Limits to Maryland Police’s Activities In Obtaining a Search Warrant

mobile-phone-in-hand-1307593-mHow far is too far when Maryland police are trying to track criminal activity? Usually citizens are protected in their homes by the Fourth Amendment from unwarranted searches and seizures. But what happens if you consent to the entry and the search?

A recent appellate case arose when a high school junior was sitting at a bus stop talking on her cell phone. The defendant approached and told her to give him all her stuff or he would cut her. She saw him holding a knife. He took her possessions and ran away. The victim returned to school and spoke to the Baltimore police.

She described the man who attacked her as a black male with a salt and pepper beard. She told the detective her cell phone number and described the phone. The officer sent the police report to a unit that specializes in locating stolen cell phones.

Detectives got a wiretap warrant and found that the cell phone was still active. They determined its location in Cherry Hill neighborhood. Six detectives went to the address where the cell phone was believed to be and using a ruse entered another house.

They then approached the location of the cell phone, knocked and claimed to be looking for a pedophile wanted for child molestation. They showed the person who answered the door a photo purportedly of the pedophile. The detective asked to enter and look at the photographs, presumably for confirmation of the person’s denials regarding the made-up pedophile.

Inside the house, the detectives dialed the cell phone and heard it ringing. They found the cell phone upstairs. The mother of the person who answered the door said it had been given to her by her boyfriend. The detectives did a protective sweep of the house. They ordered the man and his mother into the living room and the pair learned they were being investigated. Another detective prepared the search warrant application, claiming probable cause to believe the items stolen from the victim were in the house.

Meanwhile, the man and his mother were detained in the living room. The appellant, the mother’s boyfriend who was living in the house, too, returned home.

The search warrant was executed four hours after the cell phone was found. All three were advised of their Miranda rights at that point. The appellant moved to suppress the evidence seized on the grounds that the police had conducted a warrantless search of his house.

The State argued that the department had determined the cell phone was in that location, but couldn’t be sure it was in that specific house. They used the pedophile ruse to gain consent and confirmed it was the right house by calling the phone. The full search and seizure only happened after the warrant was secured.

The defense argued that neither the man nor his mother had consented to the warrantless search and that the ruse served to coerce their consent. The defendant argued the police should have gotten a search warrant before searching. The court denied the motion to suppress, ruling that the inhabitants of the house gave consent. Even if it was just acquiescence and not consent, the police lawfully impounded the house because they were trying to locate a dangerous armed robber and the only way to find him was through the phone.

The appellant was tried and convicted for most of the charges. He was sentenced to 25 years imprisonment without parole. He appealed.

The appellate court noted a search conducted after consent is an exception to the requirement that the police must have a warrant to search a private house. In this case, where the police used an extreme ruse throughout, there was no real consent. The appellate court found that the trial judge should have granted the defendant’s motion to suppress.

If you or a loved one is accused of or charged with a crime, it is in your best interests to retain a private criminal defense attorney with significant experience. If you are arrested or charged with a crime, it is in your best interests to consult an experienced Maryland criminal defense attorney . Contact us at 301-519-2801 or via our online form.

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