Court of Appeals Reversals

A story of deputies, marijuana and the right to

Note: Private Investigator Chris Reynolds was retained by the Dooleage family to investigate whether or not  law enforcement.  exceeded the 4th amendment rights of the property owners when they searched for a fugitive. Law Enforcement officers claimed they were unable to locate the correct address, even though it was clearly visible across the street and it took Mr. Reynolds only seconds to locate and document his findings. The court reversed the Superior Court.



Thursday, June 23, 2011 at 6:35 p.m.

Modified: Thursday, June 23, 2011 at 6:35 p.m.

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SonomaCounty sheriff’s deputies were stumped one afternoon in 2008 when they tried to serve
an arrest warrant in rural Santa Rosa but could not find the address.

Assuming there was some mistake in their documents, deputies John Misita and David Tait went to the nearest house on Llano Road, walked
through a latched gate and started looking around for people to talk to.

Behind an interior fence on the property they spotted a large barn with a locked door and an extension cord running to
it. Then they heard a humming sound and saw exhaust fans poking out the back.

They had stumbled upon a marijuana farm, but they had also walked into what would become a legal controversy involving
the sanctity of the home, privacy rights and just what officers can do when they suspect wrong-doing.

A conversation with resident Peggy Doolaege, 60, confirmed their suspicions about the marijuana. She said her
husband, adult sons and a daughter-in-law were growing marijuana for medical

Her statements and evidence obtained in a later search warrant were enough to win pleas from five of six co-defendants,
some of whom were convicted of felonies and sentenced to four months in jail.

But Doolaege’s son, Justin Doolaege, 35, appealed, arguing the evidence should not have been admitted because it was
obtained illegally. Earlier this month, a three-judge panel of the First Appellate District agreed, saying that officers violated his right to privacy.

Although the appeals court decision isn’t precedent-setting, lawyers said it was a victory not only for medical marijuana
advocates, who claim they are routinely subjected to unfair searches, but also for anyone else who values their Fourth Amendment rights.

“There is still a law on the books that says your home is your castle,” said Richard Ingram, a lawyer for brother,
Casey Doolaege, 39, whose charges were dismissed. “You just can’t roam around the place.”

Justin Dooleage’s attorney, Judy Conry, said the ruling could influence judges tasked with carefully scrutinizing
search warrants to be sure they aren’t based on ill-gotten information. “This was a family caught up in a mess,”
Conry said. “They were not trying to make a million in marijuana.”

But a prosecutor said the law allows police to look for people named in a search warrant even if it means going to a
different address. What matters is that officers had a reasonable belief that the person could have been there, said Diana Gomez, chief deputy district
attorney. It’s not unusual for them to uncover other crimes in the process, Gomez said.

“Often times people get caught with the goods because the officer happens upon it,” she said. “It’s absolutely
acceptable as long as they have a legitimate reason to be there in the first place.”  With the ruling, Justin Doolaege will be
allowed to withdraw his no-contest plea to felony cultivation at a hearing before trial Judge Gary Medvigy on July 18.

Since all the evidence against him will be suppressed, prosecutors won’t file new charges, Gomez said.

Lawyers for the other defendants will ask that they too be allowed to withdraw their pleas, however it is unclear whether
if Medvigy can allow it. “I think it would be the fair thing to do,” said Steve Spiegelman, a lawyer for Lana Doolaege, 36, who pleaded no
contest to misdemeanor possession.

Calls and e-mails to members of the Doolaege family were not returned. The case stemmed from a Dec. 11, 2008
warrant for a person who then lived at 2870 Llano Road. Deputies using a GPS system testified they were unable to locate the house after a five-minute
search and assumed the numbers in the address had been transposed. They then went to 2780 Llano Roadand found a house
surrounded by fence. They went through the gate and knocked on the front door. No one answered.

That’s when they noticed the interior fence and a barn that they concluded was being used to grow marijuana.

The deputies left the property but  returned five minutes later. This time Peggy Doolaege answered the front door
and said she didn’t know the man they were looking for. They asked if marijuana was being grown
in the barn. She said it was but that the family had medical marijuana cards. A
man and woman walked up who deputies said smelled of marijuana. One had
marijuana clippings on the front of her clothes. The detectives then sealed the property
and called in narcotics officers, who obtained a search warrant.

They discovered 1,500 plants and 145 pounds of processed marijuana, some of it in packaging indicating it was being
sold, said Sheriff’s Lt. Dennis O’Leary. All were arrested and five of the co-defendants were charged with three felonies each.

In court, Casey Doolaege’s attorney moved to suppress evidence based on the lack of a warrant. His private investigator,
Chris Reynolds, testified that he found the correct house on the first attempt. “It took me less than one minute to see
the mailboxes, drive down the driveway and locate the property,” he testified. Prosecutors argued the deputies acted in
good faith to try to locate the house they thought was the target of the warrant.

Medvigy agreed it was reasonable and that subsequent contact with the defendants was consensual, in part because there
was no expectation of privacy in the front yard. “They could have knocked on front door
and if nobody answered jumped in their cars and left,” O’Leary said. “But they
had an arrest warrant for a person. They wanted to make sure that person was
not on that property.”

Facing trial, the defendants accepted plea bargains in exchange for probation.

Only Justin Doolaege appealed. In their review, justices said there was
no evidence that the man on the warrant was on the property. Also, they said it
was clear from the fences and gates that the Doolaeges had taken steps to keep
their property private. Evidence collected from the barn and interviews
with the defendants was obtained illegally, they said.