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Man imprisoned for three months over possession of common vitamin powder


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(NaturalNews) A Minnesota man whom authorities kept in jail for three months has finally been released and cleared of charges that he possessed an illegal substance, amphetamine.

Joseph Ray Burrell, 31, of Mankato -- which is located about 90 minutes southeast of Minneapolis -- was originally arrested for possessing a powder that police believed was amphetamine but was actually a powdered form of vitamins, like he told them when they took him into custody.

Now, despite his release, Burrell is unhappy that it took the state's Bureau of Criminal Apprehension lab so long to confirm what the powder actually was -- and that he was forced to remain in jail as though he were guilty of something without ever going to trial.

As reported by the Mankato Free Press:

He said evidence records show about a month passed before prosecutors sent the powder in to be tested and more than a month passed after that before the results were returned.

In the meantime, Burrell sat in jail waiting to go to trial for two felony counts each of third- and fifth-degree drug possession. He was released after the charges were dismissed Feb. 4. His trial was scheduled to start the following day.


"I had been sitting in the jail since November with my bail set at $250,000," Burrell said. "Then, two days before trial, they dropped the charges and let me go."

The assistant attorney for Blue Earth County, Chris Rovney, told the local press that an initial field test of a powder found inside a bag in a car Burrell was driving Nov. 14 tested positive for amphetamine. But, later, a more expensive and accurate test completed by the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension lab revealed that the powder did not really contain any illegal substances. So police let Burrell go after dismissing the charges.

The paper said a Mankato police officer stopped Burrell in a parking lot in front of a local grocery store because he was driving without his lights on (apparently during a time when his lights should have been on). At the time of his arrest, the officer discovered that Burrell had a warrant for failure to appear before St. Louis County District Court on a charge of fleeing a police officer on foot.

The vehicle Burrell was driving was searched, and the officer summarily reported finding the plastic bag that contained about a half-ounce of crystal shards. Initial field tests indicated that the shards contained amphetamine, said the criminal complaint against Burrell.

The Mankato resident admits that he has used drugs before, but at the time of his arrest he said he had just finished an in-patient treatment at New Beginnings, a local drug and alcohol rehabilitation center. Burrell told the paper that he had been prescribed the vitamins to treat a sore shoulder at one point.

Held for months

"I told the judge I couldn't plead guilty to something I knew wasn't a drug," Burrell said regarding a plea agreement he had been offered. "They set my bail at $250,000 for vitamins."

The Mankato resident is still facing drug charges for allegedly selling methamphetamines locally and for possessing a large amount of methamphetamine in nearby Le Sueur County. He is also challenging the charges in both of those cases.

The paper further reported:

There is no evidence linking him to the sales charge except for the statement of a witness who also is a suspected drug dealer. That same person is involved in the Le Sueur County case. The bag containing the methamphetamine in that case has that person's fingerprints on it but no prints from Burrell, he said.

An underlying, important point in this story is that, regardless of past history, holding any suspect in jail for months before even bothering to confirm or rule out evidence gathered in the case is inexcusable. It makes you wonder what would have happened had Burrell not been as strong and had accepted his plea deal.

Sources:

http://www.mankatofreepress.com

http://minnesota.cbslocal.com

http://www.washingtonpost.com

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