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Commonwealth v. Proia

Appeals Court of Massachusetts, Barnstable

March 2, 2018

COMMONWEALTH
v.
KAYLA M. PROIA.

          Heard: October 4, 2017.

         Complaint received and sworn to in the Barnstable Division of the District Court Department on February 17, 2015.

         The case was tried before Christopher D. Welch, J.

          Kerry A. Haberlin for the defendant.

          Elizabeth M. Carey, Assistant District Attorney, for the Commonwealth.

          Present: Agnes, Sacks, & Lemire, JJ.

          AGNES, J.

         Following a jury trial, the defendant, Kayla Proia, was convicted of one count of possession of a class A substance. G. L. c. 94C, § 34. The defendant moved for a required finding of not guilty pursuant to Mass.R.Crim.P. 25(a), 378 Mass. 896 (1979), at the close of all evidence. The defendant's motion was denied, and the case was submitted to the jury. After the jury returned their guilty verdict, the defendant again moved for a required finding of not guilty, both orally and in a subsequent written motion, pursuant to Mass.R.Crim.P. 25(b)(2), 378 Mass. 8962 (1979). The defendant's motion for a required finding of not guilty was again denied.

         On appeal, the defendant argues that testimony relating to a prior search of her apartment was erroneously admitted at trial. The defendant further argues that the Commonwealth failed to present sufficient evidence to convict her of possession of a class A substance. The defendant also claims that the prosecutor made improper remarks in his closing argument and that the judge did not remain impartial during the jury empanelment process. For the reasons set forth below, we affirm.

         Background.

         The jury could have found the following facts.

         1. January, 2015, search of the defendant's apartment.

         In January, 2015, a search warrant (January warrant) was executed at the defendant's apartment (January search or first search). Although the January warrant is not included in the record on appeal, it is inferable from the evidence concerning the second warrant, discussed below, that Alan Carey[1] was named in the January warrant and was the target of the police investigation. While conducting the January search, the police found approximately seventeen grams of heroin on top of the defendant's kitchen cabinets, as well as a scale. The defendant was not arrested or charged with any crime stemming from the January search of her apartment, although she was present in the apartment for the duration of that search. Instead, the defendant was advised by the police that "she shouldn't be hanging around" Carey.[2] Carey was subsequently arrested and charged with drug-related offenses based on the discovery of the heroin in the defendant's kitchen during the January search.

         2. February, 2015, search of the defendant's apartment.

         On February 13, 2015, the police again executed a search warrant at the defendant's apartment. Carey was the target of the search and his name appeared on the search warrant. The defendant was not referenced in the warrant application, or the warrant itself, and was not a target of the police investigation.

         Upon arriving at the defendant's residence, the police knocked on the door of the apartment and announced themselves. The apartment was breached after no one answered the door. After entering the defendant's apartment, the police found Carey, along with a three month old child, in the defendant's bedroom. After being read the Miranda rights, Carey stated that the defendant resided at the apartment, and that although he is not supposed to be there, he occasionally spent time at the apartment. When questioned about whether there were any drugs present in the apartment, Carey informed the police that "he had drugs under [the defendant's] dresser." He then directed the police to one of two dressers located in the room, under "which nine little knotted clear plastic baggies [containing] a brown, rock-like substance" were found. The police questioned Carey about the contents of the baggies, with Carey replying that they contained heroin.[3] Police also located a box of clear sandwich baggies in the living room of the apartment, a digital scale in a container located in the kitchen of the apartment, and $226 in cash located in a separate container in the kitchen.

         The defendant was not in the apartment during the execution of the February search warrant. Both the defendant and Carey testified that, approximately one hour after letting Carey into the apartment, the defendant asked him to watch their infant daughter while the defendant picked up their son from the bus stop. The search of the defendant's apartment began while the defendant was away from the residence picking up her son. Upon returning to the apartment, the defendant was immediately approached by police and placed under arrest. No drugs were found on the defendant's person. The police informed the defendant that drugs were found under her dresser and that Carey said the drugs were his. The defendant responded by stating that the drugs were not hers and that they belonged to Carey. The defendant was subsequently charged with one count of possession of a class A substance. G. L. c. 94C, § 34.[4]

         Discussion.

         1. Evidence of the first search of the ...


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