The police have various methods they use to pursue people they suspect to have committed crimes. One of their methods is to find a basis to stop you and then search you. Fortunately, the Maryland Constitution and the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution limit what the police can do when it comes to stopping and searching you. Of course, once the police have searched you and found evidence through an illegal search and seizure, that evidence doesn’t just suppress itself at your criminal trial. Instead, you have to know how to make the right motion at the right time, supported by the right legal arguments. In other words, you need representation from a skilled Maryland criminal defense attorney.
When it comes to police stops and searches, the U.S. Supreme Court made a very important ruling in 1968 called Terry v. Ohio. That landmark case was so prominent, in fact, that these kinds of interactions are still called “Terry stops” today.
In Maryland, the law says that, in order for a “Terry frisk” to be legally allowable, the police officer who seeks to conduct the search must have a “reasonable articulable suspicion” the person was armed and dangerous. A recent case from Frederick County helps clarify what the police can and cannot do in one of these Terry frisks.
D.L.’s case started the way many do. The police pulled over a vehicle for a relatively minor traffic violation – in this case, following another vehicle too closely on Interstate 70. After the officer stopped the car, he came to suspect the driver, J.C., of drug crimes. The officer called for a K-9 unit and the police eventually ordered both J.C. and D.L. out of the car so that the drug dog could do his search.
After both occupants exited the car, the officer noticed a knife in D.L.’s pocket. A trooper removed the knife but, even after the trooper had the knife in his possession, the police officer conducted a search of D.L. At that point, the officer found heroin in D.L.’s waistband.
Unfortunately for D.L., his first trial ended in a conviction after the judge refused to suppress the evidence of the heroin obtained in the search. Fortunately for D.L., he had the right legal team on appeal to secure a new trial. The Court of Special Appeals ruled that the search was not based on reasonable suspicion and was, therefore, illegal.
The law says that the police must have a suspicion (before doing a search) that is both reasonable and is something that the officer can clearly articulate to a court. In D.L.’s case, the officer specifically stated on the witness stand that he did not think he had a reasonable articulable suspicion, testifying that if “I had reasonable, articulable suspicion, I would have just searched or frisked him.”
Judges must look at the ‘totality of the circumstances’ surrounding your search
The law requires the court to look at the presence or absence of an objective reasonable suspicion in ruling for or against suppression, and to consider the “totality of the circumstances” in deciding whether that suspicion existed or not. An officer’s subjective belief about the lack of reasonable suspicion isn’t conclusive, but it can be very powerful evidence, as the lack of a subjective suspicion may go a long way toward tipping the totality of the circumstances in your favor.
That was the case for D.L. Considering everything, including the fact that the trooper already possessed the only evidence of D.L. being armed and dangerous, and that the police officer had no subjective suspicion, the search was illegal.
The difference between your acquittal and a conviction for a drug offense may rest on your ability to get evidence the police obtained in an illegal search thrown out. Giving yourself the best chance of getting that done means having skilled legal representation. Protect yourself by retaining the knowledgeable Maryland criminal defense attorneys at Anthony A. Fatemi, LLC. To learn more about how you can put the power of this office to work for you, contact us at 888-519-2801 or via our online form.