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Commonwealth v. Santana

Appeals Court of Massachusetts, Middlesex

May 8, 2019

COMMONWEALTH
v.
RAFAEL SANTANA.

          Heard: January 2, 2019.

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

         The case was tried before J. Elizabeth Cremens, J.

          Philip Weber for the defendant.

          Gregory J. Galizio, Assistant District Attorney, for the Commonwealth.

          Present: Green, C.J., Shin, & Englander, JJ.

          ENGLANDER, J.

         The defendant was convicted by a jury of possession of cocaine based on a theory of constructive possession, and the issue before us is the sufficiency of the proof. The cocaine was found in the glove compartment of a car in which the defendant was the driver and sole occupant, after the defendant was pulled over for a traffic violation. The car was not registered to the defendant, and the cocaine was viewed by the police officer only because, after he asked the defendant for his license and the vehicle registration, the defendant opened the glove compartment to look for the registration. The totality of the evidence was not sufficient to find that the defendant had previous knowledge of the cocaine beyond a reasonable doubt, and we accordingly reverse.

         Background.

         Based on the evidence at trial, the jury could have reasonably found the following. In the early morning of September 18, 2016, the defendant was driving a Honda automobile on a street in Lowell. The Honda strayed into the opposite travel lane, almost striking a police vehicle being driven by Officer Jerome Moore. Officer Moore thereafter stopped the Honda and approached the defendant. Officer Moore testified as follows:

Q.: "Now, when you encountered the [d]efendant, did you ask him about the driving?"
A.: "I did."
Q.: "And what did he say?"
A.: "He said he didn't know what I was talking about, and that he had just replaced the axles in his car."
Q.: "And did you ask him for his license or registration?" ...

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