In Massachusetts, drug crimes are governed by the "Controlled Substances Act" under MGL c. 94C. These offenses range from relatively minor misdemeanor charges to serious felony charges carrying lengthy state prison time, and in many cases, mandatory minimum prison sentences. The prosecution may also file a motion to seek forfeiture of your money, property, and even your house, if they can demonstrate to the court that it was used as part of drug activity. The Court does not need to be convinced "beyond a reasonable doubt" that your property was used during, or in conjunction with, drug activity- the much more relaxed civil standard governs forfeiture of property.
Drug charges are very fact- specific. While you might think that you've been caught red-handed in possession of an illegal substance, that is not necessarily the case.
For example, the prosecution must prove "possession" beyond a reasonable doubt, and there are also different definitions of "possession" depending on the specific statute under which you are charged. Very often, the prosecution's strongest evidence of the possession element is an admission by the defendant, which is why it's important to always invoke your right to remain silent- do not build a case against yourself! You are presumed innocent, and the burden of proof is always on the prosecution to prove your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
Not only is the prosecution required to prove possession, must they must prove knowledge of possession. For example, if you borrow a friend's car and illegal drugs are found in the trunk, the prosecution might have a difficult time proving that you knew about the drugs. If, however, you are driving a motor vehicle, and you are the registered owner of the vehicle, a jury could reasonably assume that you know what's in your own car.
If you are charged with possession of a controlled substance under MGL c. 94 s. 34, and the evidence for that charge came while you were seeking medical attention for an overdose, or while seeking such medical attention for another person, then the charge must be dismissed. This is a new law that took effect in 2012, and it serves the legitimate public policy of encouraging people to seek life saving medical attention rather than deterring such action with the threat of prosecution.
The prosecution must also prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the substance for which you are charged is illegal. A police officer might charge you with possession of class B because he/she believes the substance to be cocaine. This would either require expert testimony, or a certification of the substance as cocaine by the Massachusetts state drug lab. You might be charged with possession of class B for pills believed to be oxycontin, but a valid prescription in your name for those pills would invalidate the charge- they aren't illegal for you to possess. However, you could still be charged with intent to distribute, even with a valid prescription, if other evidence suggested such intent. (More pills than prescribed, individually divided containers of pills, large folds of cash next to the pills, multiple cell phones suggesting drug transactions, a note suggesting buyer names and amounts, etc.)
Motions to Suppress are very common, and critical, in drug cases. We will analyze the police report in your case, investigate the scene, interview witnesses, and determine whether we should challenge the search of you, your property, or your home on constitutional grounds. Depending on the nature and scope of the search, if the judge determines that it was done illegally, we may be able to have your drug case dismissed and all of your seized property (money, car, etc.) returned. (The illegal drugs of course would not be returned).
The stakes are much higher in drug distribution, trafficking, and school zone cases. You are facing mandatory minimum state prison sentences on many of these charges. These are also very technical cases- exact measurements and weights are critical. A full analysis of police and expert reports may uncover flaws in the testing and weighing of the substance, or in the measurement for school zone cases (which only applies if you were within 300 feet of a school or park).
While a drug trafficking charge requires that the prosecution prove you are in possession of a certain quantity, you can be charged with "intent to distribute" for even as little as a few grams of marijuana- which, if arrested in a school or park zone, carries a minimum mandatory sentence of 2 years in jail. The prosecution can charge you with "intent to distribute" even this small quantity based on other evidence of such intent. Such evidence may come from the way in which the controlled substance is packaged (multiple bags suggests an intent to distribute), or the presence of scales, baggies, ledgers, large quantities of cash, multiple cell phones, or other items that are often associated with drug distribution.
In addition to the penalties you face in the criminal justice system, the prosecution can motion to court to forfeit any property they believe is connected to drug activity. It may be a cell phone or motor vehicle alleged to have been used in a drug transaction, money alleged to be proceeds from a drug transaction- even your home, if significant drug activity is alleged to have taken place there. The prosecution's burden is lower in seeking forfeiture of your assets than it is to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt of the crime with which you are charged. Forfeiture is a civil proceeding, where the government only needs to prove by a preponderance of the evidence (more likely than not) that the assets are connected to drug activity.
Massachusetts drug cases carry significant criminal penalties including prison, license loss from the RMV, the risk of losing your property or home, and numerous lifelong collateral consequences. Make sure that your rights are protected- call us today.
If you have been charged with a drug crime in Massachusetts, contact our office: