Drug Bust Reversed After Prosecutors Fail to Produce Search Warrant

May 25, 2011 at 9:00 am

In 2009, Amos Ingram's north St. Louis home was raided by police, who seized crack, heroin, drug paraphernalia and an illegal gun. During his arrest, Ingram said that, sure, the dope was his, but it was for his own consumption, not to be sold to others. He also said the gun belonged to a friend. Nevertheless, he was tried and convicted for drug trafficking, among other crimes, and sentenced to fifteen years in prison. Busted!

Well...maybe not. Because of prosecutorial missteps, Ingram might see freedom sooner rather than later, according to three Missouri appellate judges, who released a ruling yesterday reversing a trial court decision that led to Ingram's conviction. Prosecutors will now have to decide whether to retry the case using new evidence.

Yesterday, Missouri's Eastern District Court of Appeals ruled that prosecutors failed to prove that the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department had probable cause to raid Ingram's house. Prosecutors also erred by failing to call for a hearing to establish whether Ingram's confession to owning the drugs was voluntary, the judges wrote.

During the original trial, police Detective Robert Singh testified that, after conducting surveillance on Ingram's home and observing drug dealing goin' down, he obtained a search warrant following formal protocol: presenting an affidavit to the circuit attorney's office, then presenting it to a judge.

But the State failed to produce with the detective's search warrant, or affidavit, or even Singh's application for the warrant. So when the crack, heroin and gun that was seized from Ingram's house was presented before the jury as evidence, Ingram's attorney objected on the grounds that, without a physical warrant to point to, there wasn't any proof that the seizure was legit. That objection was overruled, which paved the way for Ingram's conviction -- until yesterday's reversal.

In addition, no effort was made by prosecutors to arrange a pre-trial hearing to determine whether Ingram made his confession voluntarily about owning the drugs. Apparently that's also a no-no, and it factored into the appeal court's decision.

The case will be remanded to the trial court, where the State has the option to retry it. But unless someone suddenly comes up with the warrant, or other evidence, it's possible that Ingram might be a free man very soon.