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Drugs illegally seized by police, drug felonies dismissed

The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures, both in New Hampshire and nationwide. A search of one's private property can only be made upon probable cause pursuant to a duly issued search warrant. When the police make a search and seize contraband without probable cause and a search warrant, a defendant may move the court to suppress the evidence. With the evidence suppressed, the prosecution is often unable to prosecute the felonies or other crimes charged against the defendant, and the charges may ultimately be dismissed.

That is the general scenario in a recent case where Hillsborough Police arrested a man for allegedly growing pot in three apartments in downtown Hillsborough. The Hillsborough County District Attorney's office announced that it was dismissing felony charges of manufacturing and possessing a controlled drug with intent to distribute against a 53-year-old Bennington man. The Assistant District Attorney said that there was a Fourth Amendment issue that the prosecutor evaluated as being strongly in favor of the defendant's position.

The prosecutor did, however, salvage part of the case by having the man plead guilty to a misdemeanor charge of possession of pot, for which he received a suspended sentence and a fine. Reportedly, the Hillsborough Police had received a tip from a Deering police officer who had gone to an apartment on unrelated business. Under the facts evaluated by defense counsel and the prosecutor's office, both agreed that the ensuing search and seizure violated Fourth Amendment privacy concerns.

The Assistant District Attorney properly chalked the matter up to following the Constitution and doing his job as required. The police had allegedly seized pot plants and processed marijuana. The details of the police procedure is unknown, but if an officer was not authorized to be in the apartment in the first place, then anything he reportedly observed inside would not qualify to establish probable cause for a warrant. Thus, the prosecutor would have no proof of a violation under New Hampshire criminal laws after the defense's motion to suppress the drug evidence pertaining to the felonies was granted by the court.

Source: unionleader.com, "Felony pot-growing charge dropped over search issue", Pat Grossmith, March 17, 2016

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