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Demby v. State

Court of Appeals of Maryland

July 27, 2015


Argued: January 8, 2015

Circuit Court for Caroline County Case No. 05-K-12-009321

Barbera, C.J., [*] Harrell Battaglia Greene McDonald Watts Raker, Irma S. (Retired, Specially Assigned) JJ.



Forty-two years ago, the Supreme Court established in United States v. Robinson, 414 U.S. 218 (1973), a bright-line rule authorizing police to search any object found within the temporal and spatial scope of a search incident to a lawful arrest. Last year, in Riley v. California, 134 S.Ct. 2473 (2014), the Court held that this exception to the warrant requirement of the Fourth Amendment does not include the search of cell phone data found during an otherwise lawful search incident to arrest. We are called upon in this case to decide whether Petitioner Quioly Shikell Demby was entitled, by application of the rule established in Riley, to suppression of evidence obtained as the result of the search of a cell phone incident to his lawful arrest in 2012.

For the reasons that follow, we conclude that the officer who searched Petitioner's cell phone reasonably relied on Robinson, which at the time of the search was binding precedent in Maryland. Consequently, by application of the good faith doctrine, as explicated in Davis v. United States, 131 S.Ct. 2419 (2011), Petitioner was not entitled to have the cell phone data excluded at the trial at which he was convicted of a drug-related offense, based in part on that evidence.


The following facts were adduced at a hearing conducted on Petitioner's motion to suppress the evidence resulting from the search of the cell phone. Corporal Leonard Nichols ("Corporal Nichols"), the Maryland State Police officer who arrested Petitioner and searched the cell phone, was the only witness to testify at the hearing.

Corporal Nicholas testified that, on May 24, 2012, he received information from a confidential informant about a potential drug deal at a park on Red Bridges Road in Caroline County, Maryland. The informant identified one man involved as Steve Lepore and the other as "Oly." Sometime later that same day, the Caroline County dispatch center relayed that it had received an anonymous call from an individual who saw a person traveling up and down Red Bridges Road on a golf cart, meeting other subjects in their vehicles.

Corporal Nichols and an undercover police officer arrived at the scene, where Corporal Nichols observed a golf cart parked beside a Nissan Altima. A man, later identified as Steve Lepore, was standing between the vehicles on the driver's side of the Altima. Petitioner was sitting in the passenger's seat of the Altima, and another man was sitting in the driver's seat.

Corporal Nichols approached the vehicles, identified himself as a police officer, and told the individuals that he was responding to complaints regarding potential drug activity. He then asked the individuals if they were in possession of anything illegal. Mr. Lepore replied that he had a "bowl" in his pocket.[1] Corporal Nichols searched Mr. Lepore and found a bowl containing marijuana. Petitioner said that he had pills and presented to Corporal Nichols an unlabeled prescription pill bottle containing 11 pills. Based on his experience in the Drug Task Force, Corporal Nichols identified seven pills as oxycodone and four other pills as oxycodone acetaminophen. Petitioner told Corporal Nichols that he received a prescription for the pills from the hospital.

Corporal Nichols arrested Petitioner and, along with other officers who by then had arrived as backup, searched the vehicle in which Petitioner had been sitting. During the search of the car, the police noticed on the dashboard a cell phone repeatedly ringing and "sending out tones." Corporal Nichols testified that the phone was not a smartphone, but he could not remember whether it was a flip phone or a slide phone, and he could not determine whether the phone was receiving calls or text messages. The corporal asked who owned the phone, and Petitioner said that it was his.

Corporal Nichols then "opened" the phone and viewed the most recent text messages. Based on his training and experience, Corporal Nichols understood the messages to mean that the senders were looking to buy pills from Petitioner. Corporal Nichols took possession of the cell phone and subsequently obtained a warrant to search the data within the phone. Execution of the warrant provided the police with the same data that Corporal Nichols observed at the time of Petitioner's arrest, and more.

Corporal Nichols explained his decision to search the cell phone at the arrest scene. He testified, based on his personal experience, that cell phones can pose safety concerns for police officers because a suspect might have a plan to notify third parties to show up if the police arrived. He added that the evidence on a cell phone may be destroyed by remote wiping.[2] In this ...

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