Judge throws out drug-raid warrant in marijuana case Bulk of evidence from June arrests not usable in trial

October 30, 1992|By Darren M. Allen | Darren M. Allen,Staff Writer

On June 3, Circuit Judge Francis M. Arnold signed a search warrant that allowed the county's drug task force to seize bags of marijuana plants from a Pleasant Valley home.

But on Wednesday, Judge Arnold threw out the search warrant he signed only four months ago, saying it failed to establish reasonable grounds for the search.

And with that ruling, he threw out the bulk of the task force's case against the couple who live in the house.

The eight-hour raid at the home in the 1300 block of Pleasant Valley Road was considered a successful one for the Carroll County Narcotics Task Force. Officers found six full-grown pot plants; several grocery bags with small, plastic bags of dried marijuana apparently ready for sale; indoor growth lights; sophisticated indoor irrigation planters; and even logs charting growth progress of the plants.

In fact, the evidence was sufficient to charge the home's residents, Robert and Patricia Wantz, with several counts of drug possession and distribution. The task force was prepared -- with the help of the goods they seized -- to see the couple convicted as drug dealers and put behind bars.

Now all of the evidence is lost, unusable at the couple's trial.

Judge Arnold could not be reached yesterday to comment on his decision.

"The warrant makes a lot of conclusions that can't be corroborated," said Sam Truitt, the assistant public defender representing the Wantzes. "The facts in the warrant don't point to probable violations of any laws."

The warrant was at least the second one used in a task force raid to be thrown out in recent months. If the Wantzes are found not guilty or if the charges against them are dropped, they would be the third and fourth drug defendants against whom the prosecution's case collapsed because of a bad warrant.

In August, District Judge Donald M. Smith disallowed the warrant used in the so-called UPS case, in which task force members dressed up as deliverymen.

The bogus United Parcel Service employees drove to a Humbert Schoolhouse Road home in May and delivered a package containing 1.5 ounces of marijuana.

Once the package was signed for, the home was raided and four of its occupants were charged with drug possession and distribution. Charges against two of the four suspects have already been dropped.

Mr. Truitt -- who was the task force's coordinator until leaving the state's attorney's office in 1990 -- argued during Wednesday's suppression hearing that the warrant itself was inconsistent.

Among the inconsistencies in the warrant was an assertion -- made by a confidential informant -- that the Wantzes have "a custom van and a Chevy Blazer that are both used" in drug activities.

Several paragraphs later, however, Tfc. Robert Heuisler wrote that a check with the state Motor Vehicles Administration revealed that the couple owns a 1984 Dodge van and a 1977 Jeep.

Another problem with the warrant, according to Mr. Truitt, was the lack of hard evidence pointing to the possibility of illegal drug activity at the Wantzes' home.

Trooper Heuisler, who applied for the warrant, said he used descriptions by three confidential informants. At least one of the informants claimed to have purchased marijuana from Mr. Wantz, but no undercover buys were attempted before the warrant was applied for, Trooper Heuisler wrote.

"Why didn't they make a controlled buy?" Mr. Truitt said yesterday.

"Or why couldn't they make a controlled buy? In a warrant, all of the facts have got to point to a probable violation of the law. They don't here," he said.

Barton F. Walker III, the assistant state's attorney who is the task force's coordinator, could not be reached for comment yesterday.

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