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Couple convicted in Yellowstone pot bust case

DARLINGTON – After the state Court of Appeals ruled earlier this year to reverse a suppression of evidence in their cases, a rural Blanchardville couple has been convicted of having a pot-growing operation in their home in the presence of their three young children.

Eric Switzky
Eric Switzky
Eric D. Switzky, 38, and Kristen D. Switzky, 35, are scheduled for sentencing in Lafayette County Circuit on Jan. 15.

The couple was charged in 2017 with Class E felony counts of manufacturing THC and possessing THC with intent to distribute, both counts as a party to a crime, along with three misdemeanor counts of child neglect.

On Oct. 18, Eric Switzky pleaded no contest to the felonies and entered Alford pleas to the child neglect misdemeanors. An Alford plea is a type of guilty plea in which the defendant does not admit to the charge and asserts innocence.

kristin switzky
Kristen Switzky
On Nov. 20, Kristen Switzky pleaded guilty to the felonies and no contest to the child neglect misdemeanors.

The Switzkys fought the cases for nearly two years.

The judge assigned to their cases, Green County Judge Thomas Vale, granted their motion in May 2018 to suppress evidence collected from a search warrant that was the basis for the case.

The search warrant was authorized by Lafayette County Judge Duane Jorgenson and executed in October 2017. It resulted in deputies seizing over 20 pounds of marijuana and finding a 75-plant grow operation and butane lab for producing hashish oil at the Switzy home on North Lake Road in the Town of Fayette, according to court records. The home is located on the edge of Yellowstone Lake State Park.

The basis for the search warrant came from a confidential informant who told authorities the Switzkys were growing marijuana indoors and outdoors on their property and distributing the harvests for sale.

But defense attorneys for the Switzkys argued that the informant was unreliable and police had made no attempts to corroborate the information before obtaining the warrant.

Vale agreed, effectively putting the brakes on prosecution. Vale said police could have done more research and that probable cause should have been more clearly established.

The state appealed the judge’s decision, and in June, a three-judge panel of Brian Blanchard, JoAnne Kloppenburg and Michael Fitzpatrick reversed Vale's decision — but it was “a close call.”

“We observe that only a little of the information provided by the informant was corroborated by police,” the panel wrote in their decision, issued June 13. “Given that lack of corroboration, as strenuously argued by the Switzkys, we believe that whether the warrant affidavit establishes probable cause for the warrant is a close call.”

“However,” the panel continued, “under the totality of the circumstances, in particular given the detailed information provided by the informant, along with the reasonable inference that the identity of the informant was known to the police, the affidavit provides a basis for finding probable cause” for the warrant.

Court records indicate the Switzkys now live in Monona.