The Alaska Court of Appeals decided in April to reverse the September 2000 conviction of Don Richards, who had faced charges of misconduct involving a controlled substance in the fourth degree. In December 1999, police seized 29 marijuana plants and equipment used to facilitate their growth from Richards' home and from an adjoining building.
The appeals court found that the search warrant that led to the seizure of about $58,000 worth in plants was not based on sufficient probable cause. The police department began the investigation of Richards after a Crime Stoppers tip, and considered additional information before obtaining a search warrant.
The appellate court decision cited doubt concerning the reliability of the police informant, and the usability of the other police information, which the defense argued was too out-of-date to be used in obtaining a warrant.
"Due process failed in the Superior Court," said Richards, 41, of his conviction, "but it prevailed for me in the State Court of Appeals."
Police Chief Dale Stone said of the case, "There was a concerned citizen out there that called in Crime Stoppers and reported this. Police officers responded, and they investigated, and they did find a significant marijuana grow operation."
Stone praised the Crime Stoppers network and the process which led to Richards' original conviction. "While we do not have a conviction that stands, which would have been better, the drugs are taken off the street," he said.
He added he was not displeased with the decision of the appeals court. "We felt that we had supplied that information, other and additional information, over and above what we received from the Crime Stoppers call, but if we see that the courts are currently saying that we need more, we'll do that," he said.
"If we need to go an extra mile, I'm not going to sit here and whine that the courts are handcuffing us and keeping us from doing our job," Stone said. "That's pointless. We'll move forward and we'll make stronger cases."