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Commonwealth v. Escalera, 462 Mass. 636 (2012)

Commonwealth v. Escalera, 462 Mass. 636 (2012)

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Following a search of his apartment, the defendant moved to suppress contraband obtained by officers. The judge denied the defendant’s motion, and a Superior Court jury subsequently convicted defendant for: (1) trafficking in heroin; (2) possession of cocaine with intent to distribute; (3) corresponding school zone violations; (4) unlawful possession of a firearm without a firearm identification card; and (5) unlawful possession of ammunition without a firearm identification card. The defendant appealed his convictions and the denial of his motion to suppress; the Appeals Court determined that the lower court properly denied the defendant’s motion to suppress. However, the Appeals Court reversed all the convictions (except for the ammunitions charge), finding that the defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to confrontation was violated because the drug and ballistic certificates admitted as evidence during trial were not accompanied by testimony of the analysts who produced the certificates. The defendant applied to the Supreme Judicial Court for further appellate review, and the application was granted.
Following a search of his apartment, the defendant moved to suppress contraband obtained by officers. The judge denied the defendant’s motion, and a Superior Court jury subsequently convicted defendant for: (1) trafficking in heroin; (2) possession of cocaine with intent to distribute; (3) corresponding school zone violations; (4) unlawful possession of a firearm without a firearm identification card; and (5) unlawful possession of ammunition without a firearm identification card. The defendant appealed his convictions and the denial of his motion to suppress; the Appeals Court determined that the lower court properly denied the defendant’s motion to suppress. However, the Appeals Court reversed all the convictions (except for the ammunitions charge), finding that the defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to confrontation was violated because the drug and ballistic certificates admitted as evidence during trial were not accompanied by testimony of the analysts who produced the certificates. The defendant applied to the Supreme Judicial Court for further appellate review, and the application was granted.

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Categories:Types, Business/Law
Published by: New England Law Review on Apr 22, 2013
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial

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12/29/2013

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51
Commonwealth v. Escalera,462 Mass. 636 (2012)
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I. Procedural History
Following a search of his apartment, the defendant moved to suppresscontraband obtained by officers.
1
The judge denied the defendant’s motion,and a Superior Court jury subsequently convicted defendant for: (1)trafficking in heroin; (2) possession of cocaine with intent to distribute; (3)corresponding school zone violations; (4) unlawful possession of a firearmwithout a firearm identification card; and (5) unlawful possession ofammunition without a firearm identification card.
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The defendantappealed his convictions and the denial of his motion to suppress; theAppeals Court determined that the lower court properly denied thedefendant’s motion to suppress.
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However, the Appeals Court reversed allthe convictions (except for the ammunitions charge), finding that thedefendant’s Sixth Amendment right to confrontation was violated becausethe drug and ballistic certificates admitted as evidence during trial werenot accompanied by testimony of the analysts who produced thecertificates.
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The defendant applied to the Supreme Judicial Court forfurther appellate review, and the application was granted.
5
 
II. Facts
In March 2005, a confidential informant provided information toBrockton police about the defendant, whom he identified as “a darkskinned Hispanic male who was selling heroin” in the city of Brockton.
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Healso agreed to participate in controlled purchases of heroin from the
1
Commonwealth v. Escalera, 462 Mass. 636, 637 (2012).
2
Id.
3
Id.
4
Id. at 637-638.
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Id. at 638.
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Id. at 638-639.
 
52
New Eng. L. Rev. Mass. Crim. Dig.
v. 47 | 51
defendant.
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Over the course of the next two weeks, Brockton policeconducted surveillance of the defendant.
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Police found that the defendanttypically left his apartment building soon after receiving a call to purchasedrugs, drove directly to the specified meeting location, and thenimmediately returned to the apartment building.
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Based on this and otherdetailed information, the police obtained a warrant to search thedefendant’s apartment in Brockton on April 11, 2005.
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The warrantauthorized the “search of the apartment, and any person present, for drugsand materials, products, equipment, books, records, and proceeds relatedto drug distribution.”
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Upon execution of the warrant, police foundcocaine, cash, a shoulder holster, two cellular telephones, a digital scale,and paperwork that bore the name of the defendant in the apartmentitself.
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A search of the locked basement of the apartment building’, whichwas allegedly only accessible to the building owner and the tenants ofdefendant’s apartment, produced two guns, ammunition, and thirty-fourgrams of heroin.
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III. Issues Presented
1. Did the police affidavit supporting the search warrant establish asufficient nexus between the defendant’s drug dealing activities and hisapartment so that probable cause existed to search the apartment?
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 2. Was the locked basement, which was not specifically identified inthe search warrant, within the curtilage of the apartment and thus withinthe scope of the warrant to search the apartment?
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 3. Did the Commonwealth meet its burden at trial in providingevidence that would allow a jury to find beyond a reasonable doubt thatthe defendant constructively possessed the items discovered in the locked basement?
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 4. Is the defendant entitled to a new trial on all charges, with theexception of the ammunition charge, because of the violation of his right toconfrontation under the Sixth Amendment?
17
 
7
Commonwealth v. Escalera, supra at 639 (2012).
8
Id.
9
Id. at 639-640.
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Id. at 638, 640-641.
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Id. at 641.
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Id.
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Commonwealth v. Escalera, supra at 641.
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See id. at 641-642.
15
See id. at 647.
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See id. at 649.
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See id. at 650.
 
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Commonwealth v. Escalera
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IV. Holdings and Reasoning
1. Pursuant to Commonwealth v. Pina, a search warrant of a suspecteddrug dealer’s home requires the police to provide “particularizedinformation,” based on surveillance and other sources, which would allowfor a reasonable inference that a supply of drugs was likely kept in thehome.
18
That burden was met in this case, as the police affidavit describedat least three occasions where police observed the defendant leave hisapartment to drive to a location for an apparent drug deal and thenimmediately return to his apartment at the deal’s conclusion.
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 2. The locked basement was within the curtilage of the apartment, andthus the search of the basement was within the scope of the warrant.
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 Although curtilage in an apartment building is typically “very limited,”
21
itmay extend beyond the tenant’s unit to “separate areas subject to [thetenant’s] exclusive control.”
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As the evidence provided to the motion judge established that the tenants of the defendant’s apartment likely had“exclusive use of and access to the locked basement during their tenancy,”the judge was not in error when he concluded that the locked basementwas curtilage to the apartment itself.
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 3. The Commonwealth met its burden of proof in showing thedefendant’s constructive possession of the items found in the locked basement.
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The Commonwealth was able to show constructivepossession—or “knowledge coupled with the ability and intention toexercise dominion and control”
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—in several ways, including evidence thatthe defendant’s brother and co-tenant had a key to the basement, that aholster that fit one of the guns recovered from the basement was found inthe defendant’s bedroom closet, and that the defendant made aspontaneous statement at the time of the search implying knowledge of thecontents in the basement before he was informed of what was recovered bypolice.
26
 4. The defendant is entitled to a new trial on all charges, with theexception of the ammunitions charge, due to the violation of his SixthAmendment right to confrontation under Melendez-Diaz v.
18
Id. at 643, quoting Commonwealth v. Pina, 453 Mass. 438, 442 (2009).
19
Commonwealth v. Escalera, supra at 645-646.
20
Id. at 648.
21
Id., quoting Commonwealth v. McCarthy, 428 Mass. 871, 875 (1999).
22
Id., quoting Commonwealth v. Thomas, 358 Mass. 771, 775 (1971).
23
Id.
24
Id. at 649.
25
Commonwealth v. Escalera, supra 649, quoting Commonwealth v. Boria, 440 Mass. 416,418 (2003).
26
Id.

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