Drug Task Force Vindicated? CARROLL COUNTY

March 30, 1993

Barton F. Walker III, Carroll County assistant state's attorney, got what he wanted -- a conviction of Pamela Snowhite Davis, the county's best-known marijuana activist. After the trial, he said the conviction on three counts -- possession of marijuana, possession of drug paraphernalia and maintaining a common nuisance -- is a vindication of the Carroll County Narcotics Task Force. He may be right, but the vindication could be short-lived.

Ms. Davis has said she will appeal her conviction. Because the jury has taken Circuit Judge Raymond E. Beck's instructions not to talk to the lawyers in the case to mean not to talk to the press as well, we don't know anything about the jury's deliberations other than it took an extraordinarily long time -- eight hours -- to reach its verdicts. By comparison, in another recent county case, it took a jury about six hours to convict Michael Bryson of first-degree murder.

Ms. Davis' appeal will probably focus on the validity of the task force's search warrant. The task force obtained the warrant after being notified that a package addressed to Ms. Davis' farm contained about 1.5 ounces of marijuana. The task force executed the warrant by having one of its deputies dress as a United Parcel Service employee and deliver the package. Once the package was accepted, police officials raided the house. Ms. Davis' son ate most of the marijuana that was delivered, but less than an ounce of marijuana was seized from a night table in Ms. Davis' bedroom.

Ms. Davis' attorneys never had a chance to challenge the warrant because Judge Beck, who also happened to be the judge who signed the warrant, never held a hearing on its validity. Every bit of evidence used against Ms. Davis was obtained because of that warrant.

It will be up to the appeals court to decide whether or not an unsolicited package constitutes probable cause for obtaining a search and seizure warrant. Without that package, the task force had no basis for the warrant, meaning any and all evidence obtained as a result of the warrant would be thrown out.

If an appeals court rules the original search warrant was defective, the entire case against Ms. Davis evaporates. This means the vindication of the task force remains an open question.

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