Property is pawn in game of drug busts

June 14, 1992|By Darren M. Allen | Darren M. Allen,Staff Writer

When Connie Marie Shore was indicted on five drug possession and distribution charges in February, she and her 1976 Chevy truck were taken into custody.

A decision on the Westminster woman's guilt or innocence won't be made until June 24.

But a decision on the fate of her truck already has been made. Shore spotted it at Petry's Junk Yard on Gorsuch Road, bought by the yard's owners at auction.

In prosecution of drug crimes, it is perfectly legal -- and routine -- to seize property belonging to people suspected of drug offenses and dispose of it regardless of their guilt or innocence.

In Shore's case, her attorneys were never served with court orders on March 5 and May 12 authorizing the forfeiture of the truck, which allowed it to be sold.

While Westminster attorneys Stephen P. Bourexis and Judith S. Stainbrook are appealing the final May 12 order because they believe it was wrong not to serve them or their client with the forfeiture orders, the chances of Shore's recovering her truck are close to nil.

"She just spotted it from the road, and recognized it as her truck," Stainbrook said of the 18-year-old woman's discovery.

Shore's is not the only property seized by the Carroll Narcotics Task Force in its drug prosecution efforts. In fact, the seizure and, ultimately, sale of assets of people merely suspected of drug dealing or possession are widespread nationwide and have been upheld consistently by the U.S. Supreme Court since the late 1800s.

"In these cases, the person charged with the drug crime is separated from the property seized, so that the government actually pursues the property apart from the defendant," said Debbie Jeon, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland. "That legal distinction has been upheld, giving prosecutors a much easier standard to meet to prove a piece of property was used to aid a crime."

In another recent case involving the Drug Task Force and seized property, a package containing 1.5 ounces of marijuana was delivered from California to a Humbert School House Road home by a task force member dressed as a United Parcel Service deliveryman.

Once the homeowner -- Pamela Davis -- accepted the package, task force members raided her home and confiscated more than $40,000 in computer equipment.

And while she and two of her adult children were charged with drug possession and distribution counts, the only drugs recovered were those that were delivered by the bogus UPS deliveryman.

She will not go to trial for months; her computer equipment is already on its way to court.

But she is trying to stop it, filing a civil lawsuit against the task force that seeks $100,000 and return of the computers.

On Tuesday, Circuit Judge Francis M. Arnold -- who is said to favor returning the equipment to Davis until the suit can be argued -- will give the State's Attorney's Office a chance to convince him that it shouldn't be returned.

In Davis' case, the computers are the lifeline of her $380,000-a-year Guatemalan clothing and accessory business, which she cannot run without her electronically stored lists of customers, bills, suppliers and bank accounts.

Prosecutors defend asset seizures as a deterrent.

"It shows people that if they're caught doing or dealing drugs, there will be serious consequences," said Assistant State's Attorney Barton F. Walker III, task force coordinator.

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