Thursday, December 21, 2017

MI judge orders seized $11K, SUVs, Christmas presents returned

Oakland County man battles to get back property seized in drug raid - Bill Laitner, Detroit Free Press:

December 19, 2017 - "Only a few people were in a courtroom north of Detroit last week to hear the judge tongue-lash a prosecutor for delaying the return of a bank account with $11,000 that she ruled was improperly seized by drug investigators.

"'I’m outraged by the way this was handled,' Oakland County Circuit Judge Rae Lee Chabot exclaimed.... 'This hints at more than just a mistake. This continuous action hints at obstruction,' Chabot said, citing the 22 months it took to obey a court order and unfreeze the account. Chabot even slapped a fine on the prosecutor, awarding $2,500 'in sanctions' to defense attorneys, though they’d asked for three times that much....

"The ... hearing in Pontiac ...  was to get back the joint bank account of a mother and son — an account containing $10,938, of which $10,000 belonged not to medical-marijuana user Donny Barnes, 42, of Orion Township, but to Barnes’ mother.

"It was in November 2014 that a platoon of heavily armed police seized their joint bank account, along with Donny Barnes’ two SUVs and his children’s Christmas presents, according to legal pleadings. At the same time, they shut down Barnes’ three small businesses — a furniture resale firm, a spyware shop and a medical-marijuana magazine.....

"A different judge, in a criminal trial in February, dismissed the only charge against him — marijuana possession with intent to distribute — after ruling that police failed to establish probable cause for raiding Barnes' house, office and warehouse....

"The Oakland County Prosecutor’s Office is awaiting a ruling on Barnes’ criminal case from the Michigan Court of Appeals, 'and we fully expect to win,' Chief Assistant Prosecutor Paul Walton said..... The prosecutors' goal? To show that Barnes, at the time of the raid, was a big-time marijuana dealer, one who’d tried to hide his illegal activity under the cloak of medical marijuana.... 'He was operating a dispensary, clearly,' Walton said.

"No matter that dispensaries have operated for years and largely without police interference in numerous other Michigan counties.... Barnes’ battle seems far from over. Also far from over is the debate over just how much power police and prosecutors should have in permanently confiscating the property of people who weren't convicted of any crime — and, in some cases, were never even arrested."

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