From the pages of
The Sublette County Journal
Volume 4, Number 6 - 10/7/99
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

Charge for Marijuana Cultivation Dismissed
County Attorney says search was illegal; Sheriff disagrees.
by Jennifer Binning

On September 4, Sheriff's deputies were called to break up a fight in the Corral Bar, which may have involved injuries. According to the deputies' report, the altercation had ended when they arrived, and the suspects had left the scene. Acting on tips from other bar patrons, Deputy Kenneth Winer looked for one of the suspects at the home of Dale Jay Dugan in Pinedale, where they believed the man was living at the time.

At 10:20 p.m. that evening, Mr. Dugan answered the door and was asked if the suspect was in the house. Mr. Dugan answered no, and that only one other person was in the house, and he had been asleep for some time. After being asked again if the suspect in the fight was in the home, Mr. Dugan again answered no, but then opened the door, and the suspect Deputy Winer was looking for walked out.

According to Sheriff Hank Ruland, the deputy asked if they could look for more injured people from the fight inside Mr. Dugan's home. The deputy informed Mr. Dugan he could properly be charged with interference for lying about the fight suspect's whereabouts. According to the deputies' report, Mr. Dugan then "invited" the deputy into his home and walked with them through all of the rooms.

During this tour, one deputy pulled the shower curtain back to see if anyone was hiding behind it and discovered a marijuana plant growing in a pot in the bathtub. Mr. Dugan admitted to growing the plant because he had never tried to grow one before. He was then arrested for the cultivation of marijuana with a court date of September 23.

When his case was called in County Court, Deputy County and Prosecuting Attorney Steve Jones made a motion to dismiss the charges, stating that the search was illegal, and that any evidence obtained during the search - the marijuana plant in this case - would be suppressed as evidence if the case went to trial. The judge agreed to dismiss the charges against Mr. Dugan.

When asked about the request for a dismissal, County Attorney Dale Aronson said he felt "the evidence would be dismissed in district court," because in his opinion the deputies obtained permission to search the home without the valid or complete consent of Mr. Dugan. Although Mr. Dugan invited the officers into his home, Mr. Aronson feels Mr. Dugan may not have given his permission to enter his home freely, without threat or pressure from the officers. Mr. Aronson felt a search warrant was in order.

Sheriff Hank Ruland disagrees. In a telephone interview on Monday, Mr. Ruland stated his officers entered the premises under "exigent circumstances," and they had every right to be there. Therefore, the entry and subsequent search of the home was legal.

Exigent circumstances are those circumstances that demand immediate action. According to Sheriff Ruland, the officers were looking for other people involved in the bar brawl who may have been badly hurt. Mr. Ruland states he is inclined to err on the side of caution when dealing with injured people, as the county and his department could easily be sued for negligence if they do not carry out their duties and someone dies.

In a brief telephone interview on Monday, Mr. Dugan was asked directly whether or not the deputies had "coerced" him. At first he asked for a different wording of the question, and then would not comment further.

Mr. Aronson stated it is his duty to protect the rights of all the citizens of Sublette County, and he and his Deputy Steve Jones agree that the entry into the home was questionable. "I am not going to waste the county's or my time" pursuing cases which may be thrown out of court, he said. Mr. Aronson noted, however, that charges may be refiled, and "Mr. Dugan sure has the attention of this office."

Deputy Winer's complete report can be read on the Internet. Go to the Sublette County Journal archive at

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