Drug case dismissed over missing search warrant
Pontiac — A suspected Rochester Hills drug dealer will not face prosecution after disclosures that crucial evidence against him was obtained without proper approval for a search warrant.
The case against Christopher K. Dukes was dismissed Tuesday in Oakland County Circuit Court.
“Mr. Dukes and I are both very pleased with the outcome of the case,” defense attorney James Amberg said Wednesday. “It is my understanding that Mr. Dukes’ case has had a positive impact in both the court system and sheriff department as there are new policies to ensure the preservation of search warrants.
The Oakland County prosecutor’s case against Dukes, 35, began to unravel the first day of trial last March after a county drug officer testified that surveillance of Dukes, and the subsequent August 2015 raid of his apartment, was predicated partly on a GPS mobile tracking device investigators had placed on Dukes’ 2015 Cadillac.
Tracking devices are legal tools used by law enforcement in criminal cases once they are approved by a judge, just as a search warrant is granted to search a premise should a judge feel there is probable cause.
Oakland Circuit Judge Rae Lee Chabot declared a mistrial in the case March 8 after detective Charles Janczarek disclosed under questioning by Amberg that a second search warrant request for the apartment was based partly on the surveillance information.
The existence of a tracking device, which also required a search warrant, had never been revealed to Amberg, as required by law.
“It is hoped that the outcome of this case will also lead to more transparent investigations where officers’ actions are detailed in police reports rather than be purposefully kept secret, as was testified by the lead detective’s supervisor during Mr. Dukes’ trial,” Amberg said.
“Our system of justice only works when the defendant is given a chance to fairly confront the evidence against him,” Amberg said. “In fact, this right of confrontation is a constitutional right. By purposefully not creating police reports, the investigators in Mr. Dukes’ case effectively became a secret police force …”
Over several months, in court filings, hearings and testimony from assistant prosecutors, police investigators, and even Pontiac’s 50th District Judge Ronda Fowlkes Gross, no formal record could be found that laid out probable cause for the search warrant.
Janczarek also said he had never written a report or kept any notes of the actual physical surveillance done on Dukes by investigators.
Chabot said she believed the required search warrant for the tracking device never existed and dismissed evidence obtained from the search, including a kilogram of heroin, some cocaine and marijuana, drug packaging materials, loaded guns and cash found in the apartment. The charge is a felony, punishable by up to 30 years in prison.
“The prosecution has the burden of demonstrating the existence of the (tracker) warrant by a preponderance of the evidence,” Chabot ruled in her 17-page opinion last November. “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 said. “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 …”
Assistant Prosecutor Shannon O’Brien, who also told Chabot she had no knowledge of a tracking device, has repeatedly declined to discuss the case with The Detroit News. Calls to the prosecutor’s office were not returned Wednesday.
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 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, Gross and assistant prosecutor Beth Hand, the head of drug case prosecutions, provided differing testimony about what they knew or didn’t know about the warrant.
The sheriff’s office now is scanning search warrant and court-related documents into a digital file record in active cases.
The State Court Administrator’s Office, which supervises state courts in Michigan, has since advised 50th District Court of proper procedure in the storage of search warrants, a spokesman said.