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Shop owner's case on appeal

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Man convicted of having illegal drug items at business

By Alex Bridges -- abridges@nvdaily.com

WINCHESTER -- A Front Royal man convicted last week of having illegal drug paraphernalia at his downtown tobacco store has appealed the case.

Judge David S. Whitacre found Muhammed I. Butt guilty of misdemeanor possession of drug paraphernalia with intent to sell after a trial held in Winchester General District Court on May 25. Whitacre sentenced Butt, 44, of 519 Villa Ave., to 12 months in jail, and suspended 11 months of the term. The judge ordered Butt to serve two years of probation and to pay a $2,500 fine.

The court also ordered Butt to forfeit nearly all items seized by authorities.

The appeal goes before a judge in Winchester Circuit Court on July 26.

Commonwealth's Attorney Alex R. Iden said Friday the prosecution's evidence included testimony by expert witnesses who explained the uses associated with many of the items seized from the business. However, none of the items seized tested positive for drug residue, Iden said. The case focused on the fact the items seized and available for sale by the business had one purpose -- illegal drug use.

Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Michael Mullin prosecuted the case. Paul H. Thomson represented Butt, who pleaded not guilty to the charge. Thomson had filed a motion to suppress the commonwealth's evidence before the trial.

In his motion the attorney stated the officers lacked probable cause to search his client's business and seize the property. Statements Butt made to law enforcement were made without the benefit of having been read his Miranda rights, Thomson said in the motion.

Officers with the Winchester Police Department and its community response team raided the Virginia Tobacco and Gift Shop, at 37 E. Piccadilly St., in mid-February, about a month after it opened, according to authorities and court documents. An anonymous complaint prompted the search, which resulted in the seizure of more than 600 items from the store. Authorities confiscated pipes, digital scales, marijuana-themed ashtrays, tobacco grinders and beverages that claim to rid the body of toxins.

An affidavit filed for the search warrant states that investigators visited the shop to observe what items the business sold to customers. The business remained open after the raid, selling hookahs, tobacco products and other items.

Interviewed at his business, Butt denied any wrongdoing and said his merchandise is legal.

However, the search inventory showed authorities found false Coca-Cola, Budweiser and other cans that law enforcement agents have said can serve as storage containers for illegal substances.

Officers also confiscated brands of G6, similar to "K2," a synthetic marijuana marketed as incense but classified as an illegal substance in Virginia as of earlier this year, before the search.

Lt. W.K. Stotlemyer issued a summons to Butt on March 21 to appear in the court on the single charge.

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