Judge erred in reversing search warrant he signed, court rules

April 28, 1993|By Darren M. Allen | Darren M. Allen,Staff Writer

Carroll Circuit Judge Francis M. Arnold made a mistake in October when he threw out a drug search warrant that he had signed four months earlier, the Court of Special Appeals has ruled.

In a decision last week that resuscitated a nearly dead marijuana distribution case against a Pleasant Valley Road couple, the state's second-highest court said Judge Arnold was correct in signing the warrant.

"Consideration [of the case] can only lead to the conclusion that the Circuit Court did not err in originally granting the search warrant," the Court of Special Appeals wrote in the brief opinion.

"I'm really pleased with the ruling," said Assistant State's Attorney Barton F. Walker III, coordinator of the Carroll County Narcotics Task Force and prosecutor in the case who appealed Judge Arnold's ruling. "We're set to go to trial."

Robert and Patricia Wantz are scheduled to go on trial in June. They were arrested last summer when the task force raided their home and workshop in the 1300 block of Pleasant Valley Road.

The eight-hour raid was considered highly successful by task force members. They found six full-grown marijuana plants; several grocery bags containing small plastic bags of dried marijuana, apparently ready for sale; indoor growth lights; sophisticated indoor irrigation planters; and logs charting growth progress of the plants.

After the arrests, Mr. Walker and others on the task force heralded the raid, saying they found enough evidence to see the Wantzes convicted as drug dealers and put behind bars.

Judge Arnold's sacking of his own warrant all but killed the task force's case.

He said at a suppression hearing Oct. 28 that the warrant was defective, and threw out all the evidence officers had seized.

During the hearing, Assistant Public Defender Samuel Truette, who represents the Wantzes, argued that the warrant "makes a lot of conclusions that can't be corroborated. The facts in the warrant don't point to probable violations of any laws."

Mr. Truette -- who was the task force's coordinator until he left the state's attorney's office in 1990 -- also argued that the warrant 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 in the warrant affidavit, state police Tfc. Robert Heuisler wrote that a check with the state Motor Vehicles Administration revealed that the couple owns a 1984 Dodge van and 1977 Jeep.

Another problem with the warrant, Mr. Truette argued, was the lack of hard evidence pointing to alleged illegal drug activity at the Wantzes' home.

Authorities never tried to make undercover buys from the Wantzes.

Mr. Truette declined to comment on the appellate court's ruling yesterday.

The Court of Special Appeals rejected his argument.

"Although this information could be more precise, it is certainly not incapable of supporting a finding of probable cause," the court said.

Where Mr. Truette argued that Trooper Heuisler applied for the warrant even though he knew it was inconsistent, the Court of Special Appeals said the trooper "was neither dishonest nor reckless in preparing his affidavit."

In reversing Judge Arnold's suppression of the warrant, the appeals court said it "was properly authorized" by Judge Arnold, and "the subsequent search was executed in full conformance with Fourth Amendment [search and seizure] principles."

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