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Simms v. State

Court of Special Appeals of Maryland

March 3, 2017

LEONARD LEE SIMMS
v.
STATE OF MARYLAND

          Kehoe, Nazarian, Eyler, James R. (Senior Judge, Specially Assigned) JJ.

          OPINION

          Nazarian, J.

         This seemingly straightforward drug case has morphed into a criminal procedure exam question. Leonard Lee Simms was charged in the Circuit Court for Anne Arundel County with theft of services from a hotel and with possession with intent to distribute heroin, possession of heroin, possession with intent to distribute ethylone, [1] possession of ethylone, possession of cocaine, and conspiracy to distribute heroin (this last charge was later amended to conspiracy to distribute methylenedioxymethamphetamine ("MDMA")). After an unsuccessful suppression hearing, Mr. Simms proceeded to trial on an agreed statement of facts on one count of conspiracy to distribute MDMA. The court found Mr. Simms guilty on that one count and the State entered a nolle prosequi ("nol pros") on the remainder.

         Mr. Simms appealed, challenging the court's decision not to suppress the evidence collected from him and his colleague and arguing that the evidence was insufficient as a matter of law to convict him. While the appeal was pending, the State entered a new nol pros on the count for which Mr. Simms had been convicted, i.e., conspiracy to distribute MDMA. Mr. Simms was released from custody, and the State filed a Motion to Dismiss the appeal on the grounds that the nol pros rendered it moot. On the merits, the State argues that Mr. Simms lacks standing to challenge the search of his colleague's bag, which contained heroin and cocaine, and that the trial court correctly denied the motion to suppress. And although the State agrees with Mr. Simms that the evidence was insufficient to sustain the conviction for conspiracy to distribute MDMA, it argues that the conviction should simply be vacated. We hold that the appeal is not moot and that the insufficiency of the evidence supporting Mr. Simms's conviction for conspiracy to distribute MDMA requires that we reverse it.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On February 9, 2015, around 4:00 PM, Corporal Chris Rajcsok of the Anne Arundel County Police Department responded to a call regarding a theft of services from the Sheraton Hotel in Annapolis. When he arrived, he met with two hotel employees who told him that guests had complained about people going in and out of one of the rooms. After investigating, the employees discovered that the room was one out of which guests had been ejected a few days earlier. The hotel employees went upstairs and saw four African-American males leaving the room and fleeing the hotel toward The Mall in Annapolis. The employees identified the men as the same individuals they had ejected from the hotel previously, and they gave the Corporal descriptions of two of the suspects: both were African-American men, one wore a black hoodie with gray accents, and the other was shorter and had face tattoos.

         Corporal Rajcsok drove to the mall, parked, and went into the food court, where he saw two African-American men who fit the descriptions of the suspects. When the Corporal approached the two men, they were seated facing each other at two small adjoining tables, eating food from Chick-fil-A. Corporal Rajcsok asked to see identification. One of the men, Tahzay Brown, gave the Corporal his driver's license; the other, later identified as Mr. Simms, explained that he did not have ID. Mr. Simms continued to eat and spoke quietly in response to the Corporal's questions.

         While the Corporal was attempting to get Mr. Simms's information, Mr. Brown ran out of the mall. The Corporal gave chase and eventually detained and handcuffed Mr. Brown just outside. Backup officers arrived shortly thereafter, and Corporal Rajcsok went back inside to see if Mr. Simms was still there.

         In fact, Mr. Simms was seated exactly where he had been when the Corporal left, still eating. The Corporal placed Mr. Simms in handcuffs and brought him outside, where Mr. Brown was being detained and guarded. He then went back to the table where the two men had been and searched the area. On the table, in front of the chair where Mr. Simms had been sitting, he found a Chick-fil-A bag that had been folded flat, with waffle fries on top. In the middle of the other table where Mr. Brown had been sitting, he found another Chick-fil-A bag, that one standing up with the waffle fries inside. He searched both bags and found no contraband in the first, but found in the second a clear plastic bag that held eleven smaller bags containing a brown powder substance that resembled heroin and another plastic bag that contained a white powder (later determined to be cocaine).

         After searching the area, Corporal Rajcsok asked several people in the vicinity if they had seen Mr. Simms go anywhere or put anything anywhere, and was told that Mr. Simms had shoved his hands down his pants. The Corporal recovered the evidence and went outside to where Mr. Simms and Mr. Brown were being detained. By then, an employee from the hotel had arrived and identified both men as the ones who had previously been kicked out of the hotel room and who had fled the room that day.

         Officers took Mr. Simms to the Southern District station for processing. Because Mr. Simms was seen putting his hands down his pants, Corporal Rajcsok conducted a strip search and recovered several bags from Mr. Simms's inner gluteal cleft: one clear bag that contained seven smaller plastic bags holding an opaque off-white rock-like substance (later identified as ethylone); one small clear bag containing white powder (later found to be innocuous); and one small bag containing green plant material (believed to be marijuana, but never tested). The State charged Mr. Simms with theft, possession with intent to distribute heroin, possession of heroin, possession with intent to distribute ethylone, possession of ethylone, possession of cocaine, and conspiracy to distribute heroin.

         Mr. Simms filed a motion to suppress all of the drug evidence, and his motion was heard and denied on May 27, 2015. On November 5, 2015, the State amended the drug listed in count seven of the indictment, conspiracy to distribute a narcotic, from heroin to MDMA. Mr. Simms went to trial on an agreed statement of facts on one count of conspiracy to distribute MDMA, and at the conclusion of the trial the court found Mr. Simms guilty. On November 9, 2015, the court imposed the agreed-upon sentence of four years in prison, and the State then entered a nol pros for the remaining charges.

         Mr. Simms filed a timely notice of appeal and filed his brief in this Court. While this appeal was pending, though, the State entered a nol pros as to the one count for which Mr. Simms had been convicted, and Mr. Simms was released from prison. The State filed a Motion to Dismiss the appeal that Mr. Simms opposed in his Reply Brief.

         II. ...


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