Lawyer challenges police seizure of package containing nearly 2 pounds of cocaine
PITTSFIELD -- The lawyer for a city man accused of receiving close to two pounds of cocaine through the mail in March 2012 says his client's rights were violated when police detained and searched the package without a warrant. He is asking that the evidence be suppressed.
On Wednesday in Berkshire Superior Court, attorney Anthony Gianacopoulos, who represents Patrick S. Coyne, 31, argued before Judge Daniel A. Ford that the Berkshire County Drug Task Force had no right to open a package that had been sent via Federal Express from Phoenix, Ariz., to a "Patty Coin" at Coyne's address.
The package was flagged in Arizona by law enforcement there and was eventually picked up by state police in Pittsfield before it reached its intended destination. After two police dogs "alerted" to the presence of drugs in the package, the state police opened it up and discovered nearly two pounds of cocaine inside worth "well over" $10,000 on the street, according to police and prosecutors.
The police obtained an "anticipatory warrant" and had originally intended to do a "controlled delivery," in which "we deliver the package dressed up in Fed Ex uniforms and when the package is picked up that triggers the search warrant," according to state police Trooper Stephen Jones, an investigator attached to the Berkshire Detective Unit. He was the sole witness in Wednesday's hearing.
When it was discovered that Fed Ex had listed the package on their website as being in the hands of law enforcement, and police learned that Coyne had been convicted of several gun charges connected to a 2002 shooting, police "altered their plans."
Jones said they believed Coyne could be armed and didn't want to go into a dangerous situation if Coyne knew they had the package. They opened the box because Jones said they needed to make sure it contained cocaine in order to receive a warrant to search Coyne's house.
Police were granted the search warrant and allegedly found drug dealing paraphernalia that tested positive for cocaine. Coyne was arrested two days later and charged with felony cocaine distribution.
On Wednesday, Assistant Berkshire District Attorney Richard M. Locke argued that since the package didn't have Coyne's real name on it, the defendant didn't have the "expectation of privacy" that comes under the Fourth Amendment, the part of the Bill of Rights that protects citizens from unreasonable search and seizures.
Additionally, said Locke, there were "exigent circumstances" -- an emergency situation that allows law enforcement to take action without a warrant -- because police were dealing with a person with a violent record and the only way to make the arrest was to open the package in order to get the search warrant for the residence.
Gianacopoulos argued that there were no "exigent circumstances," since the alleged drugs weren't in danger of being destroyed or taken at the time, two typical reasons the law takes into account in these cases.
It is now up to the judge to decide whether the evidence will be suppressed or can be allowed at trial.
Coyne remains free on $7,500 bail. In 2003, he pleaded guilty in Berkshire Superior Court to seven charges, including assault with intent to kill, assault with a dangerous weapon, cocaine trafficking and various weapons charges, for the May 2002 shooting of a New Lebanon, N.Y., man and the assault of two others at a party in Pittsfield. Coyne was sentenced to between seven and nine years in prison followed by two years of probation, which ended in November 2010, according to court records.
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