Leahy, Alpert, Paul E. (Senior Judge, Specially Assigned),
Wheeler, appellant, was convicted by a jury sitting in the
Circuit Court for Baltimore City of conspiracy to distribute
heroin and distributing heroin. Appellant asks a novel question
on appeal: Did the trial court err in the admission of drug
evidence because the State failed to establish a proper chain
of custody when it failed to produce the packaging/submitting
officer at trial? For the reasons that follow, we shall
facts of this case are relatively straightforward. Around
noon on September 21, 2015, an undercover narcotics team with
the Baltimore City Police Department operated a buy/walk
operation in the 5100 block of Park Heights Avenue, a mix of
residential and commercial properties. Detective Ivan Bell
testified that, as the undercover officer, he walked into the
block and was approached by appellant, who was riding a
bicycle and advertising "space jam, " which was
described as the name of heroin sold in the area. When
Detective Bell indicated his desire to purchase some heroin,
appellant took him behind the store fronts where he
introduced him to two individuals from whom the detective
purchased a total of three baggies of heroin. From the first
individual the detective purchased heroin packaged in two
small orange Ziploc baggies; from the second individual the
detective purchased heroin packaged in a clear Ziploc baggie
with blue writing on it. The detective then left the area.
than an hour after the sale, Detective Bell returned to the
police station where he identified appellant through a
photograph database as the person who introduced him to the
sellers, and he wrote up his report, writing the
"centralized complaint" number 6150909547 on all
relevant documents. A State chemist, who was qualified as an
expert in the chemical analysis and identification of heroin,
testified that she received a package with the same complaint
number from the evidence control unit (ECU). She analyzed the
substances found in the three baggies inside the package and
determined that the substance was heroin. Over objection, the
drugs and chemist report were admitted into evidence. We
shall provide additional facts as necessary below.
argues on appeal that the State failed to establish a proper
chain of custody of the suspected drugs because the State
failed to produce the packaging/submitting officer as a
witness. Without the packaging/submitting officer, appellant
argues the State failed to "guarantee the integrity of
the physical evidence, " and therefore, the trial court
erred in admitting the drug evidence and chemist report. The
State responds that the trial court properly exercised its
discretion in admitting the drug evidence and chemist report
because the State presented sufficient evidence that there
was a reasonable probability that no tampering occurred. We
agree with the State.
answer the argument raised, appellant directs our attention
to §§ 10-1001, 10-1002, and 10-1003 of the Md. Code
Ann., Cts. & Jud. Proc II. Those sections are part of a
statutory scheme allowing the State, under certain
circumstances, to use procedural shortcuts during a criminal
trial to establish a chain of custody for controlled
dangerous substances. Specifically, § 10-1001 allows the
State to introduce a chemist report without the chemist
because the report is considered prima facie evidence that
the evidence submitted to the chemist was properly tested.
Thompson v. State, 80 Md.App. 676, 679-81 (1989).
Section 10-1002 defines a chain of custody as limited to
three persons -- the seizing officer, the packaging officer,
and the chemist who analyzed the substance --thereby
eliminating from the chain of custody those only peripherally
involved in the handling of the suspected narcotics.
Id. at 681. Section 10-1003, among other things,
provides that the State may not take advantage of the above
two shortcuts when the defendant, at least five days before
trial, files a written demand that the State produce at trial
all the persons in the chain of custody. Id.
Parker v. State, 72 Md.App. 543 (1987), cert.
dismissed, 312 Md. 657 (1988) and Gillis v.
State, 53 Md.App. 691, cert. denied, 296 Md.
111 (1983), we interpreted §10-1003 rigidly. In
Parker, we reversed where the State produced at
trial only the arresting officer and the chemist but did not
produce the lab technician, and in Gillis we
reversed where the State produced at trial only the seizing
officer and chemist but did not produce the other three or
four persons who had physical custody of the evidence.
Thompson, however, we rejected the rigidity with
which we had previously interpreted §10-1003,
recognizing that there are situations where it is not
possible or practical for the State to produce a witness
required under §10-1003. In Thompson, Thompson
had been charged with possession of cocaine and related
offenses. At trial, the State produced the
packaging/submitting officer and chemist but did not produce
the seizing officer, who had died before trial. Thompson
appealed, and we held that reversal was unwarranted. In
reaching that conclusion, we thoroughly reviewed the
legislative history and purpose of the above three sections,
It seems clear that the legislative intent in adopting §
10-1001 was to accelerate the trial of cases where there is
no allegation that the evidence has been either purposefully
adulterated or mistakenly substituted, by dispensing with the
requirement that the chemist appear in court. His report is
deemed acceptable and reliable.
Sec. 10-1002 has the same purpose in expediting the trial of
cases by eliminating from the chain of custody those persons
peripherally or routinely involved in the handling or
transportation of the evidence. Such individuals are required
to attest that the described property was delivered in the
same condition as received, but they need not appear as
witnesses in court. The chain, therefore, has three links:
the seizing officer, the packaging officer, and the chemist.
Sec. 10-1003 contains no predicate for triggering compliance
with its mandate. A particular defendant may invoke his
legislative command because of a firm belief that he can
successfully refute or cast doubt upon the allegations made,
or he can demand that the witnesses appear for no other
reason than to drag out the trial and inconvenience everyone
involved. The latter scenario, we agree, was not intended by
the Legislature's effort to protect a defendant's
right of confrontation in drug cases, but abuse of the
process unquestionably remains.
Whether the dictates of § 10-1003 may spawn
frivolous demands is not, however, the focus of this appeal.
Obviously, the Legislature had a beneficial purpose in
enacting the legislation. That purpose was to assure the
reliability of evidence offered in a criminal case. It was
not, as appellant asserts, a technical rule etched in stone
requiring either the production of three live witnesses or
forfeiture of the evidence upon which the prosecution is
We interpret the rule to mean that where the witnesses
capable of submitting to direct and cross-examination can be
produced the State has the duty to present them in court.
Pellucidly, the State cannot produce an adjudicated lunatic,
a comatose patient or, as here, one who is deceased. Sec.
10-1003 was not intended to be an exclusionary rule. It must
be read in conjunction with §§ 10-1001 and 10-1002,
and the plain meaning of all three sections is to simplify
the production of evidence subject to three qualifications
set forth in § 10-1003. Were we to accept
appellant's interpretation, the message to drug dealers
is clear-kill the seizing officer, or the ...