Search on meth lab deemed legal by court

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By Susan Sharp

With his client facing trial today on meth manufacturing charges and reckless endangerment David Pollard attempted to have evidence in the case tossed out.

Arguing that Joann Williamson had been subjected to an illegal search on the night of Feb.3 Pollard said she never gave police permission, verbal or otherwise, to search her home.

Josh Goins, who was a detective with the Campbell County Sheriff’s Department at the time, said he had gone to the South Highway 25 home that night after receiving a tip that a meth cook was in progress. Goins testified he was also told that children were at the home as the deadly drug was being made.

From the stand, Goins, who is now employed with the Eighth Judicial Drug Task Force, said when he opened his car door in the driveway that night, he could smell meth.

When Assistant District Attorney Leif Jeffers asked the officer to describe the smell he replied, “There is nothing like it.”

Describing that once Williamson opened the door to the home the odor grew stronger, Goins told the court another concern caught his eye.

Just beyond the doorway he saw children. After explaining why he was there Goins said Williamson took a step back from the door. The officer said he took that action as an invitation to enter the home.

However, when Williamson took the stand, she disputed Goins’ version of those events.

She testified that two times she requested to see a search warrant only to be told by Goins he didn’t “have to have one.” Continuing her testimony Williamson said Goins placed his hand on his gun before pushing her front door back with his foot. Listening to this, Goins smiled and shook his head back and forth.

While the officer and the accused meth conspirator had different renditions of the events both agreed that at one point in the search, Goins went to the home’s basement. That is where he said he encountered meth smoke so thick he had to kneel down to see under it.

There laid out on a door and two sawhorses was an active meth lab, Goins testified. Williamson testified she had no knowledge there was anyone in the basement of her home that night.

At the end of the hearing, Criminal Court Judge Shayne Sexton was left to decide if Goins had entered the home without permission and if so, did he have cause.

Pointing out that the children created exigent circumstances that allowed Goins to enter the home, Jeffers further said two of the children were under the age of eight.

When addressing if Williamson’s body language could have been deduced   as consent, Jeffers told the court, “There is only one way that can be interpreted.”

Pollard countered that Goins himself had said Williamson “moved back from the door.”

“That is not the same as stepping back and motioning a person in,” Pollard said. Looking at the judge, he said that to believe Williamson had given a non-verbal, non-expressed consent for the search would be “going way out on a limb for the state.”

Before resting his case, Pollard interjected that when the six children were later tested for meth a negative result was yielded.

Looking at whether the search had been within the scope of the law, Sexton said that for a person to simply step away from a door didn’t cut it. “There needs to be greater consent,” the judge said. “A person’s home is their castle.”

Ruling with Pollard on that issue, Sexton said prosecutors had failed to show the search had been conducted with Williamson’s permission. However, when it came to if there were other circumstances that made the search permissible, Sexton said that needed further consideration. However, he did say that because of the actions taken by Goins, “some children may be here today.”

After some consideration, Sexton said the testimony of Williamson created a cloud over her creditability. In saying that she was unaware people were in her basement that night, Williamson cast doubt on herself. The judge said for her not to know that was “not likely.”

“This was a close call,” Sexton said.

In the end this ruling went to prosecutors. Sexton said the presence of the children and safety concerns for them created the exigent circumstance. Based on that he deemed the search legal and said he would allow any evidence found during it to be admitted at today’s trial.