Judge Dismisses Criminal Charges Against Hartmann

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At a hearing for Gibbon dairy farmer Mike Hartmann, Sibley County District Court Judge Erica H. McDonald dismissed five of six criminal charges brought by the state against Hartmann for violations of the Minnesota food and dairy code. Two of the charges arose from evidence seized during a December 4, 2012 stop of Hartmann’s vehicle by a state trooper; the other three came from the execution of a search warrant by Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) officials on January 9, 2013 at Hartmann’s farm.

The key to the dismissal of the charges was Judge McDonald granting a motion to suppress any evidence obtained during the vehicle stop by state trooper Joseph Heyman who testified that he initially stopped Hartmann’s truck because he did not see a rear license plate on the truck and the truck appeared to the state trooper to be a commercial motor vehicle that did not have the required Department of Transportation markings or number. Heyman subsequently conducted three warrantless searches of the vehicle during the stop, seizing raw milk and raw cheese from Hartmann’s truck at the instruction of MDA; the discovery of the food led to the granting of the warrant for the January 9 search on the Hartmann farm.

In granting the suppression motion filed by Hartmann and his attorney Zenas Baar, Judge McDonald held that while the initial stop was legal, Heyman’s searches of the truck were not because there was no probable cause that Hartmann had committed any crime. The state trooper admitted that he quickly discovered after the stop that there was a rear license plate on the vehicle. The judge found that Hartmann’s truck was not a commercial vehicle under Minnesota law and therefore that any state statute allowing for spot checks of commercial vehicles was inapplicable. Judge McDonald ruled Heyman “impermissibly extended the scope and duration of the stop.”

Since it was the illegal search of the truck that led to the execution of the search warrant on the Hartmann’s farm, the judge also held that any evidence obtained from the January 9 search was inadmissible as evidence. With the state having no other evidence on which to rest any of the criminal charges against the farmer, MDA is still searching for a way to put Hartmann out of business–something the department has been unsuccessfully looking to do for many years.

The remaining charge against the farmer is for a probation violation in October 2012; Hartmann had received six months’ probation for pleading guilty to two misdemeanors for violations of the state food and dairy code. The problem for MDA is that the probation violation charge is also based on evidence illegally obtained by Heyman during the vehicle stop. The Minnesota Constitution gives the farmer the right to sell and peddle the products of the farm; MDA needs to respect this provision and stop going after farmers like Hartmann.

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