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Court Rules on Drug Crimes Case

In an undercover operation, federal agents busted a man trying to sell them eight ounces of cocaine in Rochester, New York. According to the primary witness of the drug crime, he knew the defendant for seven years and they were introduced by a mutual friend. The witness called the defendant and informed him that some interested buyers were willing to make a drug deal. The defendant, who was residing in Florida, flew to New York to meet the buyers.

In exchange for the cocaine, the primary witness received $9000 in $100 bills then went home. The defendant then came over to the house of the witness to count the bills and check for any markings left by the authorities. According to the witness, the defendant left his home with $8000 in cash as part of his profit from the sale then boarded a flight back to Florida.

The testimony of the witness was corroborated by his fiancée who also had knowledge of the drug deal. Evidence against the defendant consisted of nine surveillance tapes and recordings of phone conversations. Prior to the cocaine sale, police already obtained a court order to monitor the conversations between the witness and the defendant.

The case went on trial and the jury found the defendant guilty for his drug possession. The trial is over but the defendant has appealed his case. The defendant objects to the evidence presented to the court. According to him, there were errors in handling evidence and believes the recordings are tampered. In addition to his appeal, the defendant has asserted that the tapes were not sealed properly and in the absence of a judge as witness.
The defendant’s appeal invoked the Criminal Procedure Law 700.50 (2), “Immediately upon the expiration of the period of an eavesdropping warrant, the recordings of communications made pursuant to subdivision three of section 700.35 must be made available to the issuing justice and sealed under his directions.”

The defendant contested the interpretation of the criminal law phrase ‘under his directions’. According to the defendant’s interpretation, the tapes should be sealed in the presence of a justice. However, this conclusion was not supported.

Similar court cases that are relevant to the statute have a different interpretation of the statute being questioned. Based on court decision, there was no clear provision that recordings are to be sealed in the presence of a judge. The statute only directs that the tape recordings be sealed under the direction of the judge and not necessarily requires his presence. In the defendant’s case, the tape recordings were presented before the court and sealed according to the directions of the judge. There was proper sealing of evidence as mandated by the statute.
Aside from citing the statute violation for his appeal, the defendant also claimed that the tape recordings were tampered. He further implied that the Sheriff’s deputy had something to do with it. The box of evidence contained seven tapes but upon opening it during presentation of court evidence, the box had eight tapes. The deputy explained this issue by saying that he miscalculated the number of tapes inside the box.

However, the court did not find the deputy guilty of any intentional tampering but concluded that it was just a simple error on the part of the primary witness. The court ruled out the possibility of tampering. The defendant could also not prove his final claim of an alleged break in chain of custody. The court did not find any basis for the defendant’s claim that he was prejudiced by the district attorney or discriminated against by the justice system. Despite the defendant’s contention, the court upholds the judgment of conviction and is affirmed unanimously.

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