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Commonwealth v. Denton

Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, Essex

June 1, 2017

COMMONWEALTH
v.
SCYPIO DENTON

          Heard: March 9, 2017.

         Indictment found and returned in the Superior Court Department on February 6, 2014.

         The case was tried before James F. Lang, J.

         The Supreme Judicial Court on its own initiative transferred the case from the Appeals Court.

          James E. Methe for the defendant.

          Quentin R. Weld, Assistant District Attorney (Elin H. Graydon, Assistant District Attorney, also present) for the Commonwealth.

          Present: Gants, C.J., Lenk, Hines, Gaziano, Lowy, & Budd, JJ.

          BUDD, J.

         Following a jury trial, the defendant, Scypio Denton, was convicted of distribution of heroin, in violation of G. L. c. 94C, § 32 (b).[1] At trial, the defendant raised the affirmative defense of entrapment. The judge permitted the Commonwealth to respond by introducing evidence of three prior convictions, despite the defendant's objection that they were too stale to be probative of his predisposition to commit the crime. The defendant's principal argument on appeal concerns the decision to admit this evidence.[2] We reverse on that ground.

         Background.

         We recite the facts the jury could have found.

         1. 2013 distribution.

         On December 17, 2013, the defendant was approached by an undercover police officer posing as a drug addict.[3] The officer told the defendant he "was dope sick and . . . looking to get hooked up . . . because [he] wasn't feeling well." He asked the defendant for "a forty" of "brown"[4] and explained that his dealer was not answering his telephone calls because he owed the dealer money. At the time of the undercover operation, there was an unwritten rule among drug users that if somebody was "dope sick" from heroin withdrawal, another user would help them to find more heroin, as he or she could sympathize with the feeling.[5] The officer believed that this approach for targeting heroin distribution was successful approximately twenty to thirty per cent of the time.

         The defendant agreed to help, and they got into an unmarked motor vehicle driven by another undercover officer. While they were in the vehicle, the defendant used an officer's cellular telephone to tell someone that "he wanted to come by and grab a bag." They then proceeded to a destination the defendant gave them. When they arrived, an officer gave the defendant forty dollars and took the defendant's cellular telephone as collateral. The defendant entered a building and returned with a bag of a tan powdered substance, which he gave to ...


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