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Brown v. State

Court of Special Appeals of Maryland

September 27, 2017


         Circuit Court for Montgomery County REPORTED Case No. 128270

          Nazarian, Friedman, Harrell, Glenn T., Jr. (Senior Judge, Specially JJ.


          NAZARIAN, J.

         While breaking into a house in Silver Spring, Ibrahim Brown injured his hand and left a smudge of blood on the inside of a basement window. The police investigating the case sent a sample of the blood for comparison against the FBI's DNA database. Mr. Brown's blood sample matched two records of Mr. Brown's DNA from samples collected in Washington, D.C. The D.C. samples were collected legally under District law, but their collection would not have complied with the Maryland DNA Collection Act (the "Act") if collected here.

         Mr. Brown was tried in a bench trial in the Circuit Court for Montgomery County and convicted of first-degree burglary and theft. He argues on appeal that DNA samples that would be illegal if collected in Maryland should be excluded under the Act, even if they were collected legally in another jurisdiction. He contends as well that the evidence was insufficient to support his convictions. We disagree with both sets of arguments and affirm.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Chris Holleyman returned to his home in Silver Spring on August 16, 2014 to discover that his home had been burgled. He noticed that his basement window had been opened and that there was a smudge of blood on the inside of the window. He testified at trial that approximately $12, 000 of belongings had been stolen, including a bicycle he kept in the basement. He testified as well that the deadbolt on the exterior door of the basement, which he always left in the locked position, was unlocked when he returned home that evening.

         Two police officers came to the house in response to Mr. Holleyman's 911 call. They took a sample of the blood smudged on the inside of the opened basement window. They cross-checked the sample against the FBI's DNA database, known as "CODIS" (the Combined DNA Index System). CODIS came back with two matches, both of which pointed to Mr. Brown. Both of the CODIS samples the window smudge matched had been collected in the District of Columbia: one for a prior conviction for misdemeanor sexual assault, the other from a separate investigation of first-degree sexual assault for which no charges were filed. Based on the match between the window smudge and the CODIS hits, the State obtained a warrant to take a buccal swab from Mr. Brown. The DNA from the swab matched the blood smudged on the window.

         On October 22, 2015, the State indicted Mr. Brown on charges of first-degree burglary and theft between $1, 000 and $10, 000. On April 20, 2016, Mr. Brown filed a motion in limine to exclude all DNA evidence at trial. On May 13, 2016, the circuit court heard Mr. Brown's motion. He argued that because neither of the biologic samples underlying the CODIS DNA matches would have been eligible for collection and use under the Act had the alleged crimes occurred in Maryland, they could not form probable cause to take the buccal swab. The circuit court denied Mr. Brown's motion on May 19, 2016.

         The circuit court conducted a bench trial on May 31 and June 1, 2016. Mr. Brown testified on his own behalf that he went to the Silver Spring house with an acquaintance after agreeing to "check [the house] out" in exchange for marijuana. He testified that he opened the basement window, got his fingers caught between the inside and outside windows (which caused him to bleed onto the window), but managed to pry his hand free and close the window. He denied entering the house or stealing property. He claimed to have implored his partner to leave with him instead of entering the house, and then left.

         The circuit court announced its findings and verdict from the bench on June 9, 2016. The court found the prosecution's witnesses (the two officers who responded to Holleyman's initial call, one of whom had specialized forensic training) a police fingerprint examiner, the detective assigned to the case, and two analysts from the DNA lab that analyzed Mr. Brown's DNA swabs) to be "very credible" and Mr. Brown to be "substantially less credible." The court stated that it did not believe Mr. Brown's testimony that he did not enter the home and was only there to "check out" the home. The court also found that Mr. Brown had entered the house with an intent to steal:

[T]he defendant was inside the home in part at least for the upper part of his body to the point where he could have grabbed the . . . wall inside. I am persuaded beyond a reasonable doubt that by having made the arrangement that he did with [his accomplice], by having looked inside the home, by having seen a bicycle and because of all of the evidence generally that h[is] inten[t], was in fact to ste[a]l.

         The trial court's findings included two comments about Mr. Brown seeing a bicycle in the house from outside of the breached window, and one comment about Mr. Brown testifying about seeing the bicycle from outside of the house. But although Mr. Brown did say at one point that he "took a couple of looks [into the window] to see if anybody was in there and it was real dark, " at no point during the trial did he actually testify to having seen a bicycle.

         Before announcing the verdict, the court expressed doubt that Mr. Brown was the person who actually removed the stolen items from the house. But the court explained that even if he didn't physically remove the items from the house, he still was liable as an accomplice:

[T]he defense claimed that the defendant closed the window. . . .
We went back and listened very carefully to the testimony. That was not the case from what I could tell. My understanding is what happened outside on the street is what I've already said. That [Mr. Brown] told [his accomplice] that the window was open.
. . . I don't think the defendant did enough to eliminate himself from the criminal venture to have avoided ...

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