By Fiona Davis
SACRAMENTO, CA – A judge here in Sacramento County Superior Court this past week granted a prosecution motion to allow a probation officer to testify as an expert in drug sales investigations over strong objections from the defense, and months after the probation officer searched the defendant’s unproven residence.
In April of this year, Christian Morrow was charged with both the illegal possession and sale of heroin and methamphetamine. In the past, Morrow has faced and pleaded no contest to similar drug-related offenses.
But, in this case, the defendant has pleaded not guilty to all charges.
The defendant’s former probation officer, Jonathan Bower, who appeared to lead the investigation and arrest of the defendant, was called to testify during Morrow’s preliminary hearing.
When questioned, Bower stated that he began to conduct an investigation into the defendant’s current residence in February after a confidential source indicated that Morrow may be involved in the illegal sale of controlled substances.
This eventually led Bower to an apartment unit owned by a woman the defendant had previously been seen with, which was different from the residence Morrow had given to probation officials.
Upon Morrow’s arrest, the probation officer searched the apartment, where he discovered large quantities of heroin and methamphetamine, several plastic bags, and thousands of dollars in a pair of pants the defendant appeared to own.
In addition to Bower’s role as a key witness in the defendant’s case, Deputy District Attorney Chris Walsh requested for the probation officer to be considered as an expert witness.
Walsh cited Bower’s 18 years of experience in law enforcement, his participation in several training courses pertaining to cases involving drug sales, and instances in which he served as an expert witness in separate hearings.
However, Morrow’s Assistant Public Defender Hubert Chen objected to this request. After questioning the probation officer, Chen indicated that, despite Bower’s reported experience in cases related to the sale of drugs, Bower lacked experience that was specific to the facts of Morrow’s case.
Despite the objections made by the defendant’s attorney, Judge George A. Acero, who oversaw Morrow’s preliminary hearing, approved of the prosecution’s request, allowing Bower to serve as an expert witness.
The probation officer stated that several items found at the apartment were indicative of the sale of controlled substances. This included the amount of methamphetamine and heroin found at the apartment, which Bower reported was “more than what the average street user” would possess at any given time.
His testimony also seemed to emphasize the significance of the plastic bags discovered, stating they were “definitely an indicator of drug sales…I did come to an opinion that he was engaged in drug sales,” Bower concluded.
In spite of Bower’s opinion, the defendant allegedly stated that, while the methamphetamine and heroin were his for personal use, he denied selling any drugs.
Beyond the topic of drug sales, the state of the defendant’s residence was heavily questioned. Specifically, when questioning Bower, DDA Walsh also emphasized evidence that indicated that the defendant resided at the apartment in question.
And the probation officer stated that, when entering the apartment in order to conduct a search, he used a key found in the defendant’s possession in order to open the door.
On the side of the defense, PD Chen pushed against the prosecution’s line of questioning by highlighting the presence and potential involvement of the woman who owned the apartment.
When asked by Chen, Bower reiterated that the apartment was owned by the woman, and that, while she reportedly stated the drugs were not hers, she also told the probation officer she did habitually take both types of drugs.
“I use a bit of methamphetamine, but mostly heroin,” Bower recalled.
Bower also admitted that, beyond the pants that appeared to be the defendant’s, no other items found at the apartment indicated that the defendant was residing there.
Judge Acero concluded the preliminary hearing by stating that he believed there was sufficient cause to believe the defendant was guilty of the alleged crimes.
Defendant Morrow is now scheduled to face a jury trial on Dec 13.