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Holt v. State

Court of Appeals of Maryland

October 28, 2013


Barbera, C.J., Harrell, Battaglia, Greene, Adkins, McDonald, Wilner, Alan M. (Retired, Specially Assigned), JJ.


It is settled that a law enforcement officer may conduct an investigatory stop of an individual if the officer has a reasonable suspicion that criminal activity is afoot. See Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 30-31 (1968). Reasonable suspicion is not a demanding standard, but it does require more than an "unparticularized suspicion or hunch." Id. at 27 (internal quotations omitted). In the present case, we must determine whether two Baltimore City detectives had a valid basis to conduct an investigatory stop of Petitioner Jamar Holt.[1] For the reasons that follow, we hold that they did.

I. The Suppression Hearing

Baltimore City Police Department Detectives Joseph Crystal and James McShane were the only witnesses at a hearing to determine whether Petitioner was entitled to suppression of the detectives' observations during and immediately following the investigatory stop of Petitioner. The suppression court received evidence through the testimony of the detectives and written statements by the detectives.

During the summer of 2011, the Violent Crime Impact Section ("VCIS") of the Police Department was investigating Daniel Blue, who was known for distributing raw heroin in Baltimore City. On June 29, 2011, VCIS conducted surveillance of a meeting between Blue and an individual named Claude Townsend on a street corner in Baltimore City. Detectives Crystal and McShane were part of the June 29 surveillance. Although the detectives did not observe the meeting between Blue and Townsend, they were on the arrest team. The meeting, however, was captured by a Baltimore City surveillance camera, and the detectives testified about the meeting based on their review of the surveillance video.

Blue arrived at the June 29 meeting in his vehicle and, after exiting the vehicle, looked around in what Detective Crystal characterized as "a nervous manner." Blue then walked toward Townsend, took an object out of his left pocket, and handed the object to Townsend. Townsend placed the object in his left pocket. Shortly thereafter, Blue returned to his vehicle and "quickly drove out of the area." The meeting between Blue and Townsend lasted approximately two minutes. Detective Crystal testified that Blue looked around during the entire meeting.

After Blue left the scene, Townsend walked toward his house. As he approached his house, a member of VCIS arrested him. The VCIS arrest team recovered from Townsend's left pocket a plastic bag containing a piece of bread stuffed with suspected raw heroin.

VCIS next conducted surveillance of Blue on July 13, 2011. Detectives Crystal and McShane, along with another VCIS detective, were part of the surveillance team. The day before the surveillance, Detective Crystal reviewed the video of the June 29 drug transaction between Blue and Townsend[2] "to ascertain . . . what [Blue] looked like, his mannerisms, if he was right-handed, if he was left-handed, [and] the way he dressed." Detective McShane reviewed the same video "numerous times" before July 13 "to familiarize [him]self with Mr. Blue's actions."

On July 13, at approximately 9:00 a.m., Blue arrived at the Baltimore City District Court on North Avenue for a court appearance.[3] While he was inside the courthouse, Detective Crystal placed a GPS tracking device on Blue's vehicle. Blue eventually exited the courthouse and returned to his vehicle. During the surveillance at the courthouse, Detective Crystal did not observe Blue look around.

After the court appearance, the detectives followed Blue to an apartment building in White Marsh, Baltimore County, and Detective McShane observed him enter an apartment. Approximately five minutes later, Blue exited the apartment carrying a Rubbermaid container in his hand. Detective McShane testified that the container was "the size of a sandwich." Blue then drove directly to Lake Montebello in Baltimore City.

The detectives testified that Blue arrived at Lake Montebello and parked his vehicle near a workout station. He then exited the vehicle and walked toward the workout station, next to which stood Petitioner. According to Detective McShane, Petitioner did not appear nervous as he waited for Blue. Blue, on the other hand, "looked around in a nervous manner": he "look[ed] over both of his shoulders, " "look[ed] around the area, " and "look[ed] at cars that were passing by."

When Blue reached Petitioner, the men shook hands and walked toward a black Jeep Cherokee. Petitioner entered the Jeep on the driver's side and Blue entered on the passenger's side. Petitioner then drove one loop around Lake Montebello and stopped the Jeep near Blue's parked vehicle. The entire meeting between Blue and Petitioner lasted approximately two minutes.

Blue exited the Jeep and walked toward his vehicle. Detective Crystal testified that, as Blue walked toward his vehicle, he was "still kind of looking . . . around in the same type of way that he was [in] the video" of the drug transaction with Townsend.

Petitioner and Blue exited Lake Montebello in separate vehicles. Detective McShane, as lead detective, decided that he and Detective Crystal would follow Petitioner. Detective Crystal testified that, at this point:

We had believed that there may have been a drug transaction that transpired between the two of them. But we weren't – again, we weren't sure, and we wanted to see – possibly identify who [Blue] had just met with. We wanted to see where that individual may go, if he may meet with somebody else. So anything that could maybe help us further our investigation into . . . Blue.

Detective Crystal testified that there were several reasons why the detectives suspected that Petitioner "may have" committed a drug-related crime: (1) he met with Blue, who distributed raw heroin two weeks earlier; (2) Blue looked around throughout the meeting with Petitioner, just as he had looked around throughout the drug transaction; and (3) the meeting with Petitioner lasted approximately the same amount of time as the drug transaction.

Detectives Crystal and McShane followed Petitioner's vehicle out of Lake Montebello and continued to follow the vehicle for "a few brief minutes." After that short time, both detectives activated the lights on their unmarked vehicles, indicating to Petitioner that he should pull over. Detective Crystal testified that the detectives pulled over Petitioner because they wanted to identify the individual who may have engaged in a drug transaction with a known drug dealer. Detective Crystal further testified that Petitioner had not made a complete stop at a stop sign and Detective McShane added that Petitioner had been driving "over the speed limit."

Petitioner pulled over his vehicle in the 1400 block of Fillmore Street. The detectives approached Petitioner's vehicle on foot—Detective McShane from the front and Detective Crystal from the rear—and identified themselves as "police." As Detective Crystal approached, he noticed that the brake light on Petitioner's vehicle was still on, indicating that Petitioner had not placed his vehicle in "park." As Detective McShane approached, he yelled several times, "Police, let me see your hands."

Shortly thereafter, Detective Crystal observed Petitioner take "his right hand off the steering wheel, " "move[] it down out of [the detective's] sight, " and "then quickly raise[] his right hand and point[] a handgun directly at Detective McShane." After Detective Crystal alerted Detective McShane that Petitioner had a gun, Petitioner drove his vehicle in Detective McShane's direction. As Petitioner's vehicle headed toward Detective McShane, both detectives fired their guns at Petitioner. Petitioner fled the scene in his vehicle, missing Detective McShane.

The police arrested Petitioner when he checked himself into the University of Maryland Hospital with gunshot wounds. The record does not reflect when or where, but at some point, the police found Petitioner's vehicle. The police did not find in the vehicle the gun Detective Crystal had observed in Petitioner's hand or any other physical evidence that the State intended to offer at trial.

The State ultimately charged Petitioner with assault, reckless endangerment, firearms violations, and a drug-related offense.[4] Petitioner, through counsel, sought suppression of the detectives' observations during and immediately following the investigatory stop of Petitioner—including any observations of a gun—on the ground that the investigatory stop violated the Fourth Amendment. The court heard argument of counsel and ruled that the investigatory stop of Petitioner violated the Fourth Amendment because the detectives did not have reasonable suspicion that Petitioner had committed a drug-related crime, nor, the court found as a fact, had they observed him commit a traffic violation.

With the exception of its factual finding that the detectives had not observed Petitioner violate any traffic law, the suppression court found the detectives to have been credible witnesses:

I am impressed by the detectives. I don't see them here, so I'm going to say it again, I am very impressed by their candor with the Court. Especially Detective Crystal. I think he was being honest and truthful and forthright. I think he was clear about what he was doing, and why he was doing it. And for that I greatly appreciate the testimony.

With respect to Detective McShane, the suppression court stated, "I think up to [the] point [when Detective McShane testified that Petitioner committed traffic violations] Detective McShane was ...

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