Sheriff to reveal results of Michael Phelps investigation

Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott this afternoon will announce the results of his investigation of Olympic champion swimmer Michael Phelps, who was pictured at a Columbia house party in November holding a marijuana pipe.

Sheriff's spokesman Lt. Chris Cowan said a press conference is scheduled for 3 p.m. at the Sheriff's Department headquarters on Two Notch Road, though he declined further comment.

Lott has declined to say in recent days whether he will press charges, though legal observers interviewed by The State have said charges are unlikely because Phelps was not caught by authorities in the act of committing any crime and that credible witness would be difficult to find, making a court case difficult to prove under South Carolina law.

In addition, state law doesn't allow extradition of suspects charged with crimes carrying sentences of less than one year, including simple possession of marijuana, lawyers say.

Lott has been a focus of international media attention over the past couple weeks after he said he would charge Phelps if there was evidence that the winner of a record eight gold medals at the summer Olympics in Beijing had committed a crime.

A photo published Feb. 1 in the British tabloid News of the World showed Phelps holding a marijuana pipe. Phelps has publicly confirmed the picture — taken at a party he attended the first week in November at a Blossom Street home near Five Points — though he hasn't specifically admitted to using marijuana.

In South Carolina, simple possession of marijuana carries a 30-day jail sentence or $570 in fines and assessments. Defense lawyers say in many first-offense cases, charges are dismissed if offenders successfully complete diversion programs.

Lott in national media outlets has been held up for ridicule in his handling of the Phelps investigation. His critics have accused him of grandstanding and wasting taxpayer dollars on a relatively minor drug case.

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