IRON MOUNTAIN - Dickinson County Circuit Court Judge Richard Celello denied a motion for suppression of evidence in the case against Christopher Bennett, 36, of Norway.
Bennett faces one count of delivery/manufacture of a controlled substance - five to 45 kilograms of marijuana, a felony punishable by seven years and/or $500,000; possession of analogues, a felony punishable by two years and/or $2,000; and possession of marijuana, a misdemeanor, punishable by one year and/or $2,000.
The charges were brought against Bennett after a State Police Hometown Security Team's fugitive sweep for a failure to appear warrant in which officers then 96 plants of marijuana growing in his residence.
Testifying at the hearing before Judge Celello on Monday were Trooper Brian Muladore of the Negaunee Post 8th District/Hometown Security Team, Trooper Raymond Kenny of the Gladstone Post/Hometown Security Team, and Lt. Scott Metras of the Dickinson County Sheriff's Department.
On March 6, troopers Muladore and Kenny were conducting a fugitive sweep in Dickinson County and had a warrant out of Schoolcraft County for Bennett.
Bennett, who resided at 605 Saginaw St. in Norway at the time, did not answer the door when troopers attempted to serve the warrant. While outside the residence, troopers smelled a strong odor of a large amount of "raw" marijuana.
They also noticed that a basement window was covered with a curtain and heard other people inside the residence.
Muladore testified that Bennett exited the residence and was apprehended by Kenny.
After hearing other people in the residence, Muladore entered the residence for his safety and for his concern about destruction of possible marijuana plants or evidence.
Officers from the Norway Police Department, Dickinson County Sheriff's Department, KIND, and UPSET then showed up at the residence.
Kenny testified that Muladore entered the residence to "secure it and avoid destruction of evidence and for officer safety due to the people inside."
In the meantime, Bennett was brought to the Dickinson County Jail by Kenny to be booked. While Kenny was obtaining a search warrant, Bennett bonded out and was back at the residence before Lt. Metras arrived on the scene.
The search for the marijuana plants was then turned over to the Dickinson County Sheriff's Department.
Kenny said Bennett never vocally objected to a search of his residence.
Asked if he had a medical marijuana card, Bennett told Kenny "not a valid one."
He was read his miranda rights by Kenny and when he was interviewed by Lt. Metras.
Metras said Bennett advised him he would see chiropractor to obtain a medical marijuana card, and he felt he had 24 legitimate plants and seedings or clones of other plants for his personal use. Metras testified Bennett said he did not sell them.
Metras said Bennett consented to the search of his rental property for marijuana plants, and he was on scene during the search.
Metras said he tabulated the evidence from the scene and transported the plants to the lab for analysis.
He testified that it would take some time to flush 90 pot plants down the toilet, but seconds to start them on fire.
Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Lisa Richards said that the police had the authority to enter the home and execute a search warrant.
Defense attorney Julie LaCost said she did not think there was enough evidence to warrant a search for the plants.
"Entry to the house was illegal," she said.
Approximately 96 marijuana plants, in varying stages of maturity, were discovered and seized, along with several items used to in the manufacturing process, marijuana buds and suspected hash oil.
The items were sent to the State Police Crime Lab. Twenty-four plant samples and buds were later identified as marijuana and suspected hash oil was identified as delta-1-tetrahydrocannabinol, the active ingredient in marijuana.
Judge Celello said the circumstances to enter the home were justified, including a strong odor of marijuana, the presence of other individuals in the residence and the blocking of the basement windows.
Celello also said the officer entered the home for protection as he could not have wanted to be standing on the porch when there were people inside the residence.
Celello said the search warrant was fair and reasonable and the consent form signed by Bennett was clear.
Celello denied the motion for suppression of evidence.
A pre-trial conference was set for Sept. 10 at 10 a.m.
Lisa M. Hoffmann's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.