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Spence v. State

Court of Appeals of Maryland

July 27, 2015


Argued: January 8, 2015

Circuit Court for Caroline County Case No. 05-K-11-008640

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



Petitioner Dwayne Spence was convicted in the Circuit Court for Caroline County of possession with intent to distribute marijuana, possession of marijuana, and possession of drug paraphernalia. The principal issue we decide in this case is whether the court was required to deny Petitioner's motion to suppress text messages that the police obtained during the search of his cell phone incident to his lawful arrest.

Petitioner appealed the judgment of conviction to the Court of Special Appeals and, while the case was pending in that court, filed a petition for writ of certiorari, which we granted. We then stayed all proceedings in this case until the United States Supreme Court issued its decisions in Riley v. California, cert. granted, 134 S.Ct. 999 (2014), and United States v. Wurie, cert. granted, 134 S.Ct. 999 (2014). On June 25, 2014, the Supreme Court issued a consolidated opinion in those two cases. Riley v. California, 134 S.Ct. 2473 (2014).

Following the parties' submission of their briefs, we heard arguments in the case on the same day as two other cases, Demby v. State, No. 11, Sept. Term 2014, and Sinclair v. State, No. 43, Sept. Term 2014. The three cases present the common question of whether, in light of the Supreme Court's decision in Riley, the respective petitioners were entitled to the suppression of data obtained by the police during a warrantless search of the cell phones incident to a lawful arrest. For reasons we explain later in this opinion, we hold that the trial court in the present case properly denied the motion to suppress the data obtained from Petitioner's cell phone.


The Suppression Hearing, Trial, and Appeal

Petitioner sought suppression of text messages, found on his cellphone at the time of his arrest, that the State ultimately used in convicting him of several drug-related offenses. Sergeant Nancy Nagel ("Sergeant Nagel") of the Caroline County Sheriff's Office testified as the sole witness for the State at the hearing on the motion.

Sergeant Nagel testified that, during the early morning hours of January 13, 2011, she responded to a report of a robbery at a mobile home in a trailer park in Preston, Maryland. After completing her interview with the robbery victims, Sergeant Nagel noticed fresh footprints in the snow outside of the victims' home, leading from a doorstep a few mobile homes away directly to the robbery victims' home. While Sergeant Nagel and at least one other officer who had arrived on the scene were investigating the footprints, a woman stepped out from the home where the footprints began and identified herself as Tonya LaLone ("Ms. LaLone").

Sergeant Nagel asked Ms. LaLone if she could come inside to speak about the robbery that had just occurred. Ms. LaLone consented and, as they stepped into the home, Sergeant Nagel asked who else, if anyone, was present. Ms. LaLone informed Sergeant Nagel that her two parents, who owned the home, and her three-year-old son were present. She then pointed to a room where, she said, her son was asleep. Sergeant Nagel heard a loud noise emanating from that room. She asked again who was in the room. Sergeant Nagel then drew her weapon, evidently prompting Ms. LaLone to say that her boyfriend, Dwayne Steven Spence ("Petitioner"), was inside the bedroom. Sergeant Nagel ordered him out.

Sergeant Nagel testified that, as Petitioner exited the bedroom, he had in his hand a cell phone and was using it. Sergeant Nagel and at least one other officer ordered Petitioner to put his hands in the air. He obeyed, keeping his cell phone in his hand. Sergeant Nagel then asked Petitioner to sit on a chair. As Petitioner sat down, he continued using the phone. Sergeant Nagel asked Petitioner to place the phone on an end table, which he did. At that time, Sergeant Nagel re-holstered her gun.

The officers frisked Petitioner to ensure that he was not armed. Sergeant Nagel then interviewed Ms. LaLone and Petitioner and asked Ms. LaLone to wake her parents. With everyone together, Sergeant Nagel informed them that there had been a robbery in the trailer park and she was searching for shoes matching the imprints outside and the stolen prescription pills. Sergeant Nagel obtained consent to search the home.

While searching the bedroom from which Petitioner had exited, Sergeant Nagel found a black wallet propped against an aquarium and, behind the wallet, a clear bag containing what she recognized as marijuana. The wallet contained Petitioner's identification card. Inside a cabinet in the room were additional bags of marijuana, drug paraphernalia, ...

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