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Williams v. State

Court of Special Appeals of Maryland

June 26, 2013

THEDRAL THOMAS WILLIAMS, III
v.
STATE OF MARYLAND

Krauser, C.J., Kehoe, Salmon, James P. (Retired, Specially Assigned), JJ.

OPINION

Krauser, C.J.

Convicted of robbery with a dangerous weapon, [1] after pleading not guilty to an agreed upon statement of the facts in the Circuit Court for Kent County, Thedral Thomas Williams, III, [2] appellant, contends that the circuit court erred in denying his motion to suppress. Specifically, he maintains that the police lacked a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity, when they stopped the car in which he was a passenger, and lacked probable cause to arrest, when they blocked the doors of that vehicle with their patrol cars, preventing him from leaving it. We disagree and shall affirm.

Suppression Hearing

William s filed, as noted, a motion to suppress physical evidence seized and statements he made to police on the grounds that the car in which he was traveling was unlawfully stopped and then his exit from that vehicle was unlawfully blocked in violation of the Fourth Amendment. The testimony presented at his suppression hearing, viewed in the light most favorable to the prevailing party—in this instance, the State[3]— showed that at about 1:00 a.m., on January 4, 2011, Patrolman First Class Brett Lysinger of the Chester town Police Department received two calls "almost simultaneously" from the police dispatcher: one concerned a home invasion at 108 Elm Street and the other a panic alarm at a Citgo gas station within yards of that house. When Patrolman Lysinger arrived at the location of the home invasion, he was informed by the home's owner that she had seen flashlights and that one or more individuals had attempted to break into her house. After checking the area around the house, the patrolman was advised by the dispatcher that the Citgo station call had been upgraded to an armed robbery. So he left the site of the alleged home invasion for the Citgo station.

Upon arriving at that location, he spoke to a clerk employed by the gas station. The clerk informed him that three males, with their faces covered, had entered the gas station store. After one of them brandished a sawed-off shotgun and demanded money, they forced him to lay on the ground face down and threatened to kill him if he looked up. After taking cash and cigarettes from the store, they fled.

When Patrolman Lysinger finished interviewing the clerk, he viewed, at the Citgo station, the surveillance video of the robbery, which showed "two black males" and "one possibly white male" entering the store from the direction of Greenwood Avenue, which is perpendicular to Elm Street, where the attempted home invasion had occurred. The videotape showed the three robbers fleeing in the same direction from which they had approached the Citgo.

Other units from the Maryland State Police and the Kent County Sheriff's Office w ere also at the scene. They stopped a vehicle, which was "almost directly in front of the Citgo." But, when it was determined that the occupants were neither witnesses nor suspects, the police allowed them to drive away. The only other vehicle that the patrolman recalled seeing while he was at the Citgo was a box delivery truck.

After viewing the videotape, Patrolman Lysinger called the dispatcher and requested a canine unit. Patrolman James Walker arrived with a dog to trace the departing suspects' path. The two patrolmen, joined by a Detective Lodge, then went to the Elm Street home to conduct a canine search. At that time, the streets and sidewalks, in what was described as a "secluded" residential neighborhood, were completely devoid of traffic of any sort, vehicular or pedestrian.

While the officers were standing in a yard adjacent to 108 Elm Street, the location of the attempted home invasion, with their vehicles' lights off, a Dodge suddenly appeared, after making a left turn onto Elm Street. It then passed by them, first slowing down and then speeding off. In the words of the patrolmen, the Dodge was driving at a "normal speed, " but then it slowed down to between "3 to 5 miles an hour" as it passed by the officers, though the posted speed limit in that area was 25 miles per hour. At that point, the officers were able to "clearly observe" that there was a white male and a white female in the front seats of the car and two black males and a black female in the back seat. Patrolman Walker recognized the white male occupant seated in the front as someone he had had "prior dealings" with. Specifically, the patrolman knew him because of the occupant's "history of drug use."[4]

After the Dodge had passed the officers, the passengers in the rear seat looked back through the vehicle's rear window at the officers. The car then sped up as it left the area. Although no traffic violation had occurred, the officers decided to pull the Dodge over "to identify them as either possible witness [sic] or a . . . possibly suspects."

Patrolman Walker was the first officer to take off after the Dodge in his patrol car. Though right behind the Dodge, he had to "accelerate pretty heavily" to "at least 40 miles an hour . . . to catch the vehicle." At that time, "approximately 30 to 40 minutes" had elapsed since the initial call from the dispatcher.

When the pursuing patrolman activated his emergency lights, the Dodge slowed down and appeared to be coming to a stop, but, before it did, the driver's side rear-passenger door opened, prompting Patrolman Walker to pull up to the Dodge and position his patrol car so that it blocked what appeared to be an attempt to exit the moving vehicle. Moments later, when Patrolman Walker's fellow officer, Patrolman Lysinger, drove up in his patrol car, the rear door on the passenger's side of the Dodge also opened. Patrolman Lysinger then used his car to block any attempt to exit from that door as well. As the patrolmen were approaching the Dodge in their respective patrol cars, they both observed Williams and the other male passenger in the back seat of the Dodge trying to leave the vehicle as the female backseat passenger attempted to pull them back to prevent that from happening. As Patrolman Lysinger put it, Williams was "attempting to crawl over the female" in what appeared to be an effort to exit the Dodge. After getting out of his vehicle, Patrolman Walker instructed the occupants to stay in their car.

When Williams was ultimately removed from the rear seat, Patrolman Lysinger recognized him from "previous experiences." Patrolman Lysinger then patted down Williams. Feeling "a large bulge in . . . the leg area of his pants, " the patrolman asked Williams what it was. Williams responded, "Money, man. It's money." Patrolman Lysinger then removed a "large stack of United States currency" from Williams's person.[5]

Suppression Court Ruling

The suppression court held that the stop of the Dodge was a lawful investigatory stop and denied the suppression motion. Nearly a month later, Williams filed a motion for reconsideration. Without hearing argument, the court denied the motion. In so doing, it further explained that it found the officers had a reasonable articulable suspicion and that that suspicion justified the stop of the Dodge. Six days later, on the date of his trial, Williams, before entering his plea of not guilty, based on an agreed upon statement of facts, made what appeared to be a second motion for reconsideration of the denial of his suppression motion, contending, for the first time, that when the police "pinned" him in the Dodge by blocking, with their vehicles, the rear doors of the Dodge, that that action constituted an arrest, which was unsupported by probable cause. The court also denied that motion.

DISCUSSION

I.

It is not a violation of the Fourth Amendment for an officer to "stop and briefly detain a person for investigative purposes if the officer has a reasonable suspicion supported by articulable facts that criminal activity 'may be afoot, ' even if the officer lacks probable cause." United States v. Sokolow, 490 U.S. 1, 7 (1989) (citing Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 30 (1968)). This is known as an "investigatory stop" and is underlaid by "strong concerns for public safety and for effective crime prevention and detection[.]" Quinc ...


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