Arthur, Reed, Beachley, JJ.
Santos, appellant, presents one question for our review:
whether the Circuit Court for Baltimore County erred in
denying appellant's motion to suppress evidence seized as
a result of an illegal search. Appellant entered conditional
guilty pleas to distributing heroin and possession with
intent to distribute cocaine. We find no error and affirm.
AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
September 30, 2014, at approximately 12:45 p.m., Detective
Dominic Bridges and Sergeant George Rakowski were patrolling
in an unmarked car near the Eastpoint Mall in Dundalk. Both
officers were assigned to the narcotics section of the
Baltimore County Police Department. While traveling on an
access road around the mall, the officers observed a black
car parked outside a McDonald's restaurant. Detective
Bridges noticed the car because, in his experience,
"drug transactions and things like that are occurring at
places, public places where you can blend in." He also
noted that the vehicle was parked away from the restaurant
itself, though spaces were available closer to the
McDonald's. Sergeant Rakowski noted that the officers
knew the parking lot to be "highly concentrated for
Bridges saw appellant in the driver's seat and a white
female, later identified as Amanda Fitch, in the
passenger's seat. He noticed that they were "looking
around" and believed they were checking for the presence
of police. The officers observed Ms. Fitch exit the car,
enter the McDonald's restaurant, and sit at a table with
a white male. Both officers noted that she was wearing pajama
pants. Appellant then drove out of the parking lot, passing
the officers. The officers noticed that appellant was not
wearing a seat belt and was "manipulating" his cell
phone. Detective Bridges believed that everything he had
observed to that point was consistent with a drug
transaction. He told Sergeant Rakowski that he intended to
stop the vehicle. The officers followed appellant and
conducted a traffic stop in a parking lot in front of a Bank
of America branch on the other side of the mall.
Bridges approached the driver's side of appellant's
car while Sergeant Rakowski went to the passenger's side.
Detective Bridges identified himself as an undercover
detective, explained the reasons for the stop, and asked for
appellant's license and registration. Both officers
observed that appellant was unusually nervous and
"sweating profusely" even though it was "not a
hot day." Detective Bridges noted that appellant was
trembling; he instructed appellant to place the vehicle in
park and appellant complied. Sergeant Rakowski asked
appellant where he was coming from. Appellant replied that he
had just come from the mall. Sergeant Rakowski then asked
appellant if he had stopped anywhere or met with anyone.
Appellant replied that he had not met anyone and was headed
home. Because he had just seen appellant at the
McDonald's with Ms. Fitch, Detective Bridges concluded
that appellant was lying. Detective Bridges asked appellant
to exit and move to the rear of the car.
Herr and Johnson arrived in a second vehicle within two to
three minutes after the initial stop. While Detective Bridges
conducted a record and registration check, Sergeant Rakowski
and Detective Johnson went back to the McDonald's to try
to find Ms. Fitch. Appellant's record check revealed two
possible warrants. Detective Bridges asked the precinct desk
to confirm whether the warrants were active.
after arriving at the McDonald's, which was "right
around the corner" from the location of the traffic
stop, Sergeant Rakowski went inside to look for Ms. Fitch.
Unable to find her in the dining area, Sergeant Rakowski
asked the manager to check the women's bathroom for a
female matching Ms. Fitch's description. The manager
obliged and told Sergeant Rakowski that a woman matching the
description was in the bathroom. After she exited the
bathroom, Sergeant Rakowski asked Ms. Fitch about "the
stuff you just got from the guy in the car, the black car at
the top of the hill." Ms. Fitch replied that she had
"already used it." She explained that appellant had
retrieved the heroin from behind the passenger's seat of
the car. Sergeant Rakowski then radioed Detective Herr at the
scene of the traffic stop and informed him that Ms. Fitch had
admitted to buying heroin from appellant. Sergeant Rakowski
estimated he made the radio report six minutes after leaving
the traffic stop. According to Detective Bridges, he and
Detective Herr received Sergeant Rakowski's call after
appellant's license and registration had been verified,
but before learning the status of appellant's warrants.
on the information he received from Sergeant Rakowski,
Detective Bridges arrested appellant and searched his car.
Detective Bridges found a modified WD-40 can containing
suspected illegal drugs behind the passenger's seat. A
laboratory analysis confirmed that the substances were heroin
hearing on appellant's motion to suppress evidence,
appellant's counsel attempted to pinpoint the timing and
sequence of the events. Detective Bridges testified that the
stop occurred at 12:47 p.m. and that the warrants check came
back as negative at 1:00 p.m. This testimony was based on
audio recordings between the detective and police dispatch.
Sergeant Rakowski testified similarly. Appellant's
counsel then showed both officers the written dispatch record
indicating that unit "N-120"-Sergeant Rakowski- was
"in route" to an unspecified destination at 1:03
p.m. Neither officer could initially determine whether
"in route" meant that Sergeant Rakowski was
traveling to or from the McDonald's. Sergeant Rakowski
ultimately concluded, based on the audio-record of
communications, that he was at the McDonald's when he
made a radio request for a marked patrol car. Sergeant
Rakowski made that call at 1:01 or 1:02 p.m., fourteen to
fifteen minutes after the initial traffic stop at 12:47 p.m.
also testified at the suppression hearing. He denied using
his phone while driving, but acknowledged the
"possibility" of not wearing his seat belt.
on the testimony and evidence, the circuit court denied the
motion to suppress, specifically finding the testimony of
both Detective Bridges and Sergeant Rakowski credible. The
trial court also made the following findings of facts:
• The officers noticed appellant's car parked on the
"upper lot" away from the McDonald's.
• Both appellant and his female passenger (Ms. Fitch)
were "looking around."
• The female passenger exited the vehicle and went into
the McDonald's where she "sat with a man."
• As appellant passed the officers, they noticed that
appellant was not wearing a seat belt and was
"manipulating his phone."
• Appellant was "nervous beyond what one would
normally expect" when stopped by the officers.
• Appellant was "sweating profusely."
• When asked where he had been, appellant stated that he
had been at the mall. Appellant denied having met with anyone
"when, in fact, he had met with the red haired pajama
bottom lady" (Ms. Fitch). Appellant provided those
answers before exiting the car.
• Sergeant Rakowski left the scene of the traffic stop
to go to the McDonald's before dispatch provided the
• Approximately thirteen minutes elapsed between the
traffic stop at 12:47 p.m. and the report at 1:00 p.m.
verifying that appellant did not have any active warrants.
• Sergeant Rakowski was at the McDonald's when he
requested a patrol car.
trial court concluded that the traffic stop was a valid
Whren stop, the questions posed to appellant by
the officers were "routine, " and that the officers
had "reasonable suspicion" to detain appellant
based on his answers and the officers' other
observations. The trial court therefore denied the motion to
order to preserve his right to appeal, appellant entered a
conditional guilty plea to charges of distributing heroin and
possession of cocaine with intent to distribute. The court
accepted the plea and sentenced appellant to ten years
without the possibility of parole on the distribution charge
and fifteen years consecutive, but suspended, on the
possession with intent charge. Appellant timely noted this
reviewing the disposition of a motion to suppress evidence
alleged to have been seized in contravention of the Fourth
Amendment . . . we view the evidence adduced at the
suppression hearing, and the inferences fairly deducible
therefrom, in the light most favorable to the party that
prevailed on the motion." Crosby v. State, 408
Md. 490, 504 (2009). The one qualification to this general
rule is that "[t]he actual findings of fact made by the
hearing judge, unless clearly erroneous, 'trump' the
version most favorable to the prevailing party to the extent
to which they might be in conflict." Charity v.
State, 132 Md.App. 598, 606 (2000). "Nevertheless,
in resolving the ultimate question of whether the detention
and attendant search of an individual's person or
property violates the Fourth Amendment, we make our own
independent constitutional appraisal by reviewing the law and
applying it to the facts of the case." Crosby,
408 Md. at 505 (internal quotation marks omitted). Here, the
trial court made several specific findings of fact in denying