DRIVING AND DRUGS
COMMONWEALTH VS. MARK J. DAVIS
In this case the defendant was charged with six different criminal offenses after being pulled over and arrested by State Police for driving erratically on the Massachusetts Turnpike while under the influence of marijuana. Officers found bags of marijuana, a firearm, ammunition, oxycodone, and cocaine in the vehicle.
After arraignment, the defendant moved to suppress the evidence seized from his vehicle. This motion was denied and the case ultimately went to trial where a jury acquitted the defendant of all charges except unlawful possession of the drugs found within a locked glove compartment of the car. The defendant appealed the decision to the Appeals Court. The appeal was ultimately transferred to the Supreme Judicial Court for review.
On appeal, the defendant made three arguments:
The Court ultimately ruled that there was no error in the denial of the defendant’s motion to suppress and that the defendant was not deprived of his right to assistance of counsel.
The Court agreed with the motion judge that, based upon convincing evidence, the defendant’s consumption of marijuana had indeed impaired his ability to drive safely and that the officers were justified in arresting the defendant for operating a motor vehicle while impaired. The court stated that, “’[w]hile using marijuana is no longer a crime in Massachusetts,’ operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of marijuana remains a criminal offense.”
Regarding the warrantless search of the automobile, the Court concurred with the motion judge that the police had reasonable grounds to impound the defendant’s vehicle. The court agreed that the vehicle posed a public safety hazard and that the police were justified in rejecting the defendant’s request that one of his passengers be permitted to remove the pulled over vehicle from the highway. The Court concluded that the officers’ testimony at the hearing supports a reasonable conclusion that the passengers were “not able to drive”.
However, the court disagreed with the lawfulness of the inventory search. After considering all evidence and testimony presented, it ruled that because the Commonwealth had the burden of establishing that the police conducted a lawful inventory search, yet did not present any evidence to demonstrate that there was indeed a legitimate need to “put a drug dog” on the defendant’s vehicle, the Court could not affirm that the inventory search was lawfully conducted.
Lastly, on the issue of ineffective assistance of counsel, the court ruled that the trial counsel in question made an “obviously strategic decision” to concede that his client possessed the drugs found in the locked glove compartment. It determined that at trial, the counsel “skillfully utilized” the inculpatory evidence of the case to highlight his argument that the Commonwealth was incapable of proving the other charges.
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Source: Commonwealth vs. Mark J. Davis, SJC—12484