AN ARTICLE PUBLISHED IN THE SOUTHERN MARYLAND EXTRA JUNE 24 ABOUT LOCAL REACTION TO A U.S. SUPREME COURT RULING REINSTATING THE ST. MARY'S COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT'S 1997 CONVICTION OF KEVIN DARNELL DYSON FOR DRUG POSSESSION MISSTATED ONE ASPECT OF THE CASE'S APPELLATE HISTORY. THE CIRCUIT COURT FOR ST. MARY'S COUNTY CONVICTED DYSON. ON APPEAL, THE MARYLAND COURT OF SPECIAL APPEALS, THE INTERMEDIATE APPELLATE COURT IN MARYLAND, OVERTURNED THE CONVICTION. THE MARYLAND COURT OF APPEALS, THE STATE'S HIGHEST APPELLATE COURT, DECLINED TO HEAR THE PROSECUTION'S APPEAL AND NEVER RULED ON THE CASE. SUBSEQUENTLY, THE SUPREME COURT AGREED TO HEAR THE CASE. (PUBLISHED 07/04/99)
Sgt. Lyle Long of the St. Mary's County sheriff's office thought he was just building a straightforward case when he arrested Kevin Darnell Dyson for drug possession in July 1996.
But little about the case has been simple or straightforward since a state appeals court threw out Dyson's conviction, deciding that Long's search of Dyson's car, which netted 23 grams of crack cocaine, was unlawful because it was done without a search warrant.
This week, ruling on the appeal brought by prosecutors in the case, the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the conviction, holding that the original search, conducted after an informant's tip, was legal after all. The justices cited 1982 and 1996 cases in which they had allowed warrantless searches of cars when police reasonably believed they contained contraband.
Long and other St. Mary's law enforcement officials claimed vindication for their original investigation.
"I learned [about the Supreme Court ruling] very late in the day. I thought it was excellent," said Long, who was a detective in the sheriff's narcotics division at the time he arrested Dyson.
The ruling means that Dyson's felony conviction for conspiracy to possess cocaine with intent to distribute will be reinstated and he will be sentenced in Circuit Court here, St. Mary's County State's Attorney Richard D. Fritz said.
Jim Tanevich, the assistant state's attorney who prosecuted Dyson, did not return a phone message to his office.
"In my opinion it validates the procedures [for search and seizure] that we have in place," said Capt. Steven M. Doolan, assistant to the sheriff in St. Mary's.
"When a court of appeals rules and overturns a case, it causes concerns for us. We have to reevaluate our position [on] when to apply for a search warrant," Doolan said.
He said the high court's ruling on Monday "lends a lot of credibility" to the decision to search Dyson's car.
Darnell was arrested by Long and another sheriff's deputy in Lexington Park early in the morning of July 3, 1996. Long said he had received a tip from an informant that Dyson was returning to St. Mary's from New York City with cocaine.
Dyson, who was in his twenties when arrested, was in possession of 23 grams of crack cocaine and some powder cocaine, Long said.
"It was kind of a straightforward case. I was able to obtain the description of the car [Dyson's], and I was still corroborating the tip to the minute that he came into the county," Long said.
Although 15 hours had lapsed after he first received the tip, Long explained that he had not sought a warrant because he was still double-checking the information.
In the fall of 1997, just before a jury was to hear testimony in his case, Dyson entered a so-called Alford plea, agreeing that the state would be able to prove the facts of his case. While the plea is not an admission of guilt, it has the same practical effect. He faced 20 years on the conviction, but was sentenced to only 10 years, suspended to 18 months of probation. The plea allowed Dyson represented by Antonini M. Jones, of Riverdale, to pursue appeals.
The Maryland Court of Appeals threw out the conviction and ruled that the search was illegal because officers had failed to obtain a search warrant.
"The ironic thing is this thing is not going to have a major impact on his [Dyson's] life. Once it was reversed, he'd already basically served his time," Jones said.
Dyson did not return a message left through his attorney. But Jones said that Dyson was aware of the Supreme Court ruling, which the justices made without hearing arguments in the case.
Fritz said he will request a sentencing hearing as soon as he receives the Supreme Court mandate.
"I think the real reaction is not so much in relation to the U.S. Supreme Court but in relation to the Maryland Court of Appeals. It was one of shock when they reversed the case," Fritz said.
This week, Fritz said, "The reaction was `See, we told you. Why didn't anybody listen to us in the first instance?' "