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Chase v. State

Court of Appeals of Maryland

August 19, 2016


          Argued: May 9, 2016

         Circuit Court for Baltimore County Criminal Case No. 03-K-13-005785.

          Barbera, C.J., Greene, Adkins, McDonald, Watts, Harrell, Jr., Glenn T. (Retired, Specially Assigned, Battaglia, Lynne A. (Retired, Specially Assigned), JJ.


          BATTAGLIA, J.

         This case presents us with the opportunity, yet again, to explore the parameters of reasonable suspicion to support a Terry stop, [1] as well as what constitutes an arrest for Fourth Amendment purposes. Ira Chase, Petitioner, presents the following questions for our review:

1.Does reasonable suspicion that an individual is engaged in drug activity, by itself, constitute reasonable suspicion that the individual is armed and dangerous?
2.Under this Court's case law recognizing that a display of force by the police, such as placing a suspect in handcuffs, constitutes an arrest requiring probable cause absent reasonable suspicion that the suspect is armed and dangerous, was Petitioner under arrest when he and the co-occupant of Petitioner's Jeep Cherokee were removed from the Jeep and placed in handcuffs, where the police had reasonable suspicion that the two men were engaged in drug activity in the Jeep but lacked reasonable suspicion that they were armed and dangerous?
3.Assuming, arguendo, that the police had reasonable suspicion to believe that Petitioner and his co-occupant were armed and dangerous when they were removed from the Jeep and handcuffed, was that reasonable suspicion dispelled when the officers patted them down and found no weapons, thereby rendering their continued detention and questioning by the officers while awaiting the arrival of a drug sniffing dog an arrest, and not a mere detention, that was not supported by probable cause?

         In 2013, Chase was indicted in the Circuit Court for Baltimore County, Maryland for possession of cocaine with intent to distribute, manufacturing cocaine, possession of cocaine and possession of less than 10 grams of marijuana. He moved to suppress various pieces of evidence seized by Baltimore County police officers from his person, that being a motel key, and from the motel itself, to include narcotics and narcotics paraphernalia; he alleged that his detention in handcuffs while a car that he had been driving was searched constituted an unlawful arrest and the attendant seizure of the motel key and discovery of physical evidence in the motel room were the fruits of that arrest. Judge Patrick Cavanaugh of the Circuit Court for Baltimore County denied Chase's motion to suppress, and Chase, thereafter, entered a conditional guilty plea[2] to one count of possession of cocaine with intent to distribute. Judge Cavanaugh, in denying the motion to suppress, determined:

Okay. It's a very interesting case. I'm familiar with all the cases you've handed up, Mr. Tompsett. The Carter case is of particular interest, it's one of Judge Moylan's shorter opinions. The man was stopped or he wasn't stopped, he's already parked under the policeman's observation when the other car pulls in. They're backed in next to each other, it's a high crime area. I'm familiar with the area. I don't know how many cases I've had from that side of town involving drugs. They're in the parking lot of the hotel, nobody gets out of the car, goes into a hotel, don't do anything except meet each other at a car. The furtive acts give me some concern because of the officer's safety. They see this going on inside the vehicle as they're approaching. The inconsistent stories, you know, one's watching the ballgame, the other one is going to Maryland Live Casino. I think that's what really triggered the call for the K-9 to come out and it was fairly quick after they were stopped. I believe the K-9 arrived within ten minutes of the police approaching the vehicle to begin with. I think it is a classic Terry case, (inaudible) to the high crime in the area, drugs, we know that guns are involved with drugs. So I can understand the concern for officers' safety. The dog alerts on the side of the vehicle that Mr. DeLillo just got out of and he's the one who later on states, you know, I came to buy an eight ball to get, got fourteen grams, got more than he came for. Certainly, got more than he came for when he got the cuffs on him. I believe I don't have any choice but to deny your Motion, Mr. Cardin. I think it's a good stop, it's a good search. I was concerned about the cuffs going on when they went on and the comments that were made by the two gentlemen were after they were read Miranda. They were Mirandized right away. I know you disagree with me, Mr. Davis, you've been sitting there shaking your head sideways since you came in the door today. The Motion to Suppress is denied.

         Chase appealed to the Court of Special Appeals, which, in a reported opinion, Chase v. State, 224 Md.App. 631, 121 A.3d 257 (2015), affirmed.[3]

         During the suppression hearing, Detective Andrew Melnyk of the Baltimore County Police Department testified that in September of 2013 he and his partner, Detective Young, [4] assigned to the Vice/Narcotics Unit, were patrolling the area around Security Boulevard. Detective Melnyk related that the area was "known for illicit narcotic activity, " as it is close to Interstate 70 and the Baltimore Beltway.

         Detective Melnyk further noted that on the evening of September 10th he and Detective Young were in the area around the Days Inn on Whitehead Court, which they knew to be a "high area of drug trafficking." Detective Melnyk testified that "My unit as well as myself have participated in numerous search warrants and apprehensions resulting in the seizure of illicit drugs and U.S. currency, as well as weapons[, ]" and continued to describe the events of that evening in which two individuals interacted in a Jeep Cherokee:

STATE: And do you recall what time of day you were on the parking lot at the Days Inn?
DETECTIVE MELNYK: It was the evening shift, around 6:00, 6:45.
STATE: And was it, was it, what position did you take on the parking lot of the Days Inn?
DETECTIVE MELNYK: As we pulled in the parking lot, we noticed a, a white Jeep Cherokee parked on the lot occupied later identified by the Defendant. He was utilizing his cell phone backed into a parking spot, so we took up a position where we could maintain surveillance on this vehicle.
* * *
STATE: And how long did you watch the Defendant's vehicle for?
DETECTIVE MELNYK: Approximately two minutes when we observed a second vehicle, a Lexus, back into a parking spot, he actually backed in catty-corner, taking up two parking spots next to the Jeep Cherokee.
** *
DETECTIVE MELNYK: The driver of the Lexus exited his vehicle, approached the Jeep Cherokee and got into the passenger side of the Jeep Cherokee, leaving his vehicle parked like I explained in two parking spots.
STATE: Does this type of behavior have any type of significance to you?
** *
DETECTIVE MELNYK: Through, through my, I've taken a forty hour basic narcotic investigator class as well as a weeklong class in the Academy for drug identification and characteristics of people that are involved in the distribution of illegal narcotics, often times nowadays people utilize vehicles to conceal the transactions from law enforcement as well as the hotel that they're at -
* * *
DETECTIVE MELNYK: They use the hotel to conceal the identity of their home address. So with the Defendant in his vehicle, as well as the Lexus pulling in and the driver of the Lexus getting out of his vehicle into the Defendant's vehicle, as well as the area that they're in, it's a known high drug area, they did not utilize any services of the Days Inn, which is where they were parked. We believed that there was illegal drug activity taking place, or criminal activity at that matter.

         Detective Melnyk further related that after waiting a short period of time to see if any further activity occurred, he and Detective Young approached the Jeep, identified themselves as police officers and removed its occupants:

DETECTIVE MELNYK: We waited a brief period to, to see if there was going to be any activity farther and there wasn't. At that point, we drove our vehicle, identified ourself as police, approached the vehicle and detained both occupants inside the white Jeep Cherokee.
STATE: And why did you detain those two subjects?
* * *
DETECTIVE MELNYK: Based on the reasonable suspicion that they were involved in illegal activity based on the totality of the circumstances, the location, the lack of activity involving the hotel room and the way they were parked, as well as the mannerisms that, from the driver entering the Grand Cherokee from the Lexus.

         On cross-examination, Detective Melnyk testified in more detail about the furtive movements of the driver in reaching under his seat and putting his hand in his pocket which precipitated the removal of the driver, who turned out to be Chase, and his companion from the Jeep Cherokee and handcuffing them:

MR. CARDIN: All right. Now, when you say they were detained, they were handcuffed?
MR. CARDIN: All right.
DETECTIVE MELNYK: The reason we take them out of the vehicle, Your Honor, is to prevent them from accessing any sort of weapons that could harm us. . . . They were, they were asked to step from the vehicle at which point we placed them in handcuffs.
MR. CARDIN: I see.
* * *
STATE: Why did you place them in handcuffs prior to the K-9 alerting for probable cause?
DETECTIVE MELNYK: We noticed, as we were approaching the vehicle, the driver specifically, as well as the passenger, they were moving, looks like they were moving things around there, reaching under the seat. The passenger immediately put his hands in his pocket. At that point, for the safety of myself and Detective Young, they were requested to exit the vehicle and we put them in handcuffs just to make sure they didn't have any weapons and detaining them. They were not free to leave. The, the reason for the handcuffs were solely based on the safety of everybody involved, based on the furtive movements that we observed inside the vehicle as we were approaching the vehicle.

         Detective Melnyk continued his testimony, recounting the differing stories given by Chase and the other man and the detectives' decision to request that a K-9 unit come to the location:

STATE: And starting with the individual who got out of his Lexus and into Mr. Chase's car, this Defendant's car, what, if anything, did he tell you about what was going on there?
DETECTIVE MELNYK: He advised that he was meeting Phil and that him and Phil were going to a hotel room to watch the Oriole game.
STATE: And did you speak to Mr. Chase?
STATE: And what did Mr. Chase advise?
* * *
DETECTIVE MELNYK: Mr. Chase advised that he was going to meet his cousin and attend the Maryland Live Casino.
* * *
STATE: Can you explain to the Court Mr. Chase's demeanor while you were speaking with him?
DETECTIVE MELNYK: He was, he was very irate with the police presence. He claimed that he had done nothing wrong and I explained to him our observations which caused us to ...

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