January 3, 2016

Is Shopping At An Indoor Garden Store Enough To Establish Probable Cause For A Marijuana Raid?

January 3, 2016
Kansas Couple Raided for Tomatoes and Tea Leaves
swat raid marijuana
(image via Wikipedia)

My dad’s apartment was raided by a SWAT team in 1989. It was a very traumatic experience (I was there). The cops kicked in the door, came in brandishing guns, and screaming so frantically I didn’t know what anyone was saying or what was going on. I know quite a few people that have had their homes raided by police, and it’s an experience that will no doubt haunt them the rest of their lives. It doesn’t take much for cops to raid your house when marijuana is potentially involved. An example of that is the case of Robert and Addie Harte.

Robert and Addie Harte are a middle class married couple that used to work for the CIA as analysts. One day Robert and his son went to an indoor garden store to purchase equipment to grow tomatoes as part of a class assignment. Little did they know that there was a state trooper sitting in the parking lot, compiling license plates that frequented the store in order to start investigations into whether or not the customers of the store were growing marijuana.

After further investigating the Harte family, members of Kansas law enforcement went through the Harte family’s garbage and found ‘saturated plant material.’ Via an unreliable field substance test, the material tested positive for marijuana. A later, more accurate lab test result was released which found that the substance was actually tea, but that test result wasn’t received back before a SWAT raid was conducted on the Harte family residence. Guns were put in kids’ faces, and the family was put through a traumatic experience, yet nothing was found. No marijuana plants, not even any marijuana paraphernalia.

A very long, drawn out legal battle ensued, with the family having to spend over $25,000 just to get a reason out of law enforcement as to why the raids were conducted in the first place. The case has worked its way through the legal system, and recently a judge ruled on the case as to whether or not the family’s constitutional rights were violated. The ruling was a slap in the face to justice and logic. Per the The Washington Post:

Last week, U.S. District Court Judge John W. Lungstrum dismissed every one of the Hartes’s claims. Lungstrum found that sending a SWAT team into a home first thing in the morning based on no more than a positive field test and spotting a suspect at a gardening store was not a violation of the Fourth Amendment. He found that the police had probable cause for the search, and that the way the search was conducted did not constitute excessive force. He found that the Hartes had not been defamed by the raid or by the publicity surrounding it. He also ruled that the police were under no obligation to know that drug testing field kits are inaccurate, nor were they obligated to wait for the more accurate lab tests before conducting the SWAT raid. The only way they’d have a claim would be if they could show that the police lied about the results, deliberately manipulated the tests or showed a reckless disregard for the truth — and he ruled that the Hartes had failed to do so.

That excerpt is from an article that Radley Balko wrote for the The Washington Post. It’s a fantastic article, and I encourage you to read it. Radley always has a stellar way of conveying how unjust something is to the point that it makes people want to act to right the wrongs. I like that. Let the case of the Harte family be a lesson of caution. It doesn’t take much for law enforcement to zero in on you and turn your life upside down. It could literally be as simple as just being seen buying some pots and soil for a family tomato garden and throwing away some tea in a trash can.


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