What Constitutes an Unconstitutional Search or Seizure, as Opposed to a ‘Consensual’ Interaction With Police in Maryland?

Both the U.S. and Maryland courts include protections against law enforcement officers conducting unreasonable searches and seizures. Maryland law also has some clear guideposts about the circumstances that do (or do not) constitute a search or seizure, and they include some scenarios you might not necessarily have associated with illegal searches unless you were keenly familiar with the law.

That’s why you need a knowledgeable Maryland criminal defense attorney handling your case. Your knowledgeable attorney does have that kind of extremely in-depth knowledge of search-and-seizure law, in addition to many other essential aspects of Maryland criminal law.

The situation that led to K.C.’s trial is a good example of what we mean. While Maryland Transit Authority officers were performing a sweep looking for fare dodgers aboard a light rail train, one passenger, K.C., informed an officer that he had no ticket to ride. The officer ordered K.C. to exit the train and sit on a bench. The MTA officers began running a check on K.C. for outstanding warrants. While officers ran that warrants check, K.C. tried to escape and three officers tackled him. During that interaction, one officer discovered a gun and another subsequently searched K.C., finding multiple bags of cocaine.

The state prosecuted, bringing several weapons and drug charges against K.C. Based on what happened and what the MTA officers found, you might perhaps think that K.C. had a rather hopeless case. But, would you be correct in that thinking?

Actually, no. K.C. had a very strong defense strategy at his disposal, which was arguing for suppression of the gun and drug evidence due to the MTA officers’ illegal seizure of him.

Determining who’s in control is the key

The key between something the law calls a “seizure” versus a “consensual encounter” with police (which is typically never a violation of the Constitution’s search-and-seizure provisions) is control. If you are in control of deciding when the interaction ends and when you leave, then that’s a consensual encounter. If a reasonable person would not feel free to leave, and would feel that the police were in control of deciding when the encounter ended, then that’s a seizure.

Police, of course, may engage in seizures of individuals if the officers can state a reasonable suspicion regarding the crime they believed the subject committed or was about to commit. In K.C.’s circumstance, the MTA officers had no reasonable suspicion that K.C. (or any other passenger on board that train) had committed a crime or was about to commit a crime. This meant they had no probable cause to detain K.C. and conduct a warrants check. Had they simply issued K.C. a citation and sent him on his way, the interaction probably would have been constitutional. When the officers detained him to run a warrants check, the interaction became illegal. Because all of gun and drug evidence flowed from the illegal detention, it should have been suppressed and not been admitted in K.C.’s trial.

Whenever you are accused of a drug offense, you want legal counsel who can identify all of the potential winning arguments on your behalf, and then make those arguments persuasively. For that kind of effective representation, retain Maryland criminal defense attorney Anthony A. Fatemi, who has been helping the accused in Maryland for many years. To learn more, contact us at 301-519-2801 or via our online form.

Contact Information