Eddy Lepp

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Eddy Lepp

Postby palmspringsbum » Sat Dec 30, 2006 11:14 pm

Medical Marijuana of America wrote:Warrant Declared Invalid in Lepp Case

Written by Vanessa Nelson
Saturday, 16 December 2006
Medical Marijuana of America

<span class=postbigbold>Judge Dismisses 32,524 Marijuana Plants</span>

SAN FRANCISCO, CA -- There were strong words in a federal courtroom Tuesday as Judge Marilyn Patel made a series of decisions in the case of Lake County medical marijuana provider Reverend Charles "Eddy" Lepp.

Lepp, who runs "Eddy's Medicinal Gardens and Ministry of Cannabis & Rastafari," has been facing charges that relate to a 2004 raid that netted an unprecedented 32,524 marijuana plants and left him in jeopardy of serving multiple life sentences.

With one short declaration, however, Judge Patel knocked some of the sharpest teeth out of the case against Lepp.

"All evidence seized through the 2004 warrant is suppressed," the judge said unambiguously.

<table class=posttable align=right width=127><tr><td class=postcell><img class=postimg src=bin/lepp_eddy.jpg></td></tr><tr><td class=postcap>The Reverend Eddy Lepp enjoying his favorite medicinal beverage</td></tr></table>According to Judge Patel, the warrant lacked both a list of the items to be seized and an identifying description of the property to be searched.

"Was this just pure sloppiness?" the judge asked the prosecution sharply.

"It was just pure mistakes, your honor," responded U.S. Attorney David Hall, who has been prosecuting the case for the government.

Surprisingly, the prosecution did nothing to argue the validity of the 2004 search warrant.

Prosecutor Hall did, however, make an ill-fated move to keep an undefined portion of the seized plants in evidence.

For this purpose, the prosecutor cited a judicially-created principle that exempts certain open lands from the 4th Amendment protection from search and seizure. "There's an open fields doctrine that allows officers to go into open places and seize evidence," Hall told the court.

<table class=posttable align=left width=222><tr><td class=postcell><img class=postimg src=bin/lepp_eddy-garden.jpg></td></tr><tr><td class=postcap>Author Vanessa Nelson amongst the 32,524 plants seized in Lepp's 2004 raid</td></tr></table>Claiming that many of Lepp's plants could easily be seen from Highway 20, Hall also turned to the "plain view doctrine" that allows officers to do warrantless seizures of evidence that is in sight during a lawful observation of the scene. "If we suppress the search warrant," Hall argued, "we should still allow evidence that was in plain view."

Judge Patel then queried the prosecutor about how to determine which plants were in plain view and which were not. Hall responded quickly and simply that the court could use testimony from investigating officers, eliciting a strong reaction from the judge.

"I think you ought to be stopped right here," Judge Patel told the prosecutor. "I don't want to have officers here lying on the stand about what they saw and have to second-guess them."

The defense bolstered its argument by pointing out that, in two years of prosecuting the case, the government has never provided an affidavit from an officer stating that marijuana on Lepp's property was observed in plain view from Highway 20. Upon hearing this, Judge Patel turned to the prosecutor and demanded to know why he had not provided such a declaration.

"I assumed that proffering a picture from a newspaper showing the fields would be sufficient," Hall bumbled.

The judge did not conceal her frustration.

"What does that prove? You can't tell where it was taken from or even what it's a picture of!" Judge Patel declared with exasperation, shaking her head. "I am mystified as to how we are proceeding in this manner. I want to see evidence, not hear your argument. The time is over for all of this."

And, with those words, Judge Patel removed from the court's consideration what has been touted by the media as the largest single marijuana cultivation bust in the history of the DEA.

Still legally viable, however, is evidence from a separate raid in 2005 that netted more than 6,000 plants and introduced allegations of sales to an undercover officer.

The defense's strategy has been to undermine the legality of this search warrant as well, asserting that it lacked probable cause.

To this end, the defense claims that the magistrate judge who signed the 2005 search warrant was shown photos of land belonging to Eddy's neighbor, which was erroneously identified as the property of Lepp himself.

"We'll have to have an evidentiary hearing," Judge Patel said in response to these claims. "If they were aerially surveilling the wrong property, we would have to throw out that evidence."

Though the prosecution has indicated its belief that the warrant is supported by probable cause alone, the judge is unlikely to give much merit to these assertions.

In fact, Judge Patel balked when Prosecutor Hall argued that the 2005 warrant could be upheld by evidence of high electricity usage on the property as well as an officer's statement that Lepp admitted to growing marijuana in the fields and claimed to be "darn good at it."

Once again, the judge took an opportunity to attack the prosecution's presentation of law enforcement testimony in the case.

"You need to give me a clean record," she said to Hall with regard to the legitimacy of witness statements. "God knows you haven't given me a clean record so far."

Judge Patel then struck a further blow to the government by excising from the affidavits in the 2005 warrant all evidence that was gained from the 2004 search.

What remains of the prosecution's argument will be presented during an evidentiary hearing scheduled for 9:30am on January 9th at 450 Golden Gate Avenue in San Francisco, CA.

With one warrant already struck down and another hanging precariously in the balance, this hearing promises to be a pivotal one indeed.

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