849 F.2d 33 (1st Cir. 1988), 87-1929, United States v. Nocella

Docket Nº:87-1929.
Citation:849 F.2d 33
Party Name:UNITED STATES of America, Appellee, v. Robert NOCELLA, Sr., a/k/a Doc, Defendant, Appellant.
Case Date:June 13, 1988
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the First Circuit

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849 F.2d 33 (1st Cir. 1988)

UNITED STATES of America, Appellee,


Robert NOCELLA, Sr., a/k/a Doc, Defendant, Appellant.

No. 87-1929.

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit

June 13, 1988

Heard April 7, 1988.

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Stephen T. Jeffco, Portsmouth, N.H., for defendant, appellant.

Deborah C. Sharp, Asst. U.S. Atty., with whom Richard V. Wiebusch, U.S. Atty., Concord, N.H., was on brief, for appellee.

Before COFFIN, TORRUELLA and SELYA, Circuit Judges.

SELYA, Circuit Judge.

Following a jury trial, defendant-appellant Robert "Doc" Nocella was convicted of distribution of cocaine, conspiracy to distribute cocaine, and threatening a witness. See 21 U.S.C. Secs. 841(a)(1), 846; 18 U.S.C. Sec. 1512(b)(3). The defendant appeals, claiming that the district court erred in denying his pretrial motions (i) to exclude a tape recording, and (ii) to suppress incriminating evidence found in a search of his home. We affirm.


Federal, state, and local authorities received bits and pieces of information about "Doc" Nocella from a variety of sources over a period of time. Many of these insights were thought dependable. When pooled, they led the gendarmes to believe that Nocella, along with his live-in bodyguard (Howie), was dealing drugs from the isolated confines of appellant's country home (located at the end of a mile-long dirt road known as "Jampsa Trail") in rural Nottingham, New Hampshire. In late 1986, a task force composed of agents of the federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and troopers attached to the New Hampshire State Police special investigations unit (SIU) began to focus on Nocella in earnest. We submit a synopsized summary of what occurred during the probe.

1. December 4, 1986. Operatives representing the DEA and the SIU met to plan an attempted "buy." Glover, an informant who was surreptitiously cooperating with the authorities, proceeded to purchase cocaine at Nocella's residence, utilizing $650 in serialized funds supplied by the officers. A police surveillance was in place outside the house. Glover said he had spoken with both Nocella and one Howard Sylvia, but that it was Nocella who actually transacted the sale.

2. December 10, 1986. With surveillance in place, Glover, using an additional $300 in serialized funds, again bought cocaine at Jampsa Trail from Nocella and Sylvia.

3. December 18, 1986. A third buy, similar to the second, was accomplished. Thereafter, the SIU obtained a warrant from a state magistrate and searched the residence. Much to the troopers' disappointment, they discovered only a small amount of marijuana. Appellant was arrested, charged under state law with possession of marijuana, and read his rights. He boasted that he was good at his trade and told a trooper that he knew the search would take place. Two $100 bills, part of the listed currency used in that day's transaction, were found on his person. Shortly after the arrest, Nocella retained counsel in respect to the pending state charge. The task force's investigation continued.

4. February 10, 1987. Glover met with DEA agents and a state trooper. They outfitted him with a concealed recording device and provided $400 in seed money.

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Glover went to Nocella's residence, but no purchase ensued. Nocella told Glover he was at risk; Glover would be killed if, as was suspected, he proved to be a turncoat. Nocella put it bluntly: "If you do ... narc me out ... I'll have your ... brains blown right straight out."

5. March 16, 1987. Another confidential source, Raoule Chasse, a/k/a Raoul Chase, advised the DEA that one Mike Stimans was distributing cocaine in the general vicinity of Candia, New Hampshire. Appellant was named as Stimans's supplier. The DEA believed Chasse's tale. Glover's cover being blown, the task force secured Chasse's agreement to cooperate and to wear a body wire.

6. March 20, 1987. A DEA agent gave Chasse $1,100 in serialized funds. Chasse arranged to meet with Stimans in a parking lot. Stimans's wife, Nancy, accompanied him. At the meeting, Chasse placed an order for cocaine and paid the money. The Stimanses left their customer in the parking lot and drove to Nocella's residence, tailed by task force personnel. They returned to the parking lot and delivered the cocaine to Chasse.

7. April 3, 1987. With surveillance again in place, an undercover officer, Welch, placed an order for cocaine and gave Stimans $4,100. He drove to Nocella's residence and returned once more with the drugs.

8. May 5, 1987. Chasse called Stimans and arranged for Welch to make a further buy on the following day. The DEA recorded the conversation.

9. May 6, 1987. Welch, Chasse, and Stimans met in the by-now-familiar parking lot. $4000 in serialized funds changed hands. The middleman proceeded to the general vicinity of Jampsa Trail. (In this instance, the attempted surveillance was less than a complete success.) He later rejoined Welch at a prearranged spot, having in hand the contraband plus $300 worth of the serialized bills. At that point, he was arrested. Special agent Gerald Graffam of the DEA then obtained a search warrant from a federal magistrate. Graffam hit the jackpot: the search of appellant's house turned up 540.5 grams of cocaine, approximately $61,000 in currency (including serialized funds used in previous controlled purchases), handguns, and assorted drug-related paraphernalia.

Following these events, the instant indictment was returned.


Before trial, Nocella moved in limine to bar the prosecution from using the tape recording made during Glover's February 10 visit, or the fruits thereof, on the ground that the surreptitious recording of the conversation out of the presence of appellant's lawyer infringed defendant's sixth amendment right to counsel. This argument prescinded from the convergence of four circumstances: Nocella's December 1986 arrest, the attendant state possession of marijuana charge, retention of counsel in that case, and the continued pendency of the state charge when Glover came to call. 1 The district court found appellant's contention to be meritless. So do we.

The right to counsel in a criminal case is of constitutional stature. It exists to insure that the accused not be left irretrievably to his own devices, without legal help when the heavy artillery of prosecutorial power is brought to bear. Moran v. Burbine, 475 U.S. 412, 430, 106 S.Ct. 1135, 1146, 89 L.Ed.2d 410 (1986). Once a person stands formally accused of a crime, he is vulnerable to certain " 'critical' stages in the criminal justice process 'where the results might well settle the accused's fate and reduce the trial itself to a mere formality.' " Maine v. Moulton, 474 U.S. 159, 170, 106 S.Ct. 477, 484, 88 L.Ed.2d 481 (1985) (citations omitted). In order appropriately to safeguard the accused at such potentially decisive moments, the constitutional right to counsel inheres "at or after

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the time that judicial proceedings have been initiated...." Brewer v. Williams, 430 U.S. 387, 398, 97 S.Ct. 1232, 1239, 51 L.Ed.2d 424 (1977). After the right has attached, it prohibits law enforcement personnel, and those acting in concert with them, from deliberate elicitation of statements from an accused in the absence of counsel. See Massiah v...

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