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Commonwealth v. Cawthron

Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, Middlesex

May 23, 2018

KEITH CAWTHRON (and three companion cases [1]).

          Heard: February 6, 2018.

         Indictments found and returned in the Superior Court Department on April 24, 2014. Pretrial motions to suppress evidence were heard by Kenneth W. Salinger, J., and a motion for reconsideration was considered by him.

         An application for leave to prosecute an interlocutory appeal was allowed by Botsford, J., in the Supreme Judicial Court for the county of Suffolk, and the appeal was reported by her to the Appeals Court. After review by the Appeals Court, the Supreme Judicial Court granted leave to obtain further appellate review.

          Timothy Ferriter, Assistant District Attorney, for the Commonwealth.

          Lindsay Kanter, Committee for Public Counsel Services (Daniel E. Callahan, Committee for Public Counsel Services, also present) for Craig Flodstrom.

          Thomas M. Glynn for Keith M. Cawthron.

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

          GAZIANO, J.

         In this case, we consider whether police officers were required to provide Miranda warnings prior to questioning two individuals who had been detained in a restaurant parking lot as part of a threshold inquiry into a street-level drug transaction. A Middlesex County grand jury indicted the defendants, Keith Cawthron and Craig Flodstrom, on charges of trafficking in Oxycodone, in violation of G. L. c. 94C, § 32E (c) (1), and conspiracy to traffic Oxycodone, in violation of G. L. c. 94C, § 40. The defendants filed motions to suppress statements made to detectives and pills found in one of the defendants' vehicles, arguing that they had been subject to custodial interrogation without adequate Miranda warnings, and the seizure of the pills was a result of custodial statements given absent such warnings. A Superior Court judge concluded that the defendants had been subject to custodial interrogation without, in Cawthron's case, any warnings and, in Flodstrom's case, an inadequate warning, and allowed the motions to suppress.[2]

         The Commonwealth filed a timely notice of appeal. A single justice of this court allowed the Commonwealth's application for leave to pursue an interlocutory appeal and reported the matter to the Appeals Court. The Appeals Court issued an opinion reversing the judgment of the Superior Court. See Commonwealth v. Cawthron, 90 Mass.App.Ct. 828 (2017). We allowed the defendants' petitions for further appellate review.

         Applying the factors set out in Commonwealth v. Groome, 435 Mass. 201, 211-212 (2001), we conclude that the defendants were not subject to custodial interrogation. Therefore, the Superior Court judge's decision allowing the motions to suppress must be reversed.

         1. Background.

         We summarize the facts as found by the motion judge following an evidentiary hearing. We indicate explicitly those few facts the judge found that are not supported by the record.

         On April 12, 2013, Detective Michael Donovan of the Tewksbury police department stopped at a convenience store on Route 133 in Tewksbury. Donovan was dressed in plain clothes and was driving an unmarked vehicle. As he was walking across the parking lot toward the store, Donovan overheard a man, later identified as Cawthron, speaking on a cellular telephone outside the store. Cawthron said that he was "going to pick them up now, " and asked, "How many do you want" and, "Do you want ten?" Donovan suspected that Cawthron was arranging a narcotics transaction. After purchasing a beverage in the store, Donovan returned to his vehicle and waited for Cawthron to leave the store. Donovan then followed Cawthron's vehicle as it left the parking lot.

         Cawthron traveled a short distance on Route 133, and then turned into the parking lot of a fast food restaurant. After briefly losing sight of the defendant's vehicle, Donovan located it in a nearby steakhouse parking lot; Cawthron was standing outside his vehicle, speaking on his cellular telephone. Donovan parked his vehicle fifteen or twenty yards from Cawthron's.

         Donovan contacted Detective Lieutenant Ryan Columbus of the Tewksbury police department and informed him of the investigation. Columbus arrived, also in an unmarked vehicle, and established surveillance from a nearby parking lot.

         Approximately five minutes later, a black vehicle entered the steakhouse parking lot and parked next to Cawthron's vehicle. Flodstrom got out of this vehicle and approached Cawthron; the men shook hands and exchanged items that Donovan could not see. Based on these actions, the statement he had overheard in the convenience store parking lot, and his knowledge that the parking lots along Route 133 were often used for illegal drug transactions, Donovan believed this to be a hand-to-hand drug transaction.

         Donovan got out of his unmarked vehicle, walked quickly to where the two men were standing, and identified himself as a police officer. He ordered the men not to move. At that point, Flodstrom said, "[T]his is how I feed my family." Columbus arrived at the scene shortly after Donovan had reached the defendants. He and Donovan decided to separate the two men and question them individually, before they had an opportunity to construct a shared response.[3] Donovan directed Flodstrom to the far side of Flodstrom's vehicle; Cawthron was directed to go with Columbus on the far side of Cawthron's vehicle. Each man moved approximately five yards from where he stood before the detectives arrived.

         Once Donovan and Flodstrom were separated from Cawthron and Columbus, Donovan gave Flodstrom an oral Miranda warning.[4]Donovan then asked Flodstrom what had happened. Flodstrom responded that he had sold 300 Oxycodone pills to his uncle, Cawthron, for two dollars per pill. Flodstrom reiterated that this was how he fed his children, and pulled $600 from his pocket. After Flodstrom produced the money, Donovan placed him in handcuffs and told him that he was under arrest.

         While this interaction was taking place, Columbus spoke with Cawthron in front of Cawthron's vehicle. Columbus identified himself as a police officer and asked Cawthron what he had purchased. Cawthron said that he had purchased pills for two dollars each. Columbus asked where the pills were, and Cawthron told him the pills were under the seat in his vehicle. Columbus looked under the driver's seat and found a full pill bottle. After retrieving the bottle, Columbus handcuffed Cawthron, placed him under arrest, and ...

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