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Drug evidence tossed out by judge


DECATUR – A judge has ruled that seized evidence – 27 pounds of cannabis and a quarter kilogram of cocaine – cannot be used in the prosecution of a Decatur man.

In a Feb. 15 ruling handed in Macon County Circuit Court, the judge agreed with a defense motion that the Constitutional rights of Keith Halliburton had been violated. His lawyers now say he should be released from custody, and a hearing on that issue is set for Thursday.

Nichole Kroncke, first assistant state's attorney with the Macon County State's Attorney's Office, said the ruling will be appealed soon. She said she had no other comment.

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The crucial point the case turned on is the moment when Decatur police executed a search warrant against Halliburton, 37, who was arrested in March and accused of being a major drug dealer. Working with the U.S Postal Inspection Service, police said they had intercepted a 19-pound cannabis shipment in two parcels sent to Decatur.

Having determined drugs were inside, tracking devices and electronic alerts that indicate when the parcels have been opened were inserted. Police then conducted a “controlled delivery” of the parcels, and Halliburton's lawyers say he was seen picking them up, putting them in a vehicle and later transferring them to another vehicle.

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Defense attorney Todd Ringel argued that the police had been issued with a “anticipatory search warrant” which allowed them to search when a “triggering event” (the opening of the packages) took place. Ringel, of the Johnson Law Group, argued police jumped the gun by stopping and arresting Halliburton and searching his vehicle before the packages had been opened. Ringel said this was a violation of Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable search and seizure.

“Todd Ringel ... provided case law to the presiding judge clearly demonstrating that not waiting for this triggering event violated Halliburton's constitutional rights,” his law firm said in a statement Tuesday. At the time, police had also seized an additional 8 pounds of cannabis they said they had found in the vehicle, along with 328 grams of cocaine.

Having suppressed much of the physical evidence, Ringel said the judge also ruled that all evidence “derived from” the seized drugs, including allegedly incriminating statements made to police by Halliburton, would not be admissable at trial, either.


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