- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 16, 2001

BALTIMORE (AP) Maryland's Court of Appeals has ruled that merely seeing a marijuana plant through a window of a home does not justify police entry without a proper warrant.
The unanimous decision reversed a lower court's ruling that upheld the drug-manufacturing conviction of Marion Dunnuck, 47, of Church Hill in Queen Anne's County, who has spent two years at the Maryland Correctional Institution for Women in Jessup.
The Court of Special Appeals had ruled that the search of Dunnuck's home was legal because police may enter a dwelling without a warrant when they can see from the outside that a crime is being committed inside.
But the Court of Appeals said that no urgent circumstances such as belief that a burglary had occurred or that injured people or suspects were inside the home necessitated immediate entry.
"Although police officers acknowledged that they had probable cause and that the courthouse was no more than 15 minutes away, they provided no basis for failing to get a warrant except that it was necessary to secure the premises," the court said in its 20-page opinion.
Public defender Nancy Forster, who represents Dunnuck, said the ruling means her client likely will get a new trial.
The evidence that prosecutors used to convict her will be inadmissible, making a second conviction difficult, Ms. Forster said.
In June 1999, the Queen Anne's County Sheriff's Department received an anonymous tip that marijuana plants could be seen in a window of a Church Hill home. A detective and a deputy drove to the house and saw what they believed to be marijuana in a bird cage on a side window, court documents said.
While at the property, the detective told the deputy to try to get permission from the resident to search the home. Short of that, a warrant would be needed, the detective said.
The house was empty, but backup units were called to wait outside the house for a resident to return.
After Dunnuck returned, officers knocked on her front door and told her they were from the county's Drug Task Force and needed to come in.
Dunnuck told the officer's to "hold on a minute," court documents say, at which point one officer saw the marijuana plants move. The officers then kicked at the door and entered the house.
Gary Blair, chief of criminal appeals for the Maryland Attorney General's Office, said Friday that the decision clarifies the circumstances under which police can execute searches and predicted it would have an impact on police methods.
"It will encourage them to get warrants," Mr. Blair said.

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