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Marijuana Case Snuffed Out

Jim Finnel

Fallen Cannabis Warrior & Ex News Moderator
There are drug busts, and there are drug busts.

And then there are the drug cases that go bust.

On Friday, April 13, two Milwaukee County sheriff's deputies pulled over the driver of a white Oldsmobile for a driving infraction on northbound I-94. One thing led to another, and the deputies soon discovered 44 1/2 pounds of marijuana - with a street value of $30,000 - in the trunk of the Oldsmobile.

The cops then arrested the driver, a 23-year-old Milwaukee man, and the passenger, a 22-year-old from South Milwaukee.

Not a bad day's work for the pair of deputies.

The following week, Sheriff David Clarke Jr. issued a press release touting the arrests and suggesting local prosecutors would be bringing charges soon. The release, as is typical, prompted stories in the Journal Sentinel and the TV evening news.

"At the beginning of the year, Sheriff Clarke ordered drug investigators to concentrate efforts on interdiction," the release crowed. "Historically, the freeway system has been a preferred route used to transport illegal narcotics into the Milwaukee area.

"This seizure highlights that."

But now more than two months later, the case is kaput.

The two men in the Oldsmobile walked without being charged. The two deputies are now under investigation by their own department. And a top county prosecutor recently circulated an e-mail effectively barring the pair from serving as prosecution witnesses in Milwaukee County ever again.

"I did convey to the rest of our legal staff," Deputy District Attorney Kent Lovern said last week, "that it was my opinion that we should not use the officers in future cases."

This touted drug bust, in other words, has gone up in smoke.

What went wrong?

Everything was OK, it appears, when the cops cuffed the two guys in the Oldsmobile. Naturally, both said they had no idea how all that weed got into the trunk.

Could happen to anyone, right?

But Clarke said the two deputies, whom he would not name until the internal probe is finished, decided later to go to the driver's house to do what's called a knock and talk. That's where the officers knock on the door and try to convince the resident to agree to a search of the house.

This is not as effective as going and getting a search warrant, but it's much easier and quicker.

When the deputies got to the guy's house, the sheriff said, they found no one home but the front door open.

What to do?

According to Clarke, the pair say they then invited themselves in because they feared that someone might be injured in the house.

Right.

Once inside, they found a gun and more dope, Clarke said.

Lovern, the deputy DA, declined to discuss the details of the investigation but said the whole case is tainted.

"We knew we would see a Fourth Amendment challenge on the actions of the officers, and we were concerned we would not survive that challenge," he said, referring to the ban on unreasonable searches and seizures.

"Quite frankly, we just didn't feel like we were in a position to adequately convey the credibility of a couple of officers involved in the case."

Prosecutors must have concluded that the two officers' credibility was so badly shot that they couldn't be counted on to withstand cross-examination on the marijuana that was legally seized from the car.

Officials with the Milwaukee County deputies union did not return calls Friday.

Clarke put the entire matter more bluntly: A cop can't walk into a house and search it because the front door is open.

Duh.

"Even I had a problem with that," Clarke said. "We couldn't use that (evidence) because that's fruit from a poisonous tree. They shouldn't have been in the house."

Put another way: What were these cops smoking?

The twice-elected Democratic sheriff said the deputies created "a convenient excuse for circumventing the Fourth Amendment." He said he expects the internal investigation of the officers to be completed soon.

So did you catch all that?

Clarke, a guy being sued in federal court by six different deputies over a variety of constitutional issues, thought the pair in this case crossed the legal line.

That's when you know it's not a close call.

But don't expect to read any of this in a press release from Clarke's office anytime soon.



News Hawk- User 420 MAGAZINE ® - Medical Marijuana Publication & Social Networking
Source: Journal Sentinel
Author: Daniel Bice
Contact: dbice@journalsentinel.com
Copyright: 2007, Journal Sentinel Inc.
Website: JS Online: After search, marijuana case snuffed out
 
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