Two men will be prosecuted on drug charges in the West Roxbury Division of the Boston Municipal Court as a result of an automobile stop last week. According to the West Roxbury Patch undercover Boston Police Officers saw Robert Clarke using his cell phone outside the Washington Street Burger King around 8:15 p.m. The officers apparently knew Clarke from previous drug-related arrests. Eventually, Michael Dixon drove up and Clarke got into his car.
The pair headed West on Washington Street towards Dedham and the police had trouble keeping up with the speeding car. The police allege that the car stopped at the Grove Street red light and the men leaned towards each other. The light changed and the car did not move. The undercover officers allege that they watched the men and eventually sounded their horn. By that time, however, the light had changed back to red, and Dixon drove though the intersection anyway.
The police pulled Dixon over, ostensibly for speeding and running the red light. According to the Patch, they ordered the men out of the car, pat frisked them and searched the car. The article says that the police recovered eight pills in the car and some pills, a pill bottle, and $280.00 "in one of the suspect's pockets."
Clarke was charged with possession of class B and C drugs. Dixon was charged with distribution and possession with intent to distribute class B and C drugs.
Just because a person has a drug history does not mean that the police may stop and search them at any time. Here, there was a little more than just that, but was there enough? A man (with or without a drug history) on his phone outside a restaurant getting picked up for a ride is not enough to stop and search. So the police followed to see if anything was going on.
The legal questions will be: 1. Did they see enough to warrant the stop of the car? 2. Did they see enough to warrant the order for them to get out of the car? Did they see enough to search them and search the car?
Obviously, if the driver committed the motor vehicle offenses, the police were justified in stopping the car. As with many allegations of civil motor vehicle violations, the driver may not agree that he was speeding and may not agree that the light was red when he went through the intersection. If the driver contests these allegations and prevails, then the stop would be unjustified and the drugs suppressed. In my experience, however, this is a long shot.
The other questions are closer calls. A valid stop, without more, does not give the police grounds to order people to get out of their vehicle. A ticket should be issued and the occupants should be allowed to go on their way. So what more did the police have? The men were allegedly leaning towards each other at the light. This could have been a drug deal, or it could have been any other innocent behavior. The men will need experienced defense counsel to demonstrate to the judge at a Motion to Suppress, that this does not justify the exit order.
"Pat downs," are usually justified as being necessary for the officers' safety. They are performed to determine if a person has a weapon. Here there did not appear to be any reason for the men to be out of the car, nor did there appear to be any reason for the officers to be afraid that they may have weapons.
Why were the police searching the car? There is a big difference between a police suspicion and probable cause to search. Obviously the police suspected Clarke because of his history, and they will say that using a cell phone to contact a dealer is a common practice. They will also say that the men leaning in together over the console
looked like a drug deal. All this adds up to a suspicion. These observations,clearly, could be innocent behavior that do not add up to probable cause. Zero plus zero equals zero. Should every person that uses a cell phone for a ride who gets in a car and leans towards the driver at a red light, be ordered out of the car and searched? Should every person that provides the ride in these circumstances, have his car searched?
These are just the search and seizure issues. What about the issues of drug dealing? Where is the evidence that Dixon sold drugs? Where is the evidence Dixon possessed drugs with the intent to distribute them? Having eight pills and $280 may not be enough.
In any event, this case is not as open and shut as it may first appear, when scrutinized with an eye towards defending the accused men.
If you are charged with a drug crime, or any other crime, you should have your case evaluated by an experienced criminal defense attorney. I have been defending criminal cases for over 20 years, so I am well prepared to assist you.
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The facts used in this blog were obtained solely from the cited source(s). There may be additional information that would alter the analysis.