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Commonwealth v. Alvarado

Appeals Court of Massachusetts, Essex

June 27, 2018

COMMONWEALTH
v.
ROBERTO ALVARADO

          Heard: March 2, 2018.

         Complaint received and sworn to in the Lawrence Division of the District Court Department on April 19, 2016.

         The case was tried before Lynn C. Rooney, J.

          Kevin R. Prendergast for the defendant.

          Emily R. Mello, Assistant District Attorney, for the Commonwealth.

          Present: Maldonado, Blake, & Desmond, JJ.

          DESMOND, J.

         We are called upon to address whether there was sufficient circumstantial evidence presented in this case to justify the judge's denial of the defendant's motion for required findings of not guilty. Concluding that the evidence was sufficient, we affirm the defendant's convictions.

         2

         Background.

         A jury convicted the defendant of distribution of a class B substance (G. L. c. 94C, § 32A[a.]) and committing a drug violation near a park (G. L. c. 94C, § 32J). At the close of evidence, the defendant moved for required findings of not guilty, which the judge denied.

         The jury would have been warranted in finding the following facts. At approximately 1:45 P.M. on April 15, 2016, members of the Lawrence police department's narcotics unit were patrolling in the area of a park, in response to recent complaints about drug activity in the area, when a car with Maine license plates stopped alongside the park and the defendant got in the car. Based on their training and experience, the officers[1] were aware that many people come to Lawrence from New Hampshire or Maine to buy narcotics, generally in areas close to the highway, such as the park in question. Once the defendant entered the car, it traveled approximately 150 yards, turning once, before it stopped and the defendant got out. Nothing in the way the parties acted during that brief drive directly indicated a drug transaction had taken place; no hand-to-hand exchange or similar action was observed. Concluding that he had reasonable suspicion to believe a drug transaction had just taken place, the officer who was following the car conducted a motor vehicle stop. The car did not immediately stop.[2] Upon stopping, the driver of the vehicle was observed moving around in the vehicle with a clenched hand, such that the officer asked him to step out of the car for safety purposes. That officer discovered two "twists" of what was determined to be cocaine[3] clenched in the driver's hand.

         Upon recovering the cocaine, that officer radioed another officer who was following the defendant and instructed him to arrest the defendant. The officer did so, and in a subsequent search of the defendant discovered fifty-six dollars in cash. Both the driver of the vehicle and the defendant were in view of police officers from the time the defendant entered the vehicle until the time each was arrested.

         In addition to the testimony of the two officers, the jury also heard from a State police trooper who offered expert testimony regarding drug transactions. He opined that "the most common scenario" of a street-level drug transaction is that a person arrives from out of town, makes a telephone call to place an order, and is instructed to go to a certain location. Once there, either the drug dealer or a "runner" for that dealer will meet the buyer and "the delivery is usually concluded inside of the car, either while the car is moving or while it remains parked." The expert further testified that a "ride to nowhere," such as the brief ride the defendant was observed taking in the car, "very rarely [has] an explanation other than that it was a drug deal." Finally, the expert noted that a small ...


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