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Charges stand in Gouverneur felony marijuana bust

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CANTON — A Fort Covington man was denied a motion to have felony marijuana charges against him dropped by a St. Lawrence County judge Friday.

David J. Sawatis, 40, of 638 Donovan Road, is charged with first-degree criminal possession of marijuana.

It is alleged that at 10:31 a.m. Dec. 19 on Route 11 in the town of Gouverneur, Mr. Sawatis was in possession of more than 10 pounds of marijuana. At the time of the arrest, police said it was during a traffic stop for a cracked windshield that a St. Lawrence County Sheriff’s Department K-9 unit drug-sniffing dog helped find 15 pounds of marijuana inside a “hidden compartment” in the vehicle.

In his decision, County Judge Jerome J. Richards denied the July 14 motion to dismiss the charge for denial of a speedy trial filed by Mr. Sawatis’s attorney, Public Defender Stephen D. Button.

Mr. Button wrote that 186 days had passed from the time of the initial filing of the felony complaint in local court Dec. 19 to the day the indictment was filed with the court June 23. The district attorney’s office was required to announce readiness for trial within six months, on or before June 19, requiring the court to dismiss the charge on the grounds of violation of the statutory right to a speedy trial, Mr. Button said.

Judge Richards wrote that the 48 days between the Dec. 19 and Feb. 6, when the Gouverneur Town Court adjourned the case so that Mr. Sawatis could obtain counsel of his own choosing, is not the fault of the court and is therefore excusable time.

“Since the 48 days are more than enough time to bring the readiness announcement within the required six-month period, the announcement was timely,” Judge Richards wrote.

In a second decision filed by Judge Richards Friday, he denied a motion to dismiss the indictment for lack of competent evidence against Mr. Sawatis.

At the time of his arrest, Mr. Sawatis was the passenger in a vehicle drive by his girlfriend, Margaret P. “Maggie” Pyke-Mitchell, then 37, of Cornwall, Ontario, who testified against him in grand jury.

“When an accomplice testifies against the defendant in the grand jury, the accomplice testimony must be corroborated by non-hearsay other evidence tending to connect defendant to the crime,” Judge Richards wrote. “Here Pyke-Mitchell testified that defendant admitted to her, after they had both been arrested and charged, that he had put the marijuana in the gas tank.”

Ms. Pike-Mitchell’s admission and then-Gouverneur Village Police Chief Gordon F. Ayen’s observation of the canine search, and his smell of the gasoline, provided the needed corroboration, making the testimony legally sufficient.

Mr. Button said he planned to file a motion Friday challenging the reasonableness and duration of the vehicle stop by village police.

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