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Goodwin v. State

Court of Special Appeals of Maryland

December 21, 2017


         Circuit Court for Frederick County Case No. 10-K-16-058943

          Meredith, Graeff, Arthur, JJ.


          Graeff, J.

         Patrick Alan Goodwin, appellant, was convicted in the Circuit Court for Frederick County, pursuant to an agreed statement of facts, of one count of possession of a controlled dangerous substance. The court imposed a sentence of four years, all suspended, with three years of supervised probation.

         On appeal, appellant presents two questions for this Court's review, [1] which we have consolidated as follows:

Did the circuit court err in denying appellant's motion to suppress because the stop and frisk of his vehicle and his person were unconstitutional?

         For the reasons set forth below, we shall affirm the judgment of the circuit court.


         At approximately 10:00 p.m. on June 24, 2016, Officers Paul Malatesta and Kyle Jones, members of the Frederick City Police Department, were on assignment as part of the "street crimes unit, " which focuses on "high crime areas, drug activity and gang activity." They were conducting surveillance of the Windsor Gardens Apartments, an area well-known by law enforcement for the sale and use of drugs, as well as gang-related activity.

         The officers observed appellant parked in a vehicle outside the apartments. Another individual, later identified as Craig Walker, walked back and forth from the vehicle to one of the buildings in the complex multiple times. The officers did not observe any direct "hand-to-hand" exchange of drugs, but Officer Malatesta testified that Mr. Walker's actions gave them the impression that he was the "middleman" in brokering a drug deal. After Mr. Walker entered appellant's vehicle, and they left the complex, the officers followed the vehicle in their marked patrol car. They recognized Mr. Walker, who was seated in the front passenger seat, as someone on the department's outstanding warrant list. The officers confirmed with dispatch that Mr. Walker had an outstanding "contempt-of-court warrant for failing to appear for fingerprinting related to a criminal case, " and they decided to initiate a traffic stop to apprehend Mr. Walker.

         Both officers testified that appellant had not violated any traffic laws or committed any infractions warranting a traffic stop. Officer Malatesta testified that they had no justification for stopping the car other than to effectuate the arrest of Mr. Walker.

         After the police activated the patrol car's emergency lights, appellant proceeded to slow the car, but he did not immediately stop or pull the car over for about "3 to 400 yards." Once the car stopped, it then proceeded "to roll a little bit further, " giving the appearance, based on Officer Malatesta's experience, that appellant was "attempting to buy time." The street was lit by streetlight, and there was "not much traffic, " so appellant could have pulled the vehicle over safely.

         As appellant pulled the car over, both officers noticed him bend down near the floorboard toward the inside of the vehicle, completely disappearing from the officers' view for several seconds before coming back into view. Officer Jones testified that, based on his experience, "[g]enerally, you don't see someone on a routine stop duck out of view as if they're either retrieving something or concealing something."

         Officers Malatesta and Jones approached the vehicle, and they asked appellant to exit and stand near the rear of the vehicle. Additional officers arrived on the scene to assist and effectuate the arrest of Mr. Walker for the warrant.

         Based on appellant's furtive movements, the officers suspected that weapons could be in the vehicle. Officer Jones conducted a frisk of the "lunge-and-grab area" of the vehicle where appellant was seated, and the area toward which the officers saw him bend. He described the events as follows:

[Officer Jones]: Based on the movements of the driver, when Officer Malatesta and I made contact, Officer Malatesta asked the driver to step out of the vehicle, primarily for the concern that he was retrieving a weapon, and then while he was doing that, other officers arrived to deal with the passenger, Mr. Walker --
[The State]: Yes.
[Officer Jones]: -- then I conducted a Terry frisk of the actual vehicle in the reach-, lunge-and-grab area of the driver based on those movements.
[The State]: Is this happening kind of simultaneously, Officer Malatesta gets him out and you get right in to search the vehicle?
[Officer Jones]: Yeah. It's, it's all very, very quick.
[The State]: And you stated that you saw the [appellant] initially duck down towards the right of the car, to the floorboard. Can you please outline for the Court the exact area of the car that you frisked?
[Officer Jones]: The exact area was the seat, the driver's seat; the driver's door pocket; under the driver's seat; to the side of the driver's seat, on both sides; the cup holder/center area; and then under the floor mat, because that was as far down, as you can check.

         On cross-examination, defense counsel asked Officer Jones: "Now, you were looking under the floor mat? … And that's a flat piece of rubber?" Officer Jones replied: "It's either rubber or carpet, typically - . . . in a car, yes." Officer Jones also noted that people sometimes have "hides" in the floor, i.e., a hole in the floorboard of the vehicle used to hide firearms. He further stated that he looked under the floor mat for a gun or any weapon, including one that did not "result in a bulge [] visible to the eye."

         When Officer Jones lifted the vehicle's floor mat, he saw a single syringe, the size of one used to receive a shot.[3] There was residue on the syringe, which the officers believed was heroin. The police then placed appellant under arrest and conducted a search of the vehicle and appellant's person. From the vehicle, they recovered a spoon and straws, and from a wallet on appellant's person, they recovered two strips of Suboxone Film, which is a prescribed medicine used to treat opioid addiction.[4]

         Appellant filed a motion to suppress, arguing that the stop and frisk were warrantless and presumed to be illegal. Specifically, counsel argued that the frisk of appellant's car was improper.

         At the suppression hearing, Officers Malatesta and Jones testified regarding the events that occurred that evening, as discussed supra. When Officer Malatesta began to testify about the stop of the vehicle based on the warrant for Mr. Walker, defense counsel objected on the ground that counsel had "never seen a copy of the warrant." The court asked whether appellant's counsel specifically requested the document, to which counsel replied: "It's a general discovery demand. I think it's fairly standard to produce the warrant that's the basis for a stop. I think it's required under what is, Your Honor, I think it was Duggins v. State."[5] The court overruled the objection. The State did not produce a copy of the warrant at the suppression hearing, nor did appellant challenge the authenticity of the warrant.

         At the conclusion of the testimony, defense counsel argued that the warrantless stop, arrest, and search violated the Fourth Amendment. He asserted that there may have been justification for the stop, but that was questionable without the warrant. He argued that, once the situation with Mr. Walker was "resolved, " there was no reason for any interaction with appellant. Moreover, counsel asserted, the search of the vehicle was not a frisk, but rather, it was "literally picking up the floorboards to see if there's potentially hidden compartments that we have no reason to, to think exist." Counsel asked the court to suppress "each and every one of the things recovered - the needle that's originally recovered and then, also, the straw, spoon, [and] the Suboxone that were recovered after a more in-depth search."

         The State argued that the police saw appellant in a high crime area engaging in suspicious activity that, in light of their experience and training, indicated involvement in a drug transaction. The police officers followed the vehicle and decided to stop it to arrest the passenger, who had an open warrant. Appellant then engaged in evasive, furtive movements. The State argued that, under these circumstances, the police had reasonable suspicion to conduct a protective frisk of the area where appellant was reaching down.

         The circuit court ultimately denied appellant's motion to suppress. It noted that the police saw appellant at Windsor Gardens, a high-crime area, engaging in actions consistent with drug activity. The officers then saw Mr. Walker, who had an open warrant for a failure to be fingerprinted.[6] At that point, the police "knew they had an obligation to execute the warrant, " and they stopped the vehicle.

         The court then discussed appellant's furtive actions after the officers engaged the emergency lights on their vehicle. It stated that the officers had reason to question appellant regarding what transpired at Windsor Gardens. It noted: "Meantime, Mr. Walker was taken from the vehicle by other officers."

         Turning to the frisk that ensued, the court noted that "the biggest concern for these officers was when they saw [appellant] do that reaching down to his right." The court continued:

What they saw that did cause them difficulty was when he leaned over and out of sight to his right, and certainly, we all know from whatever vehicle, some have consoles, some don't, but there's plenty of room to hide a weapon or at least move it out of sight, under a seat, next to a seat, in the console, on the floorboards, whatever. That gave them sufficient reason to be concerned as to what, what might be there given that there had been - now, again, given that you put that together with the fact ...

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