Law enforcement officers may stop your moving vehicle or approach your parked vehicle for a variety of reasons. While many of those reasons are legal and appropriate, sometimes they’re not. When you’re involved in an illegal search and seizure and that encounter ends with your arrest, then the law says that you are entitled to a trial that does not include the evidence found. A trial without that evidence will almost certainly increase your odds of an acquittal. However, to get that trial without that damaging evidence, you have to know the right way to go about seeking a ruling from the judge suppressing that evidence. To ensure that your criminal trial does not include any evidence the police obtained illegally, it pays to have a skilled Maryland criminal defense attorney handling your case.
K.W.’s criminal case was one of those situations. He and a woman were inside a pickup truck parked in a Temple Hills apartment complex parking lot. While on patrol, a police officer spotted “a lot of movement” inside K.W.’s truck, so the officer approached the truck.
Once K.W.’s passenger rolled down her window, the officer smelled an odor of alcohol, and spotted a half-empty bottle of gin and two plastic cups with what looked like liquor in them. The officer ordered K.W. out of the truck. The officer then began a search of the truck, theoretically to recover the bottle of gin. During the search, the officer found a gun that was registered to K.W.
That greatly increased the legal peril that K.W. was in. Md. Code Ann., Crim. Law § 4-203(a)(1) says that it is a crime to knowingly transport “a handgun, whether openly or concealed, on or about the person or in a vehicle traveling on a state highway, waterway, airway, or road or parking lot generally used by the public.” K.W. had gone from possibly violating Maryland’s open container laws (which generally are misdemeanor violations punishable by a citation and a fine) to a crime that carried the potential of a multi-year prison sentence.
K.W., however, had a major element on his side… the seizure was illegal, and the evidence recovered as a result of it – namely, the gun – was inadmissible at trial. That was an argument that the accused man’s defense lawyer made at trial. The Court of Special Appeals agreed that it was a correct one.
What makes an encounter with police a ‘seizure’
To be the subject of a seizure, the law says that a reasonable person would look at your overall situation and conclude that “he was not free to leave.” K.W. was approached by multiple police cruisers, and by multiple officers in full uniform and in possession of their “sidearms and other accessories common to their profession.” (In other words, K.W. was being approached by men in possession of guns, tasers, nightsticks… and badges.) That meant K.W. would reasonably have believed he was not free to leave, which meant that the interaction was a “seizure” under Maryland law. Because “there was no reasonable articulable suspicion to support that seizure, the stop” was illegal and the evidence recovered from it should have been, as K.W.’s defense attorney argued, thrown out.
Every criminal trial includes its own keys to success. For many accused people, one of the keys may be getting illegally obtained evidence suppressed. Whatever the keys to success in your case, the right defense counsel can help. Talk to experienced Maryland criminal defense attorney Anthony A. Fatemi, who has the skills and the knowledge to give you the best defense possible. To learn more, contact us at 301-519-2801 or via our online form.