Maryland Man Facing Gun Charges Secures Reversal of Conviction Due to an Officer’s Improper Search

policeIn a criminal defense matter, a key to a successful outcome may be getting inadmissible evidence excluded. This is one of the many vitally important areas in which your experienced Maryland criminal defense lawyer can help. In one recent case from Baltimore, a defendant got a conviction reversed because the officer who searched him lacked the required level of reasonable suspicion to allow him to conduct a search.

On March 4, 2016, a Baltimore law enforcement officer responded to a call about “a person being armed.” The officer spotted an individual who he believed matched the description dispatch had provided to him. As the officer approached the man, the man allegedly turned away from the officer. This body language, in the officer’s opinion, was consistent with someone carrying a gun. The officer made the man put his hands above his head, and, during the officer’s pat-down search, he recovered a gun from the man’s waistband.

During the man’s gun possession trial, the defendant asked the court to suppress evidence of the gun on the basis that the search was improper. The trial judge denied the motion to suppress, and the defendant was convicted on two counts.

The defendant then appealed his conviction, again contesting the suppression issue. The crux of his appeal case was that the officer did not have the required level of reasonable suspicion when he searched the defendant. The U.S. Supreme Court has long held that a search doesn’t violate the Fourth Amendment if an officer has a reasonable suspicion that criminal activity “may be afoot.”

There must be objective facts that support the officer’s suspicion in order for the suspicion to be reasonable. In most cases, the objective facts underlying the reasonable suspicion must be known by the precise officer who performs the search. This was a key element of the defendant’s argument on appeal:  the trial court, in denying the suppression request, took into consideration observations of the defendant made earlier in the day…by a different officer. This information shouldn’t have factored into the court’s analysis of the reasonableness of the search, the defendant asserted.

The appeals court agreed with the defendant. While there are certain situations in which this requirement of individual knowledge doesn’t apply (something called the “collective knowledge doctrine”), that didn’t apply in this case. That exception only applies when the officer who performs the search acts upon specific instructions he received from another officer. It does not apply to circumstances in which the state seeks to use the knowledge of multiple officers collectively to meet the reasonableness requirement.

The events in this defendant’s case were the latter scenario. The officer who saw the defendant earlier that day was not in the position of giving instructions to the officer who ultimately conducted the search. The only thing the searching officer knew directly from the other officer was that the defendant was wearing white, rather than blue, pants. The officer who issued the pants correction did not instruct the other officer that a search needed to be performed. In the absence of instructions, the doctrine didn’t apply, and the other officer’s knowledge should not have factored into the analysis. That left only the arresting officer’s knowledge, which was not enough for a reasonable suspicion.

If you or a loved one is facing criminal charges, you need knowledgeable counsel on your side fighting for you. Skilled Maryland criminal defense attorney Anthony A. Fatemi has been defending the accused in Maryland for many years and working to protect their rights. To learn more, contact us at 301-519-2801 or via our online form.

More blog posts:

Improper Disallowance of Son’s Testimony Violated a Maryland Man’s Right to Present His ‘Full Defense’, Maryland Criminal Lawyer Blog, Sept. 26, 2017

Court of Special Appeals: Maryland Police Officer Went Too Far in Conducting Warrantless Search, Maryland Criminal Lawyer Blog, April 7, 2017

Photo credit: Photo Credit: garyrabbit, [CC0 License], via absfreepic

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