Highest Court in Maryland Denies Suppression of Cell Phone Data

The quality of the evidence and the manner in which it is obtained are the two critical components of any criminal case. For instance, every citizen is entitled to the Fourth Amendment protections from an illegal search and seizure. A person who is arrested or charged with a crime must look closely and carefully at how the evidence was collected. If there is a question as to the legality of the search and seizure, one may move to “suppress” the evidence. Since each case is unique and entirely fact-specific, it is critical that you contact an experienced Maryland criminal defense attorney to thoroughly review your case, in order to determine whether the authorities complied with the laws intended to protect your constitutional rights.

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In a recent case, Demby v. State of Maryland, petitioner Quioly Shikell Demby was arrested and ultimately convicted of possession of oxycodone with intent to distribute. Demby sought to suppress evidence that was obtained from a search of his cell phone during the arrest. The arresting Officer was the only witness to testify at the suppression hearing. According to the Officer’s testimony, on May 24, 2012, a confidential informant provided him with information about a potential drug transaction on Red Bridges Road and identified two people (one of whom was the petitioner in this case). Later that day, the County dispatch center told the Officer about an anonymous caller who witnessed suspicious activity regarding a person riding in a golf cart up and down Red Bridges Road.

When the Officer arrived at the scene, he saw the golf cart parked alongside a car. The petitioner was in the passenger seat of the car. The Officer questioned the occupants, notifying them that he was responding to complaints about potential drug activity. He asked the two men if they possessed anything illegal. The petitioner admitted to having pills and presented an unlabeled bottle containing 11 pills. The Officer identified the pills as an assortment of oxycodone and oxycodone acetaminophen, and he arrested the petitioner and searched the vehicle thereafter. During the search, the Officer saw a cell phone that was emitting notification “tones.” The petitioner acknowledged that it was his phone.

At that point, the Officer “opened” the phone and looked at recent text messages from “senders” who were looking to purchase pills from the petitioner. The Officer then obtained a warrant to search the data on the phone. The petitioner sought to suppress all of the evidence seized around the time of the arrest, relying on the decision in Riley v. California (decided after the arrest in this case) that a warrantless search of a cell phone is unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment. The trial court denied the petitioner’s request, concluding that the search of the cell phone was a valid search incident to an arrest. The petitioner was convicted of the drug-related offenses mentioned above.

The petitioner appealed the decision to the Court of Special Appeals, but the highest court in Maryland granted certiorari. The petitioner’s argument on appeal was that under the decision in Riley, the arresting Officer’s warrantless search of his cell phone violated his constitutional rights. The Court concluded, however, that the Officer in this case searched the cell phone in objective, reasonable reliance on the current case law at that time, which held that the search of a cell phone was lawful incident to an arrest. Therefore, the Court affirmed the suppression ruling.

This case illustrates how the courts are “catching up” to the changes in technology. It is important to understand how the evolving case law affects a person’s constitutional right to be free from an unreasonable search and seizure.  Seeking the counsel of an experienced Maryland criminal defense attorney is one of the most effective ways to approach any criminal investigation. If you are arrested or charged with a crime, our office will work diligently to develop the best strategy to defend your case. Contact us at 301-519-2801 or via our online form.

Related Blog Posts:

Maryland Court Denied Defendant’s Motion to Suppress Evidence

Maryland Court Rules Evidence Sufficient to Support “Possession” of Contraband Drug Convictions

Maryland Court Upholds Suppression of Evidence in Traffic Stop Search

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