, Salem, MA

Local News

April 6, 2013

Twists of fortune land man on probation in drug case

PEABODY — Duane Collins may be both the luckiest and unluckiest person to get arrested on drug charges on the North Shore.

Collins, 54, of Lynn, walked out of court yesterday for what he said he hopes will be the last time, after an eight-year-long ride on a legal roller coaster.

It started in 2005, when Collins was drinking at the bar one summer night at Su Chang’s in Peabody. When bartenders realized he’d had too much to drink, they called Peabody police, who escorted the unhappy Collins outside.

Collins grew belligerent when told he couldn’t drive home, a prosecutor said, leading to his arrest on a disorderly conduct charge. Police also towed his Ford Explorer, but during an inventory search discovered more than an ounce of cocaine tucked into a camera case inside the vehicle.

That led to a drug trafficking charge and, eventually, a 5-to-71/2 year prison term.

Then the U.S. Supreme Court decided a case, Commonwealth vs. Melendez-Diaz, finding that defendants in drug crimes have the right to confront and question in court the drug lab analysts who tested the evidence against them.

Based on that decision, Collins, who had served a little more than a year of his prison term, won a new trial and was released. Prosecutors then offered him a plea deal, which would have required him to serve just a few more months in custody.

But then Collins’ luck turned again. He was arrested by Lynn police in 2011 after they spotted him passing cars erratically on the Lynnway and suspected him of drunken driving. Collins wasn’t drunk, it turned out, but police once again found more than an ounce of cocaine in his vehicle, and charged him, once again, with trafficking.

The plea deal was off the table, and Collins awaited a trial, out on $40,000 bail in both cases.

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