Articles Posted in Search and Seizure

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Maryland Criminal Attorney -The Supreme Court today in a rare showing of unity among its liberal and conservative members, ruled that the police may not secretly place a GPS monitoring device on a suspect’s vehicle to track his movements without first obtaining a search and seizure warrant. The Roberts Court which has come to be defined in many people’s views by controversial 5-4 decisions ruled unanimously today that a person’s automobile is covered under the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable searches of a person’s right to be secure in their houses, papers and “effects”. Here are details:
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Although the big news out of Annapolis this session is the likely passing of a ban on Maryland motorists using cell phones while driving, the reality is the bill has little teeth! Under the bill poised to pass, it is unlawful for a motorist on Maryland roads to hold a cell phone while talking on it, to text or otherwise use the device while driving. It will be lawful to use a blue-tooth device to talk on the phone remotely.

What makes the bill toothless is that it is a secondary offense. This means that the police are NOT allowed to stop a motorist if the officer sees an infraction. The officer can only write up a ticket if the motorist commits a primary infraction, such as speeding, and only then can the officer issue a citation for using a cell phone while driving. Upon conviction for the cell phone offense, the motorist will receive a whopping $40.00 fine and no points.

The best guess is that it is only a matter of time before this becomes a primary offense. It was not too long ago in Maryland when proponents of the mandatory seat belt law agreed to make it a secondary offense to ensure passage by the legislature. Just a few years later, it became a primary offense with little fanfare. Now the police can pull anyone over by claiming the motorist was not wearing a seat-belt. As an experienced Maryland criminal defense attorney, I am well aware of the significance this bill will likely have in further eroding civil liberties. It is only a matter of time until the cell phone law becomes a primary offense. Everyone has a cell phone, and everyone will soon be fair game for a traffic stop.

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Baltimore County Criminal Defense Lawyers/Attorneys deal regularly with issues of illegal search and seizure. Generally speaking the issue in many cases is not so much whether or not the defendant is factually guilty but whether or not the police violated the person’s constitutional rights in the process of investigating an/or arresting him. One of the specific issues that comes up quite often is the issue of when or if the police may conduct a strip search or the functional equivalent of a strip search of a person who is suspected of a crime or under arrest.

I’m sure it will come as no surprise to most people that when a person has been arrested for a serious felony or for any charge that causes them to be processed into the jail, that person will almost without exception be subjected to a strip search. The instances that are less clear cut are those cases in which a person is only charged with misdemeanors or traffic offenses and is released either on their personal recognizance or bailed out without ever going to the detention center, as well as cases in which the police strip search (or conduct the equivalent of a strip search) prior to an arrest taking place. I am currently representing an individual in the latter category. Briefly, here are the facts:
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Maryland Criminal Attorneys who represent defendants who are charged with possession of a controlled dangerous substance need to have a solid understanding of what types of conduct by the police will lead to the application of the exclusionary rule. The exclusionary rule states that in circumstances in which the police violate a person’s Constitutional Rights, any evidence collected by the police will be excluded from use at trial.

The most common situation in which the exclusionary rule is applied is in the context of a car stop. In order for the police to lawfully stop a motorist, the police officer must either witness a violation of the rules of the road such as speeding or running a stop sign, or the officer must have reasonable articulable suspicion (RAS) that the operator of the vehicle is committing a crime. If it is determined by the court that the officer neither witnessed a violation of the traffic laws or had RAS to believe a crime was being committed, all evidence that is gathered as a result of the illegal stop will be suppressed. That is exactly what happened in my case today in Essex District Court, in Baltimore County. Here are the facts:
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Aggressive Maryland criminal defense attorneys know that the best way to attack a search warrant is by attacking the affidavit in support of the warrant. This is commonly referred to as a Franks Hearing.

In Franks v. Delaware, 438 U.S. 154, 98 S.Ct. 2674, 57 L.Ed.2d 667 (1978), the Supreme Court held that in certain defined circumstances a defendant can attack a facially sufficient affidavit. The Franks Court recognized a “presumption of validity with respect to the affidavit supporting the search warrant”, and thus created a rule of “limited scope”.

The rule created by the Franks decision requires that a dual showing be made before a court will hold an evidentiary hearing on the affidavit’s integrity. This showing incorporates both a subjective and an objective threshold component. In order to obtain an evidentiary hearing on the affidavit’s integrity, a defendant must first make “a substantial preliminary showing that a false statement knowingly and intentionally, or with reckless disregard for the truth, was included by the affiant in the warrant affidavit.” This showing “must be more than conclusory” and must be accompanied by a detailed offer of proof.

In addition to showing that the affidavit contains false information, a defendant must show that the false information is essential to the probable cause determination. That is, if a court finds that “when material that is the subject of the alleged falsity or reckless disregard is set to one side, there remains sufficient content in the warrant affidavit to support a finding of probable cause, no hearing is required.”
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I recently filed a multi-million dollar case against the Baltimore City Police Department involving an illegal and unwarranted body cavity search. The case details are best reported in the Baltimore Sun. Having received many inquiries since than on the law in this area, I will explain the nuts and bolts of the legality of strip searches in Maryland.

The key Maryland cases regarding the reasonableness of a strip search are State v. Nieves, 383 Md. 573 (Md. 2004) and Paulino v. State, 359 Md. 341 (Md. 2007). Both cases reiterate that it is well established both that the State has the burden of proving the legality of a warrantless search and that warrantless searches are per se unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment absent some recognized exception. Although a search incident to arrest is a recognized exception to the warrant requirement, a strip search incident to arrest is held to a much higher standard.

The Nieves court held that the reasonable, articulable suspicion standard applies in the strip search incident to arrest context. Nieves, 383 Md. at 596. While strip searches for felony arrests may always be justifiable, strip searches following arrests for minor offenses are generally ‘found wanting’, unless the officer had information that would have led to a reasonable suspicion that the person was carrying weapons or contraband at the time of the arrest. Id. at 592. Nieves was arrested for traffic offenses that included driving on a suspended license, negligent driving, failure to control speed, and giving false accident information. The court found that a strip search following Nieves’ arrest was not reasonable because the nature of the traffic violations for which he was arrested failed to create a suspicion that he was carrying weapons or contraband. Id. at 596. The justification for the search of Nieves based on his prior drug offenses and the fact that he was driving a car whose owner was associated with drugs was also found lacking. The court held that allowing a strip search based on prior drug arrests would amount to allowing a search based on a person’s status, rather than an individualized assessment of the circumstances. Id. at 597.
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The answer to the question is no. In fact the answer is that the police may not stop a person based on an anonymous tip in any state in the country because the law on this issue comes from a Supreme Court of the United States decision, as opposed to a state appellate court decision, and thus applies to all of the states. I used this issue to win a post conviction motion that I filed on behalf of a client in the Baltimore County Circuit Court. As some are aware, post convictions are rarely granted in Maryland, but this one was because, among other issues, the attorney who represented my client at trial had failed to raise this well settled issue in a case where it clearly applied.

The case that controls this issue is Florida v. J.L. In that case the police received an anonymous telephone tip that a young black male dressed a certain way and standing at a specific corner, was armed with a handgun. The police responded to the area and observed a young black male matching the description given by the anonymous tipster. The police stopped the young man (actually he was a juvenile, hence the use of his initials in the case in place of his name). In an extremely rare unanimous decision the Court ruled that the police had violated JL’s Fourth Amendment rights and laid down the rule that an anonymous tip alone was insufficient to give the police probable cause to stop and search a person.

In the case I recently prevailed on post conviction, the facts were quite similar. As I said, the judge ruled that my client had received ineffective assistance of counsel because, among other reasons, he had failed to raise this obvious issue. Here is the brief that I filed. (I have redacted the names of my client and the attorneys to protect their privacy).
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