Massachusetts Legal Developments Blog

Success at the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court

In an important victory, Edward R. Molari, Attorney at Law, successfully litigated a recent case before the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. Mr. Molari challenged lower court rulings to defend his client against drug charges brought about by an unreasonable search conducted by law enforcement officers.

The Facts of the Case

An April 13, 2007, polices officers pulled over a driver upon learning that he had two outstanding warrants for his arrest (one relating to a drug charge and another relating to violation of a protective order). After handcuffing the driver and placing him under arrest, one of the officers conducted a pat-down of the driver’s clothing.

During the pat-down, the officer discovered a prescription pill bottle--which the the driver said was blood pressure medicine--and a “One Touch” container with additional pills. Such “One Touch” containers typically hold thin strips for blood sugar testing. The officer found another “One Touch” container with pills in the driver’s vehicle when he was retrieving the keys in order to lock it. The officer took the pills into evidence.

Curious about the pills, the officer conducted an internet search. Based on the color, shape, and numbers imprinted on the pills, the officer identified them as prescription methadone. Because the driver did not have a valid prescription for this medicine, he was charged with illegal possession of a class B substance under Massachusetts law.

Search and Seizure Under Federal Law

In general, police must obtain a warrant before searching for evidence of a crime. This is a requirement of the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. However, there are a number of exceptions to this warrant requirement. For example, police may conduct a search of the immediate area surrounding someone they arrest, including a pat-down of the arrestee, without a warrant. Police may also seize any evidence in plain view (e.g., in plain sight of any place the officer can lawfully be located).

Search and Seizure Under Massachusetts Law

Massachusetts offers additional protections to defendants beyond what is guaranteed by the Fourth Amendment. Under Massachusetts law, police may only conduct a search incident to arrest that focuses on identifying weapons or evidence of the crime for which the defendant is being arrested.

The Police Exceeded Their Right to Search the Driver

In a decision by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, the Court held that the police exceeded their authority to search the driver. The prescription and “One Touch” bottles obtained by the police clearly were not weapons, nor were they evidence of the crimes for which the driver was being arrested (i.e., warrants for past criminal conduct). In short, the police should not have seized the methadone pills.

Why Criminal Defendants Need Good Lawyers

Although the police conduct comported with Federal Law, this victory for the driver turned on a question of Massachusetts law. Thus, a proper defense requires an attorney who has a thorough understanding of all the applicable laws and statutes. Every court ruled against the defendant until the case was brought before the Supreme Judicial Court. Thus, a proper defense requires an attorney with tenacity, who will see a case through to its end.

If you have been charged with a crime in Massachusetts, it is essential that you speak with an experienced Massachusetts criminal defense lawyer right away, Edward R. Molari, Attorney at Law, has the experience and tenacity to help defendants charged with all types of crimes. Mr. Molari can help you understand your rights, provide sound legal advice, prepare you for trial, and defend you in court. Contact Edward R. Molari, Attorney at Law, today for a confidential consultation.


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