North Pole man wins hearing in pot bust appeal

Posted: Sunday, September 01, 2002

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- A North Pole man in federal prison could be freed if his attorney can prove drug agents never showed him a complete search warrant before raiding his home and discovering marijuana plants.

In a decision released Thursday, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a U.S. District Court judge must reconsider the case of Darrell Ridgway, sentenced to five years in prison nearly a year ago after he was convicted of manufacturing a controlled substance.

At issue is whether Drug Enforcement Agency officers provided Ridgway with paperwork specifically outlining what they would be looking for before they entered his house in January 2001 and found 135 marijuana plants, root systems and a small amount of loose marijuana.

''The question is, did the agents just go in there and rummage around or did they look for what was in (the document),'' said federal public defender Sue Ellen Tatter. ''It sounds technical, but it's really not. It's important to citizens that they can't just rummage, they have to be limited to something specific.''

Ridgway appealed his federal conviction largely because of the testimony of then Drug Enforcement Agency agent Cary Freeman.

Freeman testified at Ridgway's preliminary hearing that when he approached Ridgway's house, he had only a general search warrant form and not the document detailing what the agents thought was inside, according the Appeals Court ruling.

However, during a later hearing on Ridgway's motion to dismiss evidence against him, Freeman testified he did bring the document into Ridgway's home and showed it to him.

''Freeman explained that when he testified at the preliminary hearing that he had not brought (the document) with him into Ridgway's house, he had been referring to the first time he had entered the house,'' the ruling states. Freeman went on to say that he got the document out of his car after the house was secure and returned with it, according to the ruling.

The magistrate presiding over the hearing later issued a report stating he did not believe Freeman's statements because he could not explain the ''glaring discrepancies in his testimony.''

The magistrate recommended that the District Court judge rule that Ridgway's Fourth Amendment rights were violated and that the court should not consider the marijuana plants and other evidence seized from his home.

The judge refused to bar the evidence.

The Appeals Court ruling Thursday states the judge erred by not conducting another hearing before making the decision. The decision orders the judge to conduct another hearing to decide the fate of the evidence.

Public defender Tatter said Thursday she was confident about getting the evidence dismissed. She said the defense is prepared to call several witnesses, including relatives who were at the house during the raid. They can testify that DEA agents never showed Ridgway the document.

Prosecutor Stephen Cooper declined comment on the details of the case. He said the government will continue its case against Ridgway.

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