Tim Leeds Havre Daily News firstname.lastname@example.org
Charges filed against three local residents that they had operated a methamphetamine laboratory near Rudyard have been dropped after a state District Judge ruled that a search was conducted under a warrant which should not have been issued. Felony charges of operation of an unlawful clandestine laboratory filed against Kenneth Twedt of Rudyard, born in 1962, and his wife, Christine Twedt, also of Rudyard, born in 1963, and Christopher James Lowen of Great Falls, born in 1983, have been dismissed by Judge David Rice after the Hill County Attorney’s office filed a motion to do so. In his order to suppress the evidence found in the search, Rice wrote that the application for the warrant to search the Twedt property did not contain sufficient probable cause to issue the warrant and granted the defendant’s motion to suppress the evidence. A task force agent filed the application for the warrant on Oct. 16, 2007, with Hill County Justice of the Peace Terry Stoppa and executed the search under the warrant on Oct. 23, 2007, Rice’s order said. The three were charged in November 2007 after the search of the Twedt farm south of Rudyard found a series of items often used in the production of methamphetamine. The search was conducted under a search warrant issued after a series of informants told Tri-Agency Safe Trails Task Force agents that Lowen, who was then working for the Twedts, had been selling and seen apparently manufacturing meth, and that Christine Twedt said she and her husband used meth in their home and that the informant was concerned they may be manufacTuring meth there, a court document said. A task force agent also checked the sale of ephedrine, an ingredient used in some cold medicine often used to manufacture meth, in Great Falls and found that the three suspects had made purchases totaling 92 grams of ephedrine from January through October 2007. That was enough to manufacture as much as 46 grams of meth, the court document said. The attorneys for Lowen and the Twedts filed motions including to suppress the evidence found in the search and to dismiss the charges, to require the state to use a grand jury indictment to file the charges, and to withdraw a court order allowing the state access to medical records without a search warrant. The attorneys also moved for the judge to declare unconstitutional a law stating that possessing more than nine grams of ephedrine implies an intent to manufacture illegal drugs and a law requiring pharmacies and retail establishments which sell ephedrine to provide access of records of sales of the substance over to law enforcement officials. In his order suppressing the evidence found in the search, Rice said it would not address the other motions unless the state wished to continue the prosecution without the evidence. While the challenge to the requirement of turning sales records over to law enforcement “may still be relevant, the Court declines to address it at this time,” he wrote. Rice wrote that the issue was whether the search warrant was properly issued — whether the application, which alleges that the defendants were using, manufacturing and distributing drugs, supported the conclusion that the Twedt farm held evidence of the allegations. However, he wrote, once the totality of the application was considered, the only conclusion that remains “is that the Defendants purchased an alarmingly large amount of ephedrine over a nine month (sic) period, Lowen worked for the Twedts at one time, and the Twedts live on a farm.” Rice wrote that the task force agent reported numerous informants provided information about drug use and sales by Lowen, but that the agent does not make any statements about the reliability of the informants. In his order, Rice cites legal principles including that a confidential informant must have provided reliable and accurate information in the past, which will be accepted if a law enforcement officer makes a sworn statement that that is true. The application for the search warrant does not contain any comment about the reliability of the informants, Rice wrote. The information also does not show that Lowen was manufacturing meth at the Twedt, residence, Rice wrote. The warrant application also states that a referral was made to Child Protective Services that Christine Twedt had said she and her husband had used meth at their residence and that the person making the referral was concerned that they might be manufacturing meth there. That is “the most controversial information in the application,” Rice wrote. While the state revealed in its brief on the motion to dismiss the evidence that the information came from medical personnel, who were working on Kenneth Twedt after he was injured on his farm, that information was not in the application for the search warrant. Even giving the report credibility, it only says that the Twedts used meth in their home, have children in their home and that the reporting party is concerned that they are manufacturing meth, Rice wrote. “It does not show that they may have meth in their home at the time of application,” Rice wrote. “It certainly does not show a possibility that they were manufacturing meth in their home at the time of application.” While the purchase of ephedrine is questionable behavior that can be used to corroborate other information, it only shows the purchase by either Lowen or Twedt and does not connect it to manufacture of meth at the Twedt residence, Rice wrote. “The severe lack of evidence of manufacturing of meth by the Twedts at their farm makes the application incomplete,” Rice wrote. “In conclusion, the Court is not satisfied that probably cause is present when the application is viewed as a whole,” he wrote.