WASHINGTON – A federal appeals court has ruled in a published opinion that a judge who edited and improved parts of a search warrant application before approving the warrant did not taint it.
A three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected Tyrone Servance’s argument that the 1998 search warrant that turned up ammunition and “large quantities” of drugs in his Baltimore apartment was flawed for several reasons.
Among its findings, the court said in its Wednesday opinion that retired Baltimore County Circuit Judge James Smith did not abandon his neutrality by revising parts of a police officer’s affidavit before signing a warrant to search Servance’s apartment.
Smith’s revisions were “a far cry from the conduct which might compromise a judicial officer’s neutrality and detachment,” Judge Robert King wrote for the court.
The case began in May 7, 1998, when Servance was arrested for driving on a suspended license, after police saw him conduct what they believed was a drug deal in a Wendy’s parking lot. Servance was carrying more than $2,000 cash and a concealed semi-automatic pistol, according to court documents, and police found what they suspected to be cocaine base in his car.
At about the same time, officers with an FBI violent crimes task force were watching Marc Glover, who had been with Servance in an apartment but took a separate car to a shopping center. But Glover did not return to the car after he parked it.
Maryland State Trooper Efrain Rosario, who was assigned to the FBI task force, went to Smith’s home that evening seeking a search warrant for Servance’s apartment and Glover’s car.
Smith made several revisions to Rosario’s statement, in a process that the appeals court said lasted over an hour, before approving the warrant for the apartment. But he denied approval to search Glover’s car.
Police then seized cocaine and cocaine base, a bulletproof vest and ammunition from Servance’s apartment.
Servance fled before the trial began and was on the run for more than three years before he was caught in 2002 and brought before a jury. He pleaded guilty to being a felon in possession of a firearm, and was convicted in October on three other counts: drug possession, possession with intention to distribute and conspiracy to distribute.
He was sentenced in January 2003 to just under 25 years in prison.
On appeal, Servance said the trial court should not have allowed the evidence from the search of his apartment because Smith had not had probable cause to approve the warrant. Servance also argued the judge wrongly favored Rosario by helping him write his statement for the warrant.
But the appeals court said Rosario’s statement showed a strong connection between Servance and the apartment, giving Smith ample justification to allow the search. The drugs were rightly used as evidence in the trial, King wrote.
He also said Smith’s edits — adding “as you face the building” to Rosario’s description of Servance’s apartment location, for example — were merely intended to clarify the police officer’s statement. They did not prove Smith was “partial or undetached,” the court found.
Calls Thursday to Servance’s attorney and the U.S. Attorney’s Office were not returned.
-30- CNS 01-13-05