Reasonable Suspicion for an Investigatory Stop in Maryland

untitled-1316049-m-1When is a reasonable suspicion truly a reasonable suspicion and not just a hunch in Maryland? A law enforcement officer can conduct an investigatory stop only if the officer has a reasonable suspicion and not a mere hunch that the person being stopped is committing some kind of infraction or criminal activity.

In a recent case, a violent crime unit of the Baltimore Police Department was investigating a man (Blue) known for distributing raw heroin. They spied on a meeting between the Blue and another individual (Townsend) on a street corner, taping it with a surveillance camera. Two detectives were part of the surveillance, but did not observe the meeting live, only on tape.

Blue arrived in his car and looked around nervously after getting out of his car. He took an object out of his pocket, still looking around, and handed it to Townsend. Townsend put the object in his pocket and soon Blue went back to his car and drove away.

After Blue’s departure, Townsend walked toward his house and was arrested by the violent crimes unit. The arrest team took the object, which turned out to be bread stuffed with raw heroin.

The unit conducted further surveillance on Blue. The same two detectives and another detective were part of a team. The detectives looked at the earlier video to familiarize themselves with Blue’s typical mannerisms and appearance.

Later Blue went to court and while he was there, one of the detectives put a GPS tracking device on his vehicle. Coming out of the courthouse, Blue did not look around the way he had in the video of the earlier transaction with Townsend.

The detectives followed Blue to an apartment. Five minutes after entering the apartment, Blue left carrying a Rubbermaid container. He drove to a lake and met the defendant of this case at a workout station. He looked around nervously again. The defendant did not look nervous.

They shook hands and went to a black Jeep. The defendant drove around the lake together and stopped by Blue’s car. The detectives decided to follow the defendant because they thought there might have been a drug transaction between the two but they weren’t sure. Blue had looked around nervously, just as he had in the raw heroin transaction and the meeting lasted the same amount of time.

The detectives followed the defendant for a few minutes, activated their lights and got the defendant to pull over in order to identify him. One detective later testified that the defendant hadn’t made a full stop at a stop sign. The other detective claimed he had been driving over the speed limit.

As they approached, they noticed that the defendant’s vehicle was still turned on. One of them yelled to announce they were police and asked to see the defendant’s hands. The detective saw the defendant take his hand off the steering wheel to retrieve a gun which he pointed at the other detective. Once the detective alerted the other one about the gun, the defendant drove in the detective’s direction and fled with the detectives shooting at him.

They captured him when he went to the hospital with gunshot wounds. The police found his vehicle, but did not find a gun or other physical evidence inside. The defendant was charged with assault, reckless endangerment, a firearms charge and a drug charge. The defendant sought to suppress the detectives’ observations, claiming that the stop violated the Fourth Amendment.

The court ruled in favor of the defendant, finding the detectives did not have a reasonable suspicion that the defendant had committed a drug-related crime or had even observed him commit a traffic infraction. In short, the detectives had stopped the defendant on a hunch, but most of the evidence was of innocent activities. Therefore, the court suppressed even the officer’s testimony of seeing him draw his gun.

The State appealed. The Court of Special Appeals reversed, stating that the evidence from the officers could not be excluded because the new crime of raising a firearm at a detective and accelerating towards him “purged the taint” from the illegal stop.

The defendant appealed. The Court of Appeals considered whether the Court of Special Appeals had erred in finding reasonable suspicion based on the actions of another person and associated facts.

The appellate court looked at the totality of the circumstances. The lower court had found the officers credible up to a point. Therefore, the court gave deference to the police officers, particularly the inferences raised between the first of Blue’s transactions and Blue’s transaction with the defendant. It found that an individual socializing with a drug dealer doesn’t create reasonable suspicion, but the similarity between the two meetings did create reasonable suspicion. The Court of Appeals affirmed the Court of Special Appeals.

If you are arrested or charged with a crime, it is in your best interests to consult a knowledgeable Maryland criminal defense attorney. We can determine what kinds of defenses are available in your particular case and whether any of the evidence can be suppressed. Contact us at 301-519-2801 or via our online form.

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Handgun Violence in Maryland, Maryland Criminal Lawyer Blog, August 20, 2013

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