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SENIORS CHALLENGE LAW FEED STORE FAMILY FEARS CRIMINAL REPRISALS.

Byline: Karen Maeshiro Staff Writer

LANCASTER - Attorneys for four senior citizens accused of illegally selling a component in the manufacture of methamphetamine say state law is unconstitutionally vague and puts them in danger of harm from vengeful drug dealers.

But prosecutors contend the law requiring sellers of crystallized iodine - which is an animal medicine as well as a drug component - to obtain identification from buyers clearly explains the requirements necessary to comply with the law and does not expose them to reprisal from criminals.

The defense arguments are part of a motion asking the court to dismiss the case against Armitta and Robert Granicy, who own Granicy's Valley Wide Feed Store, and Armitta's two sisters, Ramona Beck and Dorothy Manning.

Armitta Granicy, 59, Robert Granicy, 63, Beck, 61, and Manning, 67, have pleaded not guilty to misdemeanor charges that they failed to obtain and maintain records relating to iodine sales. If convicted, they could be sentenced to up to a year in jail on each count.

The Granicys own and operate Valley Wide, which opened in 1967. Beck, who suffers from cancer, and Manning work at the store, which contains a gift shop, a horse gear room and truck rental business.

None of the four has a criminal record and the three women - referred to in court papers as ``the Granicy grannies'' - have nine grandchildren among them.

The motion will be heard before Lancaster Superior Court Judge Randolph Rogers on Thursday.

In their motion, the four defendants' attorneys said the state law makes no provision to protect business people from possible reprisal from irate drug dealers. Moreover, Armitta Granicy asked for but was refused police protection, the motion said.

``In that the drug violator will probably be on bail at the time of the discovery that it was Mrs. Granicy who turned him in, it will only be a matter of time before Mrs. Granicy is personally harmed or the feed store is burned to the ground,'' the motion said.

The defense said a 1987 court case, Walker vs. County of Los Angeles, determined there is a ``duty on government to protect private citizens who have supplied information about criminal activity.''

``When a statute requires private citizens to assist government officials in the performance of official duty and the private citizen is thereby subjected to a substantial risk of harm, the statute cannot be enforced against a private citizen unless the government can demonstrate that it has taken due care to protect the citizen,'' the motion said.

In response, however, Deputy District Attorney Robert Sherwood said the Walker case does not apply.

In the Walker case, a Los Angeles County dogcatcher asked a citizen to help catch a dog. The dog bit off the citizen's thumb, Sherwood wrote.

The court held that the dogcatcher created a special relationship with the citizen in requesting that he help capture the dog. Since it was foreseeable that a dog could injure a person, the citizen could sue for damages, Sherwood wrote.

The Walker case would only apply to the Granicy matter to the extent it would create a duty of care to law enforcement such that the defendants could sue if they suffered injuries while assisting law enforcement in conduct that presented a foreseeable risk of harm, Sherwood wrote.

``However, in the present case, law enforcement is not requesting the defendants assist them in a specific task, but merely comply with the law as passed by the Legislature. Furthermore, any risk of harm is speculative. Nothing in counsel's motion points to any actual risk of harm. The argument that drug dealers could get mad and burn the store down is speculation and not the type of foreseeable harm contemplated by the court in Walker,'' Sherwood wrote. ``We know that dogs bite, but we do not know with the same degree of certainty that requiring information from people who purchase iodine will result in injury to the defendants or destruction of their property.''

The defense motion also argued that the iodine is sold freely over the Internet. The law thus discriminates against feed store owners because Internet sales are not regulated by the law and Internet sellers are not subject to the same reporting requirements, the motion said.

``A feed store owner is thus denied her rights under the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment,'' the motion said.

Sherwood, however, argued the law does not violate the equal protection clause because ``it does not discriminate against persons similarly situated and it is rationally related to a legitimate state interest.''

The federal government, not the states, governs the Internet, Sherwood wrote.

Sherwood added, ``Second, since purchases made over the Internet generally require the use of a credit card and a shipping address, the government already has the ability to track purchases if needed. Transactions done through a store and not over the Internet allow for cash transactions. Cash transactions are more difficult and in some cases impossible to track. Thus, people doing business over the Internet are not similarly situated to those who do not.''

The Granicys, Beck and Manning have rejected a proposed plea bargain that would have allowed them to avoid jail.

The 1999 state law requires sellers of crystallized iodine, a common medicine used to treat animal diseases, to get the buyer's name, address, vehicle description and license plate number as well as a driver's license or state identification card number of the buyer.

Undercover officers say they bought more than 21 ounces of crystallized iodine in February in five separate purchases without providing the necessary identification.

The defendants say they have complied with the law by getting the signatures of customers on the bill of sale, and under the new law, are being asked to track and stalk their customers.

The feed store is located on a 4 1/2-acre site where there is an assortment of old farm machinery and implements, antiques and animals, including two emus, two llamas, chickens and rabbits, and is a popular site for schoolchildren to tour.
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Sep 9, 2000
Words:1002
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