Charges against a 37-year-old man accused in an illegal dog fighting and drug case were dropped earlier this week after prosecutors were forced to throw out evidence collected against the Conway resident.
Carl Johnson was charged with simultaneous possession of drugs and firearms, possession of a controlled substance, maintaining a drug premises within 1,000 feet of a drug-free zone and unlawful dog fighting after authorities confiscated eight pit bulls while conducting a search warrant at a residence in the 1700 block of Donaghey Avenue.
Conway Police Department investigators and the SWAT team were executing a search warrant on Jan. 4, 2017, of the Donaghey Avenue residence when drugs and the dogs believed to be involved in dog fighting were found. However, earlier this year, a circuit judge ruled in favor of the defense's request to suppress evidence collected during the execution of the aforementioned search warrant and prosecutors have since filed an order to dismiss the case against the 37-year-old.
While authorities stand by the validity of evidence collected at the then-suspect's home, officials say this case can be used as a learning experience for future cases.
"This case was based on contraband that was found during [the] execution of a search warrant. Due to the suppression of all relevant evidence, we had no option other than dismissing this case," 20th Judicial District Prosecuting Attorney Luke Ferguson said Wednesday. "We believed the evidence should be admissible in court and Deputy Prosecutor Megan Carter argued our position adamantly, but we respect the judge's ruling and must move forward now. When evidence is suppressed, our goal is to use that as a means to know how to strengthen future cases."
Carter had argued in a motion filed in early May that the evidence found during the execution of the January 2017 search warrant was valid and imperative to the case she was building against Johnson.
“Evidence obtained in violation of the Fourth Amendment need not be excluded, as a matter of law, when officers act in objectively reasonable reliance on a search warrant issued by a neutral and detached magistrate,” Carter’s motion for reconsideration reads in part. “The exclusionary rule is intended to deter police misconduct, not to punish law enforcement when they rely in good faith on a search warrant that is later found to have been issued in error. ... Law enforcement should not be punished by the errors of judges in the issuance of a search warrant when law enforcement relies upon that search warrant in good faith.”
Following Carter’s plea, Jimmy Morris Jr., who represents Johnson, filed a response that argued in favor of the judge’s recent ruling.
“The Court’s ruling should stand as suppression is the remedy for the inadequacy of a search warrant when an officer cannot manifest objective good faith in relying on a warrant based on an affidavit so lacking in indicia of probable cause as to render official belief in its existence entirely unreasonable,” his May 18 response to Carter’s motion reads in part. “The officer’s reliance on the magistrate’s probable-cause determination and on the technical sufficiency of the warrant he issues must be objectively reasonable.”
Because the search warrant was not reasonably obtained, it’s findings were illegal, thus making them invalid, Morris argued.
“Here, the officers’ reliance on the warrant was not objectively reasonable, in a set of circumstance for which, the officer’s knowingly, and recklessly submitted an affidavit that was inadequate to a magistrate, who in effect, acted as a rubber stamp for the police by signing an affidavit for a warrant that was obviously unreasonable,” he stated.
Circuit Judge Charles "Ed" Clawson Jr. ultimately stood by his April decision, despite Carter’s request for reconsideration.
Online records show charges against Johnson were formally dismissed Tuesday in Faulkner County Circuit Court.