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Drug conviction overturned

December 24, 1998|By MARLO BARNHART

For the second time in a year, a Washington County drug conviction has been overturned by the Maryland Court of Special Appeals because police detained a suspect beyond what the higher court considers "reasonable."

Monday, the state's second highest court reversed the conviction and 34-year prison sentence of Darrell Thomas Brunson, a Florida man with 10 aliases, 10 Social Security numbers and at least six different listed dates of birth.

A Washington County Circuit Court jury in January convicted Brunson, believed to be 36 years old and of Fort Pierce, Fla., on three drug charges. He was sentenced on March 9.

The higher court noted that Brunson was stopped by county Narcotics Task Force officers on Aug. 20, 1996, at 3:25 p.m. - based on an anonymous tip and follow-up confirmation from a confidential informant that there were drugs in the car.

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The driver of that car was given a citation for driving while suspended and the car was searched. No drugs were found, according to court records, but Brunson was detained.

Police then learned the drugs they were looking for were in a cooler in a locked shed at 1300 Jay Drive, court records said.

A search of Brunson turned up a key hidden in his sock - a key that was taken to 1300 Jay Drive and used to open the shed. Drugs were found in the cooler - at 4:42 p.m., court records said.

Those drugs included 400 grams of marijuana, 28 grams of powder cocaine and more than 50 grams of crack cocaine, court records said.

"At minimum, (Brunson) was held for 35 minutes when police knew he didn't have drugs or weapons in his possession and was not engaged in any articulated criminal activity," the higher court stated in its ruling.

Washington County Circuit Judge John H. McDowell presided at the suppression hearing in February 1997. He ruled that the police acted properly in holding Brunson while the shed was searched.

McDowell had no comment this morning, noting that he may have to hear the case when it is retried.

"We will have to re-evaluate this case based on additional evidence to see if we can retry," said Assistant Washington County State's Attorney Duane Gigeous on Tuesday.

At the sentencing, Gigeous noted that Brunson's 1980-1986 Florida criminal record - under a variety of names - included 30 prison and jail sentences for crimes ranging from drugs to battery to resisting arrest to aggravated assault.

"There are two pages of additional offenses from 1986 to now committed in Maryland," Gigeous said in March.

In the prior overturned case, a 20-minute wait for a drug-sniffing dog to show up was long enough to get a Hagerstown man's drug distribution conviction overturned by the Maryland Court of Special Appeals Feb. 2.

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