Massachusetts Legal Developments Blog

Some Kinda Luck: Heroin Trafficking Charges Hang on Fractions

According to the Boston Police Department, on May 11, 2016, officers observed what they belived to be a drug trafficking transaction in Dorchester.  They arrested the purchaser and recovered "25 small plastic bags containing a total of 29.2 grams of heroin."  They then sought to arrest the seller, who (after a chase) was found with "167 bags of heroin totaling 201.1 grams and 64 bags of powder cocaine totaling 92.5 grams."

The buyer was charged with Trafficking Class A, Heroin, 28-99 grams, and Conspiracy to Violate the Drug Laws.

The seller was charged with Trarricking Class A, Heroin, 200 grams or more and Trafficking Class B, Cocaine (28-99 grams), Failure to Stop for a Police Officer, Driving to Endanger, Assault by Means of a Dangerous Weapon, and Leaving the Scene of an Accident (Property Damage).

Here's the thing.  The seller's mandatory minimum sentence for the charge of trafficking over 200 grams would be not less than 12 years, but if you shave off 1.1 grams -- a fraction of the amount allegedly found, that 12 year sentence drops to 8 years. 

Meanwhile, the buyer's mandatory minimum described in the article would similary teeters on the ledge at 29.2 grams, with a mandatory minimum of 3 1/2 years.  But there's three problems with that.  First, the buyer was supposedly purchasing heroin, a Class A substance, and the mandatory minimum cited in the article is for Class B, not class A, so if the police accidentaly charged the wrong class the whole case could be thrown out.  Second, it's worth noting that when police thought they were dealing with the Class B minimum of 28 grams, they attributed 29.2 grams to the buyer, but if that number came down by as little as 1.2 grams, the mandatory minimum would have come down as well. 

It sure is some kinda luck that both the buyer andthe seller in this case are 1.1 and 1.2 grams, respectively, over what the arresting officer thought the mandatory minimum thresholds were for their offenses.  Conincidence? Maybe, or maybe there was some clever accounting about who had which baggie.  In any case, these weights frequently get tested and come back as lesser amounts at the laboratory (which has its own problem these days).

More importantly, there is very serious reason to doubt whether a buyer can be charged with conspiring with a seller after Commonwealth v. Doty, which held that "[a] single sale of drugs without more does not establish a conspiracy."

All that having been said, ask yourself whether a jury would believe that it's really a coincidence that once the drugs allegedly found on both the buyer and the seller were divided up -- by the police -- that both the buyer and the seller ended up with just barely enough to get them over the threshold for the next increase in mandatory minimums.  Because if a jury doesn't believe that, they both might be about to catch a serious break.