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Police visit on ‘whim’ did not taint pot evidence

Does a “country boy” – with a home back in the woods behind a bunch of “no trespassing” signs – enjoy more privacy rights than a city dweller?

Maybe so, but police can still come knocking – even on the back door, says U.S. District Judge Jackson L. Kiser as he allows 182 marijuana plants into evidence against a Patrick County man.

Kiser denied David Jones’ suppression motion in the marijuana possession case of U.S. v. Jones.

Two years ago, police were destroying a crop of 19 pot plants in a Patrick County field when the officers decided “on a whim” to see if someone at the nearest house might have seen anyone hanging out in the area.

The house wasn’t visible from the road, but officers walked up the driveway, passing various signs reading, “No Trespassing,” “Posted: Private Property,” “Keep Out,” and the like. Short of a gate or fence around the property, “I am hard-pressed to think of a home more unwelcome to passers-by,” Kiser said.

While one officer knocked at the front door, another went around back.

The backyard was a veritable pot plantation, as Kiser described it. There were marijuana plants close to the house, in the yard and along trails through woods leading down to a creek.

While the officers waited for a search warrant, Jones arrived home, according to Kiser’s summary. He admitted the plants were his.

Even though Jones had a right to expect privacy in his backyard, Kiser said the officers acted reasonably in knocking on the front and back doors under the “knock-and-talk rule” articulated by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The back yard might normally be off limits, but police noticed a “well-worn path” around the side of the house and they knew the custom in the county was for many residents to use the back door of a house for entry and exit. The decision to follow the path was reasonable under the circumstances, Kiser said.

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