Appeals Court Reverses Pot-Growing Conviction

Discussion in 'Marijuana News' started by Superjoint, Feb 28, 2001.

  1. By Bob Egelko, Chronicle Staff Writer
    Source: San Francisco Chronicle

    A few phone calls from the home of a drug suspect and an electric bill higher than others in the neighborhood make enough evidence for a warrant to search a home for marijuana growing. At least that's how a Sonoma County judge saw it. A state appellate court panel took a different view, however.
    "This was not a close case," three judges of the Court of Appeal said in a ruling made public yesterday that overturned Richard Hight's cultivation conviction and nine-month jail sentence.

    It wasn't an unusual case either, said Hight's lawyer, Richard Ingram. In Sonoma County, he said, "this is a very common way they try to get search warrants."

    The case against Hight began when federal agents examined the telephone records of a woman who had been arrested for marijuana cultivation and said they found five calls to Hight's home. In fact, the records showed only one call, and didn't say who made it or for what purpose, the court said.

    Agents then looked at Hight's energy bills and found, based partly on erroneous calculations, that he used about twice as much electricity as several neighbors, allegedly a sign of indoor marijuana cultivation, the court said.

    After a thermal scan of the outside of the home proved inconclusive, the sheriff's office got a warrant from a judge in June 1998, searched the home and found 92 marijuana plants growing in a barn, the court said. Hight pleaded no contest after Superior Court Judge Robert Boyd upheld the search. He has remained free during his appeal.

    The appellate court said the search warrant should not have been issued because officers had no information showing a probability that evidence of a crime would be found in the home.

    Phone calls from the home of a drug suspect are not evidence of wrongdoing, said the opinion by Justice Carol Corrigan. She said having the highest electric bill in the neighborhood proves little when deputies offer no information about the size of the neighbors' homes, how often they are occupied and how they are heated.

    Note: Evidence inadequate for search warrant.

    E-mail Bob Egelko at: begelko@sfchronicle.com
     

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