Judge doubts search warrant ever existed in drug case

Mike Martindale
The Detroit News

Pontiac – An Oakland Circuit judge said Wednesday she believes a search warrant for a mobile tracking device on a suspected drug dealer’s car never existed but ruled there is still probable cause to try him on a trafficking charge “as soon as practicable.”

Judge Rae Lee Chabot issued the ruling in the case of Christopher Dukes, 34, of Rochester Hills. He is charged with possession with intent to deliver a kilogram of heroin found in an August 2015 raid of his apartment.

The raid was conducted by drug officers using a second search warrant based partly on surveillance from the tracking device warrant reportedly obtained by Detective Charles Janczarek for Dukes’ car.

In Dukes’ case, attorney James W. Amberg obtained a mistrial on the first day of trial after cross examination of Janczarek revealed the GPS tracking device — a legal tool used by law enforcement officers — had been secretly placed on Dukes’ 2015 Cadillac.

Amberg subsequently determined no one had a copy of the search warrant authorizing placement of the GPS device and obtained a mistrial in March.

By law, Dukes and Amberg should have obtained information on the tracker.

Neither Amberg nor assistant Oakland County prosecutor Shannon O’Brien had any knowledge of it. That led to an evidence suppression hearing and Chabot’s ruling Wednesday.

“The prosecution has the burden of demonstrating the existence of the (tracker) warrant by a preponderance of the evidence,” Chabot ruled in the 17-page opinion reviewed by The News. “The evidence simply does not support this finding …

“The testimony of Detective Janczarek is not credible,” the judge wrote. “He cannot locate a digital copy of his warrant on any of his devices. He cannot locate the original at the district court. He cannot locate a copy of the warrant in the file. He cannot locate a copy in the packet sent to the Oakland County Prosecutor’s Office. He cannot locate it with the copy of the affidavit found underneath his stairs.

“All these lead to only one logical conclusion: The warrant never existed and thus was not signed,” Chabot continued. “Further, to accept his testimony as true would raise the question of why he never mentioned the tracking device in two years and countless court appearances of this case …”

Neither O’Brien nor Amberg would discuss Chabot’s ruling. In court filings, O’Brien said evidence supports moving forward with a trial for Dukes, while Amberg argues the evidence is so tainted that the charges against him should be dismissed.

Beside the tracking device placed on his car, investigators had focused on Dukes based on an unnamed “reliable confidential informant,” who told officers Dukes was distributing cocaine throughout Oakland County.

Dukes had been linked with six active DEA investigations, according to Janczarek’s warrant affidavit, and had been monitored in “short term traffic/meeting indicative of narcotics transactions” over 10 times in Oakland and Wayne counties during a 30-day period before the tracker was in use.

Chabot had held an evidence suppression hearing in June that focused on the existence of the search warrant for the tracking device, the difference between tracker affidavits and the failure to produce a copy of the search warrant.

Janczarek, assistant prosecutor Beth Hand and Pontiac 50th District Judge Ronda Fowlkes Gross all provided differing testimony about what they knew or didn’t know about the warrant.

Janczarek said he had discussed the tracker warrant with Hand and had turned over all of his surveillance notes to the prosecutor’s office. Hand said she had no knowledge of such a warrant.

Gross testified she recalled signing a document but agreed it might have been an affidavit – a second document filed in court after a warrant is obtained. She said 50th District Court does not store search warrants and had no record of the document.

The affidavit was subsequently used by Janczarek to obtain a warrant from another judge to search Dukes’ apartment.

The State Court Administrator’s Office, which supervises all state courts in Michigan, has since advised the Pontiac District Court of proper procedure in the storage of search warrants, a spokesman said.

Chabot gave attorneys one day to decide on a trial date for the case. She said she also will permit a “Franks” hearing before the trial to discuss the evidence in the case and whether it was properly obtained. Janczarek is expected to be called to testify in that evidentiary hearing.


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