Appeals court tosses conviction in meth case

The Colorado Court of Appeals ruled Thursday that authorities didn’t have probable cause to support a warrant to search a local man’s home in March 2007. That search resulted in the seizure of drugs and a plea agreement that sent the man to prison.

James T. Hoffman, 52, has served just over a year in prison stemming from an agreement with prosecutors in which Hoffman pleaded guilty in 2008 to possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine.

Thursday’s ruling by the Court of Appeals effectively nullified Hoffman’s plea agreement.

A Mesa County Sheriff’s Department deputy applied for a search warrant on a mobile home owned by Hoffman on March 21, 2007, according to the court’s ruling.

In an affidavit, the deputy pointed to information received from a confidential informant who claimed Hoffman had a fake rock, which had a hollowed center where he kept methamphetamine, on his property. The informant alleged Hoffman kept large amounts of cash, profits from drug sales, in his underwear.

Coupled with a prior drug conviction, two drug-related arrests involving people who said they had just left Hoffman’s home and observations of suspected drug dealing on the property, the deputy applied for and was granted authority to search the mobile home.

The Court of Appeals, however, found fault with the fact the informant’s information was nearly a month old before the search warrant was executed March 21.

“The information alleging generalized criminal activity, even if taken at face value, was stale by the time the search warrant was issued in this case,” Appeals Court Judge David Richman wrote for the majority.

In dissent, Appeals Court Judge Daniel Dailey wrote his colleagues failed to consider the totality of the circumstances that the deputy accounted for.

“When read together as a whole, the facts set forth in the affidavit establish not only substantial probable cause to search, but probable cause itself,” Dailey wrote.

Hoffman’s case was ordered back before District Judge Valerie Robison, where he will be allowed to withdraw from his plea agreement.

Katherine Sanguinetti, spokeswoman for the Colorado Department of Corrections, said Hoffman started his sentence in March 2008 at Delta Correctional Center before being transferred in May 2009 to Community Corrections in Rifle. He was paroled to Grand Junction in January, Sanguinetti said.


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