Maryland Court Upholds Suppression of Evidence in Traffic Stop Search

police-1443912-mThe Fourth Amendment of the Constitution guarantees citizens the right to be free from an illegal search and seizure. Law enforcement authorities are expected to have “probable cause” before conducting a search of a person or their car and other items. If you have been arrested or charged with a crime, it is important to determine whether the evidence supporting the charge was obtained in a legal manner. In cases where there is doubt about the legality of the search and seizure procedures, you may make a motion with the court to “suppress the evidence.” To understand your rights and the circumstances under which a court may grant a motion to suppress, you are encouraged to contact a Maryland criminal defense attorney as soon as possible.

When a defendant moves to suppress evidence, courts typically will hold a “suppression hearing” to determine the legitimacy of the search and seizure. In a recent Maryland case, an officer who was conducting surveillance of a motel in Baltimore saw a man pacing in the parking lot. A few minutes later, the officer saw that man get into the passenger side of a car that had just pulled into the lot. He then exited the car soon after. The officer believed he had just witnessed a drug transaction and started to follow the car as it left the lot.

The officer pulled over that vehicle for failure to use a left turn signal and proceeded to search the driver. He found one blue pill in the driver’s pocket and arrested him and searched the vehicle. He then discovered a small plastic bag containing additional pills and a cell phone with a text message that the officer interpreted as a drug transaction. The driver was charged with multiple drug offenses, including possession with intent to distribute a controlled dangerous substance.

The driver moved to suppress the evidence, arguing that he did not consent to the search. The state argued that he did consent, and that since the driver was on parole at the time of the search, he had a “reduced expectation of privacy.” The state conceded that the officer did not know the driver was on parole at the time of the search. The trial court granted the motion to suppress, determining that the driver had not consented to the search. The court further stated that the driver’s parole status was not a factor in this case, under these facts.

The state appealed, arguing solely that a person on parole lacks a sufficient expectation of privacy to assert a claim that the officer violated the Fourth Amendment by conducting a warrantless search without probable cause. The court of special appeals reviewed the law in Maryland and found that no court in the state has addressed this specific issue. The court looked to case law from other jurisdictions, a treatise on the law surrounding search and seizure, and policy goals underlying the “exclusionary rule.” Accordingly, the court of appeals concluded that the propriety of an arrest must be analyzed based on facts that were known to the officer at the time of the arrest.

Based on this principle, the court upheld the motion to suppress. Here, the arresting officer did not know that the driver was on parole at the time of the arrest (and search and seizure). Therefore, the driver’s status as on parole did not validate the officer’s search, which was conducted without probable cause. This case illustrates the complicated nature of the Fourth Amendment and how it applies to a criminal defense case. If you have been arrested or charged with a crime, it is imperative that you contact an experienced criminal defense attorney who can formulate the best defense under the circumstances.

Anthony A. Fatemi has extensive experience handling criminal defense cases in Maryland. Our office will work diligently to develop a strong strategy to defend your case. Contact us at 301-519-2801 or via our online form.

Related Blog Posts:

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Maryland Court Denied Defendant’s Motion to Suppress Evidence

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