Hearing continues in Sanders drug case

L’ANSE – An evidentiary hearing in the case of a Flint man facing drug charges in Baraga County Circuit Court was once again continued due to the lack of a witness.

Harvey Sanders Jr., 54, stood trial on seven felony drug charges in January. The jury was not able to reach a verdict after seven hours of deliberation.

Michigan State Police troopers pulled Sanders over in May 2013 for allegedly driving erratically. Troopers found Sanders had been driving with an expired license. A subsequent search of the vehicle found 200 pills and cocaine. Sanders said the material had belonged to his passenger, who had placed it in the car without informing Sanders what it was.

Trooper Dieter Kochan, who was involved with the inventory search, was present in court. However, Trooper Jason Rota, who performed the initial traffic stop, was not.

Baraga County Prosecutor Joseph O’Leary said he found it hard to characterize Rota’s involvement as an inventory search, since Rota had previously testified he saw marijuana in plain view.

“He did find contraband in the console of that vehicle during that stop,” he said. “What his relevance is in the inventory search is, frankly I’m not sure.”

Kochan had also testified to seeing a white powdery substance.

Sanders’ attorney, David Gemignani, said testimony in the preliminary hearing and trial had not been fleshed out, and required both troopers.

“Trooper Rota did find contraband in the car,” he said. “My impression has always been that was under the guise of an inventory search. If it is, he’s got to come up and justify that.”

Gemignani also read from Kochan’s report, in which he said he “returned back to the scene to assist Trooper Rota with the inventory search.”

The hearing was previously continued last week to allow Rota’s testimony. Gemignani said he wanted to have both troopers there to avoid staggered testimony over multiple hearings.

Judge Charles Goodman said he would schedule another hearing on a day where the court was in Baraga County.

Sanders is charged with five 20-year felony counts of possessing less than 50 grams of a controlled substance with intent to deliver – one each for cocaine, morphine, hydromorphone, methadone and oxycodone. He also faces a seven-year felony charge of possession with intent to deliver dihydrocodeine and four-year charges of possession with intent to deliver alprazolam and phenobarbital.

Because of a habitual offender notice, Sanders could be sentenced to life in prison if convicted of any of the six felonies carrying five years or more.

For the other two charges, he could serve up to 15 years.

Sanders is scheduled to stand trial later this month.