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Moats v. State

Court of Special Appeals of Maryland

October 25, 2016

TIMOTHY ALAN MOATS
v.
STATE OF MARYLAND

          Krauser, C.J., Berger, Leahy, JJ.

          OPINION

          BERGER, J.

         On July 23, 2015, Timothy Alan Moats ("Moats"), appellant, was convicted in the Circuit Court for Garrett County of one count of possession of child pornography based on an agreed statement of facts. Moats was subsequently sentenced to serve eighteen months of incarceration with all but the time he had already served suspended. Moats was placed on supervised probation for two years and was required to register as a sexual offender. In his timely filed appeal, Moats raises two questions for our consideration, which we have consolidated and restated as follows:[1]

Did the circuit court err in denying appellant's pre-trial motion to suppress evidence?

         Discerning no error or abuse of discretion, we shall affirm the judgment of the circuit court.

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         One night in early January of 2015, Moats and three other teenagers were riding around Garrett County in Moats's car. During the drive, Moats, then age eighteen, provided marijuana and suboxone, an addictive prescription medication used to treat opioid addiction, to the other teenagers. Moats, along with the three other teenagers, went to a party where one of them, A.D.C., then age seventeen, was sexually assaulted.

         About two-weeks later, A.D.C. reported the sexual assault to the police. In the course of investigating the sexual assault, Sergeant Robert A. Zimmerman of the Garrett County Sheriff's Office interviewed Moats. Moats admitted that he distributed marijuana and suboxone to the other teenagers who were riding in his car on the relevant night in January of 2015, but denied any involvement in the sexual assault of A.D.C. Moats's admissions were corroborated by the statements the other teenagers made to the police.

         On January 23, 2015, the police sought and obtained a warrant for Moats's arrest on charges related to his distribution of drugs. Moats was arrested and transported to the Garrett County Jail. The arresting officer conducted a search of Moats's person incident to his arrest and found his cellular phone. After it was seized, the phone was stored in the Sheriff's Office. On January 24, 2015, Moats was released from the detention center. The Sheriff's Office retained his cell phone, however, believing that it might contain evidence related to Moats's distribution of drugs and the sexual assault of A.D.C.

         On January 26, 2015, Sergeant Zimmerman applied for a warrant to search Moats's phone for evidence related to the drug offenses and the sexual assault of A.D.C. The affidavit in support of the application provided, in pertinent part:

On January 21, 2015 your Affiant responded to Garrett Memorial Hospital and met with complainant [A.D.C.], 17 years of age. [A.D.C.] stated approximately 2 weeks ago she was in a vehicle with Timothy "Timmy" Moats, [T.B.], and a white male only known as "[C.]." The four of them drove around the Oakland, Mt Lake Park and Pleasant Valley areas of Garrett County. While out riding around, they stopped and Timmy provided each of them with suboxone. Timmy crushed the suboxone and snorted it with a dollar bill. He then passed it around and provided it to all the individuals in the vehicle, all of them except Timmy are under the age of 18. She then stated they ended up at a party where she was sexually assaulted. She cannot remember where the party was at and does not know who sexually assaulted her. She said she was "high" from the drugs used, that were provided to her by Timmy and mentioned that at some point she used heroin as well.
On January 23, 2015, your Affiant interviewed Timothy Moats. Timothy admitted that he was with all of the above listed individuals a few weeks ago and identified [C.] as [C.O.]. He further stated that they were all out riding around and he did in fact bring with him suboxone and marijuana. He said that he crushed the suboxone on a CD case using a lighter and snorted it with a dollar bill. He then provided the suboxone to all the individuals in the vehicle. Furthermore, he admitted to smoking marijuana, bringing it with him and providing it to all the individuals in the vehicle. Timothy denied any knowledge and/or involvement with the sexual assault.
Your Affiant then interviewed [C.O.] and [T.B.]. Both provided the same information as listed above regarding the use and distribution of CDS. They also denied any involvement with the sexual assault, only stating that when [A.D.C.] got into the vehicle with them she said that she was sexually assaulted the night before at a party.
Your Affiant then spoke with [R.W.]. [A.D.C.] stated she had told [R.] about the sexual assault. [R.] stated that [A.D.C.] told him she was with the above listed individuals, and [T.] and Timmy got her "high" and shot her up with heroin. He stated that she was later sexually assaulted, and he believes that [T.] and/or Timmy have knowledge and/or are involved. He stated that he saw marks and injuries on [A.D.C.] after the incident, which was not reported at the time.
Your Affiant knows through his training and experience as a Criminal Investigator that individuals who participate in such crimes communicate via cellular telephones, via text messages, calls, e-mails etc.
Your Affiant avers, based on the information received from the aforementioned sources, your Affiant's observations, training, knowledge and expertise as a member of the Garrett County Sheriff's Office, Criminal Investigation Division, that there is probable cause to believe and does believe, that evidence of violations of the laws relating to Sexual Offense and related crimes, as well as the Possession and Distribution of controlled Dangerous Substances as herein before cited, is contained in and upon the aforementioned cellular telephone.

         A district court judge approved the application and issued the search warrant authorizing the police to search the electronic data contained in Moats's cellular phone. In the course of the search, the officers discovered sexually explicit photos and a video of a young woman that had been saved on the cellular phone. The officers later identified the young woman in the photos and video as Moats's then fifteen-year-old girlfriend.

         On March 10, 2015, Moats was charged with three counts related to his possession of child pornography and one count of second degree assault. Prior to trial, defense counsel filed a motion to suppress the photos and videos recovered from Moats's cellular phone, arguing, in part, that the search warrant was not supported by sufficient facts to establish probable cause. Following a hearing on June 18, 2015, the trial court denied the defense motion to suppress, reasoning:

The purpose of this hearing is to determine whether this evidence is admissible in court and the standard to be used at this hearing is to look at all the facts and circumstances in the light most favorable to the State. The burden is not as high as ...

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