackle him to the ground. Ski was not seriously injured, and is expected to make a full recovery and return to duty soon. Garcia was arrested on a number of charges, including resisting arrest, being under the influence of a controlled substance, and injuring a police dog.
Some of the incident was caught on video by a nearby cell phone user, and of course the video has gone viral. Garcia’s cousin, Maxine Gonzales says that she was very thankful the deputies did not have the need to shoot at him. That is obviously one good thing that came out of the deputies’ decision to use the K-9. However, the penalties for resisting arrest can still be pretty steep. In California, resisting arrest is a misdemeanor and carries with it a sentence of up to one (1) year and/or a maximum fine of one thousand dollar ($1,000) fine. The same offense in Massachusetts could lead to a longer period of confinement.
Resisting Arrest Charges in Massachusetts
Although the charge of resisting arrest in Massachusetts is only a misdemeanor, it still carries with it a pretty significant penalty. Massachusetts General Law Chapter 268 section 32B states as follows:
[w]hoever violates this section shall be punished by imprisonment in a jail or house of correction for not more than two and one-half years or a fine of not more than five hundred dollars, or both.
The elements of a resisting arrest charge are (1) that you prevented or attempted to prevent a police officer from making an arrest; (2) the officer was acting under color of his official authority at the time of the arrest; (3) proof that you actually resisted; and (4) you knowingly committed these acts. Resisting usually means that you used, or threatened to use, physical force or violence against an officer or someone else. It can also include using some other means to create a substantial risk of causing bodily injury to the officer or another person. It must also be shown that the police officer was either in uniform at the time he attempted to arrest you, or if not, he identified himself by showing his badge or other credentials.
Defenses to resisting arrest may apply to your situation.
In Massachusetts, there are defenses applicable for resisting arrest charges, such as when you are resisting a pat frisk, fleeing a police officer who orders you to stop for the purposes of a threshold inquiry only, or not knowing the person you were resisting was a police officer. You also have the right to use reasonable force to resist an arrest if the officer uses unreasonable or excessive force. If you have been charged with resisting arrest it is important to retain a Massachusetts criminal defense attorney who knows the system and can help defend your rights.
Last month, Pennsylvania State Police arrested Richard Keiper, 67, of Boyd, Texas in connection with a slaying, which happened 45 years ago. Keiper was taken into custody two days shy of the 45th anniversary of Alfred Barnes’ death. Barnes was shot multiple times and his body was found in a field. Until August of this year, the case had gone cold. The police were able to piece the puzzle together after they interviewed a witness in early august who revealed new facts and leads about Barnes’ murder. The lesson of the story here is, you can run but you cannot hide from your actions.
Keiper faces murder, robbery and theft charges. The police were unable to identify who murdered Barnes, however had many clues pointing to Keiper. Hunters found Barnes’ body in a field Chestnuthill Township, Monroe County, on Oct. 19, 1968. Sometime in 1968, Barnes was shot twice in the right side of his face, once to the top of his head and once through his right hand, police said. The shot to the head was consistent with the shooter standing over Barnes, records say. Barnes was found in his car in a town in New Jersey, close to the home where Keiper had grown up. In a bizarre twist of events, police were unable to find Keiper and bring him in for questioning. Keiper had fled the scene and the state before police were able to trace the alleged events back to him. Keiper currently resides and was arrested in Texas and is waiting for his trial in Pennsylvania.
The alleged murder happened after Barnes made statements about being Cuban. The arrest of Keiper brings to light some alarming statistics about homicide. Of the 12,664 murder victims in 2011, 77.6 percent were male. Of the murders for which the circumstance surrounding the murder was known, 42.9 percent of victims were murdered during arguments (including romantic triangles) in 2011.
Massachusetts law defines homicide as the unlawful killing of a human being. Criminal homicide falls under different categories: murder and manslaughter. The determination of the charge is dependent on the facts and circumstances of each case. No crime affects a family more than the murder of a relative or friend. Despite it being many years later in this case, the charges were never dropped because of the severity of the crime.
Researching for a school assignment at your local library? You might have sat next to the mastermind of the “the most sophisticated and extensive criminal marketplace on the Internet today.”
Background of the Investigation
29-year-old Ross William Ulbright “Dread Pirate Roberts” was captured by FBI agents in a San Francisco public library and charged with narcotics trafficking, computer hacking and money laundering.
Ulbright’s operation rooted itself in the nebulous of the “deep web,” which is a private sector of the Internet and is only open to users of Tor (anonymizing software). Authorities claim that the “Silk Road” conducted over $1 billion-worth of transactions since 2011, and amassed over $80 million in commissions. On the website, users could buy and sell drugs with the use of bitcoins, the website’s currency, and receive deliveries of their purchases through regular mail to their homes.
Silk Road also facilitated shopping for those who seek counterfeit cash, forged ID documents, firearms, ammunition, and even hitmen. Ulbright himself allegedly enlisted the help of a hitman to kill a blackmailer who threatened to disclose the identities of Silk Road users. The FBI is collaborating with international enforcement authorities and has arrested Silk Road traffickers from the United States, Britain, and Sweden. Ross Ulbright ran a massive illegal operation, and he will be punished accordingly.
Charges under Massachusetts Law
Ross Ulbright will amass astronomical charges even though he did not physically distribute or possess any drugs. Since the “Silk Road” garnered an unprecedented size and revenues. The court will have to determine how to charge an individual who did not outright possess and distribute, but facilitated the process. Accordingly, the courts will exercise a great deal of judicial discretion. In terms of drug charges, the MGL Chapt. 94C, Sect. 32E of Massachusetts drug laws states that possession of more than 100 grams but less than 200 grams warrants up to twenty-years in prison. Combined with a fifteen-year marijuana sentence and a twenty-year heroin conviction, Ulbright may grow old behind bars.
According to M.G.L. Chap.94C, Section 40, conspiracy to violate drug laws warrants a conviction equal, no larger, than the commission of the actual illegal act. Thus, the court might consider Ulbright’s acts as conspiratorial and enabling, and thus match his conviction to a typical drug charge conviction. Finally, FBI found that Ulbright hired a Maryland hitman whom he paid $80,000, and a second hitman in Canada whom he allegedly promised $150,000. This activity makes Ulbright liable for conspiracy to murder, and he can be convicted with life in prison.
The capture of Internet prodigy Ross Ulbright sheds light on an entirely new and threatening platform for criminal behavior. Ulbright not only facilitated drug traffic, but he also opened his doors to hitmen action (which he enlisted himself). Accordingly, it seems like only a matter of time until the vilest of acts can become accessible to criminals who can benefit from anonymity and act from behind their computer screens. If a seemingly regular guy like Ulbright was able to manage Silk Road, the danger of these kinds of websites is greater than expected. The underbelly of crime is no longer the dark alley at night – it is the “deep web.”
A five-month old infant girl died after drinking baby bottle formula laced with heroin. Authorities stepped in to find three grams of heroin and hypodermic needles in her parents’ home. While the infant’s death does not seem to be intentional, her parents were charged with manslaughter.
Ryan Barry and Ashley Cyr lived together with a four-year-old, a three-year-old, and their infant five-month old daughter. Barry stated to the authorities that he prepared the baby girl’s bottle by mixing two ounces of formula with two ounces of water. Shortly after drinking the bottle, the baby became unconscious and the couple called 911. Authorities found the infant’s grandmother performing CPR to no avail, and the infant died shortly after being brought to the hospital. Authorities attempted to discover the baby’s cause of death, and the hospital report revealed that the baby formula in the bottle contained heroin. During the investigation, Barry confessed that the infant’s mother was using drugs near the children, and had even “snorted drugs off a Dr. Seuss book.” Surely enough, authorities found evidence of drug use in the home, including needles and three grams of heroin. Barry claimed that the heroin might have gotten into the formula if “someone cleaned a syringe in the water bottle” used to prepare the infant’s drink. According to the autopsy, the infant died of opiate poisoning.
The couple was arrested, held on $200,000 cash bail, and charged with manslaughter last week. However, the little girl passed away in 2011. Accordingly, the defense is raising an interesting point: why are the authorities charging the couple now? Essentially, the defense attorney is seeking to clarify the reason why the investigation took two years despite the fact that the autopsy identification of the cause of death was timely. While this may be a petty point for the defense to try to beef up their own case, it bears mentioning because, even as a policy point, the prosecution might be charging the wrong party. Attorney Liam Scully claims that there is no evidence that his client (Ryan Barry) put the heroine into the baby’s bottle, and thus Barry should not be vilified and charged with manslaughter.
Since the couple was charged under Massachusetts State Laws, they are liable to up to twenty years in prison for manslaughter. Ashley Cyr, the infant’s mother, was also charged with a count of reckless endangerment of a child on the basis of the drug findings and Barry’s statements to the police. While not a part of the General Laws, reckless endangerment to children is defined as a person who is aware of, yet “consciously disregards a substantial and unjustifiable risk” which would result in serious bodily injury to a child. Disregard of the risk must constitute a “gross deviation from the behavior of a reasonable person in the same situation”. Here, the father testified that the mother used heroine near the children, even on their story books, so she put her infant and two toddlers in danger of ingesting heroine. Coupled with the infant’s death from opiate poisoning, the mother’s reckless endangerment will make a difficult burden for the defense to overcome. More likely than not, the couple will be unable to escape the charges, and the wife’s sentence will probably be higher in order to make a public policy point about the harrowing outcomes of drug use.
Do you let your underage kids drink with you? Of course not. It is no secret, though, that not everyone is fit to be a parent, but one New Mexico couple brings new meaning to the term “unfit.” Not only did they get drunk with their underage child, but they did so knowing that he was suicidal and already drug addict.
An unfortunate Fourth of July.
For one fifteen-year-old, Fourth of July, 2011 was not a time for celebration. Joe Torres Jr. spent the evening of July 3rd with his father and step-mother drinking. Joe’s father, Joe Torres Sr. gave him beer and Joe’s step-mother, Heather Soto, provided him with a wine and brandy mixture. Around 6:30 a.m. the next morning, paramedics were called after his family found him unconscious and could not resuscitate him.
The child was rushed to the hospital and remained unconscious for 10 hours until he died after being taken off of life support. It was discovered at the hospital that Joe Jr. had a blood alcohol level of 0.115, which was much higher than the legal limit in New Mexico of 0.08. It was also found that the child had opiates in his system. However, because hospital staff did not know exactly what type of drug(s) the boy had taken, they were hindered from properly treating him.
For the first five hours the teen was in the hospital, the couple denied that Joe Jr. had drank any alcohol. It was not until investigators found text messages on the boy’s phone, where he had bragged to friends that he was getting drunk with his parents, did the couple admit he had been drinking the night before.
A clear case of intentional child abuse.
Both Torres Sr. and Soto were well aware that Joe Jr. had a history of engaging in self-destructive behavior. He had already spent time in therapy for suicidal tendencies and both alcohol and drug abuse, after overdosing on over-the-counter and prescription medication. Joe Jr. had moved from Colorado, where he had been living with his mother, to stay with his father. Since this child had suicidal tendencies and drug and alcohol abuse problems already, the fact that his father and stepmother not only allowed, but encouraged, him to drink is deplorable. One police spokesman described it as “like feeding gas to a fire.”
Joe Torres Sr., 39, and Heather Soto, 31, have both been arrested and charged with intentional and negligent child abuse resulting in death. Since the couple was admittedly aware that the teen was drinking while underage, and they had full knowledge of his history for drug and alcohol abuse, they were charged with an intentional act, as well as negligence.
Underage drinking is not a rare occurrence.
Hopefully the number of parents that actually encourage their underage teens to drink is few and far between. However, the number of teens who obtain alcohol from home without their knowledge is much higher than it should be. Take, for example, the death of 14-year-old Takeimi Rao, who drank herself to death at a slumber party in her own home.
Rao was found dead by her parents on July 9, 2011 after a slumber party with three friends. The teen’s mother, Aleae Pennette, had taken the girls out for dinner and returned home. Pennette did not know that the girls spent the evening drinking soda mixed with vodka they had found in the kitchen. Around 2 a.m., Pennette found the three friends throwing up, but assumed it was just something they had eaten. The next morning, Rao was found unconscious on the bedroom floor and the paramedics pronounced her dead on scene. It is believed that she died from alcohol poisoning. The family had been renting the home and the vodka belonged to the owners.
Susan Foster, vice president of the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, had this to say:
This is a tragic lesson that we all need to learn from. We as a society think about alcohol and other drug use just as behavioral issues—kids acting out or taking risks—and we don’t think of it as a health problem. But from a science point of view, it is.
The truth is, these underage kids are literally too young to drink – meaning their livers cannot process the alcohol and their systems are being poisoned, often resulting in death.
According to Foster’s research, 9 out of 10 addicts in the United States begin smoking, drinking or using drugs before the age of 18. According to one source, Massachusetts is among 28 other states that allow teens under age 21 to drink alcohol with parental consent. Considering the statistics and the current laws in many states, whether to provide alcohol to our children is yet another decision responsible parents will have to make.
You may have heard of Robert Zelnick, a former ABC News correspondent and professor of journalism at Boston University. He was a news correspondent for over 20 years, with assignments at places like the Pentagon, Israel and Moscow during his long, successful career. At age 73, he is currently a research fellow at Stanford University. However, he is more recently known for an unfortunate incident that occurred on Oct. 7, 2011.
A Tragic Accident.
On that afternoon, Zelnick was leaving the Pinehills Golf Club in Plymouth, Massachusetts when he turned his 2006 BMW SUV into the path of a motorcycle. The motorcycle was being driven by Brendan M. Kennedy, a 26-year-old on his way to work at the golf club’s restaurant. Kennedy could not stop his motorcycle in time to avoid the collision and was killed. Zelnick was not speeding or under the influence of alcohol or drugs at the time of the incident. However, Zelnick’s health was declining as he was battling Parkinson’s disease.
Zelnick Was Convicted of Vehicular Homicide.
Laws regarding the elements of vehicular homicide, and the sentence that charge carries, vary from state to state. In Massachusetts, in order to convict someone of vehicular homicide, the prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant was driving recklessly or negligently, which directly caused the death of another.
After a two-day bench trial before Judge J. Thomas Kirkman, Zelnick was found guilty of negligent vehicular homicide, which is a misdemeanor. He was also charged with the civil infraction of failure to yield. He was found to be negligent because, “given his health condition at the time, he should not have been operating a vehicle.” He was sentenced to three years of probation and his driver’s license was revoked. Zelnick, who knew the victim, was also ordered to write an apology letter to Brendan Kennedy’s family.
Is age a factor in driver safety?
Unfortunately, motor vehicle accidents at the hands of the elderly are not unusual. In September of last year, Preston Carter who was about to turn 101, plowed into eleven people while backing out of a parking lot near an elementary school in Los Angeles. He injured nine children. Luckily no one was killed.
People were not so lucky, however, in 2003 when 86-year-old George Weller sped through an open-air street market in Santa Monica, California killing 10 people and injuring 63 more. He was found guilty of vehicular manslaughter in that case.
Richard Nix, executive director of Agingcare.com, suggests that many elderly drivers do not realize that their reflexes, hearing and eyesight are not what they used to be. Nor do they consider that possible side effects of medications they are taking may also impair their judgment or coordination. “People have been driving their whole life and have trouble believing they’re incapable of continuing,” he said. “They feel like their independence has been taken away,” says Nix. But when they are no longer capable, something needs to be done.
How do we address the safety risks older drivers present?
According to some recent statistics, the number of American seniors (age 65 and older) will increase from 39 million in 2010 to 69 million in 2030. Today, only 15% of all drivers in our country are 65 or older, but by 2025, approximately 25% will be seniors. Statistics show that drivers 70 and older have a high fatality rate per mile driven, second only to drivers younger than 25. So, if seniors are at an increased risk of endangering others on the road, what should be done?
Massachusetts State Senator Brian Joyce has been pushing a bill that would require drivers over the age of 85 to take a vision and road test every five years in order to retain their licenses. Currently, in most states, drivers are tested at 16 ½ when they first get their driver’s license, and then they are never road tested again. Until the legislature effectively addresses this concern, the only solution may be to enlist the help of family and friends to persuade their loved ones to surrender their keys when their driving abilities have become compromised.
Imagine driving down the Massachusetts Turnpike during rush hour one morning, people honking at you incessantly and cutting you off in their mad dash to get to work on time. Just as you are about to lose your temper, you notice a huge billboard on the side of the highway with a simple message, “Try God.”
If you live in Boston, you may have noticed the advertising campaign by a Catholic radio station a few months ago. The “Try God” campaign ran in the Greater Boston area in September in an effort to reach the Boston community and encourage people to listen to the Catholic Radio station 1060 AM WQOM. There were 23 billboards posted around Boston on the major highways. On August 23, 2013, the radio station received an unexpected call from listeners informing them that the billboard located along the Massachusetts Turnpike in Brighton, had been vandalized. According to the report, the billboard had been altered to read, “Try God. The other WHITE meat.”
What does it all mean?
The meaning behind the vandal’s message was unclear. What was obvious, though, was that this act of vandalism was not simply the work of teenagers with spray paint. Instead, a white banner was printed with the odd message and actually placed on the billboard to cover the radio station’s call sign. Apparently, whoever was responsible went through a lot of trouble to make the sign appear authentic.
The manager of the Catholic Radio broadcast, Chris Kelley, was not happy about the defacing of what was meant to be an “uplifting message.” However, Kelley admitted that the act was not entirely negative, as he explained,
This act, however, is an indication that the “Try God” billboard campaign is attracting attention and making people reflect on the role of God in our lives. That attention is the silver-lining and a sign that the campaign already has been successful.
No other signs had been tampered with, and the one in Brighton was corrected the following Monday morning to convey its original message. Unfortunately, vandalism of religious symbols or messages is not an isolated occurrence. This billboard defacing incident in Boston may not have been as serious as some other reported incidents. For example, vandals painted a swastika and the words ‘White Power’ on a gatepost outside a synagogue in Staten Island. Three teens were arrested for significant damage to an Islamic mosque in Delaware. Some of these cases are ultimately investigated as hate crimes.
Religious vandalism as evidence of hate.
As with swastikas and burning corsses, vandalism of religious symbols can be a calling card for hate crimes. Last July, a Brooklyn man, Chris Papadimitropoulos was charged with six counts of criminal mischief as a hate crime, after he defaced numerous churches in the Brooklyn area. When he was all done, he had vandalized four churches and a Bay Ridge prep school. Papadimitropoulos was suspected of splattering red paint on a statue of Jesus Christ and one of the Virgin Mary, outside Saint Anselm Catholic Church.
He was also suspected of spray painting the word “no” at the front entrance of the Bay Ridge Jewish Center and on the front wall of a Lutheran church on Ridge Boulevard. Strangely, the suspect is believed to have spray painted the word “on” at the entrance of Bay Ridge Prep. Reports say the vandal painted the word “no” at the entrance of the Jewish Center large enough to be seen from more than two blocks away. Although the motive for these crimes of vandalism was not clear, the incidents were investigated as hate crimes.
What is the law on vandalism in Massachusetts?
In Massachusetts, destruction or damage of someone else’s property is known as “malicious damage,” and comes with stiff penalties. The extent of the sentence if convicted depends on your intent at the time of the offense. If you acted “willfully and maliciously” you could receive a sentence of up to 10 years in prison and fines of $3,000 or 3 times the amount of the damage caused, whichever is greater.
If it is shown that you acted “wantonly” (or carelessly) the penalty is only a maximum of 2 ½ years in jail or a fine of $1,500 or three time the value of the damage, whichever is greater. If the damage you cause is less than $250, you can still be sentenced to 2 ½ months in jail and fined 3 times the amount of the damage you caused.
Once a man’s world, the underbelly of drug trafficking is resurfacing in once-peaceful neighborhoods. Massachusetts police recently raided an Easthampton apartment and arrested two female residents for narcotics trafficking and possession. While this is not an isolated incident in the increasingly criminal neighborhood of Pleasant Street, it certainly adds to the problem. Police alleged that Marcella Severance, 54, was the head of the operation. Police charged Severance with trafficking up to 100 grams of cocaine. At market value, the cocaine is worth nearly $4,800. Heather Martinez, 39, was charged with two counts of class B substance possession, Percocet and Suboxone, without a prescription.
Since January, police has recorded two cases of drug overdoses on Pleasant Street alone. Accordingly, Easthampton police and the Northwestern District Attorney’s Anti-Crime Task Force commenced their investigation and are hoping to make more drug-related arrests.
How Does Massachusetts Law Treat Cocaine Possession?
The law on drugs is clear in Massachusetts. One-time possession of cocaine, a class “B” substance, racks up to 1 year in jail and a fine of up to $1,000, according to MGL Chap.94C, Sect.34. In addition, the cocaine possessor also automatically loses his license for one year. If you are convicted of cocaine possession for the first time you could face up to 1 year in jail and a fine of up to $1000.
In terms of cocaine possession with intent to distribute, M.G.L. Chapter 94C Section 32A states that offenders will receive a 2 ½ year jail sentence and a fine of not less than $1,000 and up to $10,000. Recidivist offenders may face up to 3 years in state prison, a maximum sentence of 10 years, a $2,500 to $25,000 fine, and a mandatory 3 year license suspension.
According to MGL Chapt. 94C, Sect. 32E, 14-28 grams of cocaine warrant at least three and at most 15 years in state prison. If an individual is caught with 28 and up to 100 grams of cocaine, he or she may be imprisoned for five to twenty years. For 100 grams or more, but less than two hundred grams, the prison term becomes 10-20 years in state prison.
In this scenario, the drug operation’s ringleader possessed 97 grams of cocaine, and she may face up to 20 years in prison. However, a portion of her sentence may be mitigated if she can help police get more leads.
Public Policy Concerns
The public policy concerns inherent in the war on drugs are that it simply does not seem to end anytime soon. From marijuana sales among teens to large-scale operations, drug trafficking does not discriminate among race or educational background. Thus, law enforcement does not shy from bursting into apartments, even ones inhabited by single women, or families, because enough cause has been shown in their investigations. Drug abuse will remain the black sheep of American society, and the means to get drugs are more accessible than ever.