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State v. Donaldson

Court of Special Appeals of Maryland

January 28, 2015

STATE OF MARYLAND
v.
CHUCKIE DONALDSON

For Appellant: Carrie J. Williams, Douglas F. Gansler, Attorney General on the brief, Baltimore, MD.

For Appellee: Jeremy Eldridge, Eldridge & Nachtman, LLC, on the brief, Richard Winelander, Winelander & Cox, PA on the brief, Baltimore, MD.

Meredith, Wright, Reed, JJ. Opinion by Meredith, J.

OPINION

[221 Md.App. 135] Meredith, J.

In this appeal, the State, appellant, challenges the ruling of the Circuit Court for Baltimore County suppressing evidence discovered during a traffic stop of Chuckie Donaldson, appellee. The State concedes that the officer who performed the search lacked probable cause to search appellee, but argues that, because appellee was on parole at the time of the search, appellee had a diminished expectation of privacy,

Page 501

and therefore, [221 Md.App. 136] the search was lawful despite the lack of probable cause. Appellee asserts that, because the officer was unaware that appellee was on parole when the officer performed the search, appellee's status as a parolee did not justify the warrantless search.

QUESTION PRESENTED

The State filed this interlocutory appeal pursuant to Maryland Code, Courts & Judicial Proceedings Article, § 12-302(c), and presents a single question for our review, which we have rephrased as follows: Did the circuit court err in granting appellee's motion to suppress?[1]

Because appellee's parole status was not known to the police officer at the time of the search, we conclude that the search cannot be justified as a parolee search, and we affirm the circuit court's grant of the motion to suppress.[2]

BACKGROUND

On the evening of August 27, 2012, Detective Edward Wisniewski of the Baltimore County Police Department was conducting surveillance of the Beltway Motel in Baltimore County when he observed an unidentified, disheveled man pacing back and forth outside the motel. After watching the man for several minutes, the detective saw a Buick driven by appellee pull into the parking lot. The detective observed the unidentified man enter the passenger side of the Buick and then exit a minute later. The disheveled man then entered the side entrance of the motel, and the Buick drove away. Based on Detective Wisniewski's training and experience, [221 Md.App. 137] Detective Wisniewski believed that he had just observed a drug transaction. He followed the Buick out of the parking lot and requested that a marked police vehicle conduct a traffic stop.

After appellee's vehicle had been pulled over for failure to use a turn signal, Detective Wisniewski ordered appellee out of the vehicle. The officer searched appellee and found a single blue pill in a pants pocket. Although the detective did not know what the pill was at the time he discovered it, the pill was later identified as oxycodone, a painkiller for which appellee had a prescription. Because the detective suspected the blue pill was an illegal substance, however, he arrested appellee and searched appellee's vehicle. Inside the vehicle, police found a small plastic bag containing eleven gel capsules filled with brown powder, as well as a cell phone that belonged to appellee. After the phone rang several times, the officer flipped open the phone, and observed a text message from a contact named " Steve" that stated " 7 for $60," which the officer interpreted as an apparent reference to a drug transaction. Appellee was charged with multiple drug offenses, including possession with intent to distribute a controlled dangerous substance (based on the eleven gel capsules found in the car).

Appellee subsequently moved to suppress the drugs found on his person and in his car, as well as the incriminating text message found on his phone. At the suppression hearing, Detective ...


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