Pubdate: Thu, 24 June 1999
Source: Washington Post (DC)
Copyright: 1999 The Washington Post Company
Address: 1150 15th Street Northwest, Washington, DC 20071
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Author: Jessie Mangaliman, Washington Post Staff Writer

DRUG SEARCH IS UPHELD

Supreme Court Affirms St. Mary's Conviction

Sgt. Lyle Long of the St. Mary's County sheriff's office thought he was just
building a straightforward case when he arrested Kevin Darnell Dyson for
drug possession in July 1996.

But little about the case has been simple or straightforward since a state
appeals court threw out Dyson's conviction, deciding that Long's search of
Dyson's car, which netted 23 grams of crack cocaine, was unlawful because it
was done without a search warrant.

This week, ruling on the appeal brought by prosecutors in the case, the U.S.
Supreme Court reinstated the conviction, holding that the original search,
conducted after an informant's tip, was legal after all. The justices cited
1982 and 1996 cases in which they had allowed warrantless searches of cars
when police reasonably believed they contained contraband.

Long and other St. Mary's law enforcement officials claimed vindication for
their original investigation.

"I learned [about the Supreme Court ruling] very late in the day. I thought
it was excellent," said Long, who was a detective in the sheriff's narcotics
division at the time he arrested Dyson.

The ruling means that Dyson's felony conviction for conspiracy to possess
cocaine with intent to distribute will be reinstated and he will be
sentenced in Circuit Court here, St. Mary's County State's Attorney Richard
D. Fritz said.

Jim Tanevich, the assistant state's attorney who prosecuted Dyson, did not
return a phone message to his office.(p)

"In my opinion it validates the procedures [for search and seizure] that we
have in place," said Capt. Steven M. Doolan, assistant to the sheriff in St.
Mary's.

"When a court of appeals rules and overturns a case, it causes concerns for
us. We have to reevaluate our position [on] when to apply for a search
warrant," Doolan said.

He said the high court's ruling on Monday "lends a lot of credibility" to
the decision to search Dyson's car.

Darnell was arrested by Long and another sheriff's deputy in Lexington Park
early in the morning of July 3, 1996. Long said he had received a tip from
an informant that Dyson was returning to St. Mary's from New York City with
cocaine.

Dyson, who was in his twenties when arrested, was in possession of 23 grams
of crack cocaine and some powder cocaine, Long said.

"It was kind of a straightforward case. I was able to obtain the description
of the car [Dyson's], and I was still corroborating the tip to the minute
that he came into the county," Long said.

Although 15 hours had lapsed after he first received the tip, Long explained
that he had not sought a warrant because he was still double-checking the
information.

In the fall of 1997, just before a jury was to hear testimony in his case,
Dyson entered a so-called Alford plea, agreeing that the state would be able
to prove the facts of his case. While the plea is not an admission of guilt,
it has the same practical effect. He faced 20 years on the conviction, but
was sentenced to only 10 years, suspended to 18 months of probation. The
plea allowed Dyson represented by Antonini M. Jones, of Riverdale, to pursue
appeals.

The Maryland Court of Appeals threw out the conviction and ruled that the
search was illegal because officers had failed to obtain a search warrant.

"The ironic thing is this thing is not going to have a major impact on his
[Dyson's] life. Once it was reversed, he'd already basically served his
time," Jones said.

Dyson did not return a message left through his attorney. But Jones said
that Dyson was aware of the Supreme Court ruling, which the justices made
without hearing arguments in the case.

Fritz said he will request a sentencing hearing as soon as he receives the
Supreme Court mandate.

"I think the real reaction is not so much in relation to the U.S. Supreme
Court but in relation to the Maryland Court of Appeals. It was one of shock
when they reversed the case," Fritz said.

This week, Fritz said, "The reaction was 'See, we told you. Why didn't
anybody listen to us in the first instance?' "

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