PITTSFIELD -- A Superior Court judge has ruled that about two pounds of cocaine can’t be used as evidence to prosecute a Pittsfield man because authorities seized it without a warrant.
Police say Patrick Coyne, 31, was the intended recipient of a Federal Express package containing the drugs.
"Unfortunately for the Commonwealth [because this case involves the seizure of a significant quantity of cocaine], both the contents of the package and the items found in the defendant’s residence must be suppressed," wrote Judge Daniel Ford in his 10-page decision.
The Berkshire District Attorney’s Office plans to appeal the judge’s decision to a higher court. The cocaine is the foundation of the procecution’s case against Coyne, who faces a minimum of 15 years in prison if the case goes to trial and he’s found guilty.
Ford ruled that Coyne had "a reasonable expectation of privacy" with regard to the package. Police said the package contained about two pounds of cocaine worth more than $10,000. It was sent from Phoenix to Coyne’s Pittsfield address.
This right to privacy comes under the Fourth Amendment, the part of the Bill of Rights that protects citizens from unreasonable search and seizures.
"Judge Ford’s decision to suppress the evidence was merited and legally correct. Simply stated, the officers were required to obtain a warrant before they searched the package and they failed to do so," said attorney Anthony Gianacopoulos, who represents Coyne.
Assistant Berkshire District Attorney Richard M. Locke argued during a court hearing in April that since the package didn’t have Coyne’s real name on it -- it was addressed to a "Patty Coin" -- the defendant didn’t have the "expectation of privacy" and therefore had no right to fight the search.
The judge determined that Coyne "shouldn’t lose his Constitutional right to contest an unreasonable search simply because whoever filled out the address label on the package spelled his name incorrectly."
The judge also determined that although emergency circumstances allowed police with the Berkshire County Drug Task Force to seize the package, no circumstances gave them the right them to open it. He wrote nothing had stopped police from obtaining a warrant. Ford said that the prosecution’s reading on search and seizure law on this point "would stand the Fourth Amendment on its head."
According to court testimony from April and information contained in the judge’s decision, the package in question was flagged in Arizona by law enforcement. State police based in Pittsfield were notified about the package, which was retrieved by the task force before it arrived at Coyne’s address. Two separate police dogs detected drugs in the package, Ford wrote.
A hearing in the case is scheduled for next month. Coyne remains free on $7,500 bail.