Events from outside Maryland have once again placed into the national spotlight the issues of police stops of citizens and the bases the police use for initiating an encounter with someone. One important thing to know is that, in this state, the police must have a legitimate basis for stopping you and, if they lack that legitimate reason, then any potentially incriminating evidence they find on you may be excluded from your criminal trial. An experienced Maryland criminal defense lawyer can help you succeed in these kinds of evidence suppression and other critical arguments.
Here in Maryland, there is strong caselaw upholding citizens’ freedom from being accosted and searched by the police without a reasonable basis. The police still cross that line, though, which is why it is necessary to have skilled legal counsel on your side to get wrongfully seized evidence thrown out when you stand trial.
A weapons and drugs case from Baltimore illustrates this well. In October 2018, a Baltimore police officer was patrolling a mall when he noticed J.M., who had on “slim fitted cargo shorts.” Inside one of the pockets, J.M. had something large that “appeared to slide back and forth.” J.M. allegedly was walking with a stiff right arm to help keep the object inside the pocket from moving. J.M. also allegedly tapped his pocket occasionally “as if to make sure” the object was still there.
From that observation, the officer came to believe that J.M. had a gun. He approached J.M. and his companions. J.M. moved away from the officer and continued to walk forward, so the officer grabbed J.M.’s arm and handcuffed him. The officer then searched J.M., where he eventually found a gun in the man’s waistband, along with several types of illegal drugs.
So, was this a valid stop and warrantless search? No, it was not, according to the Court of Special Appeals. The officer lacked the necessary degree of reasonable suspicion to stop J.M., which meant that the gun and the drugs were not admissible in J.M.’s criminal trial.
When the Police Can (and Can’t) Stop You Without a Warrant
Back in 2017, the Court of Special Appeals, in an opinion worded almost poetically, explained the standard to which police officers should be held when it comes to stopping and searching people for weapons when there’s no search warrant. The court opinion stated that a “vigilant officer may not observe the passing parade of life go by, develop reasonable … suspicion that certain members of the passing parade are armed, and presume to frisk them. It is only when duty requires an officer to go in harm’s way that the additional protection becomes necessary.”
In this case, J.M. was just a member of that passing parade. The officer who searched him did not testify that J.M.’s shorts pocket had the “distinctive bulge” of a handgun. When the officer was asked how he concluded J.M. had a gun and not a cell phone in his pocket, he merely discussed J.M.’s stiffness and nervousness. That’s not enough to constitute reasonable suspicion. Just because the police confront you in a high crime area after they spotted you acting nervously or walking with a stiff stance, that doesn’t, without something more, give them the right to initiate a stop and warrantless search.
Maryland law demands that the police have a “reasonably articulable” suspicion, and that requires more than just finding that a person’s mannerisms made them “look” guilty. If you’ve been charged with crimes based on evidence the police obtained in a warrantless search, it is distinctly possible that the search and seizure were unconstitutional. Of course, evidence obtained from an illegal search generally won’t exclude itself; you need a skilled legal advocate making an intelligent argument before the court to get that evidence thrown out. Rely on the knowledgeable drug crime defense attorneys at Anthony A. Fatemi, LLC to provide you with the knowledgeable, diligent, powerful, and effective advocacy it takes to get you the just outcome you deserve. To learn more, contact us at 301-519-2801 or via our online form.