Argued: December 1, 2017
Circuit Court for Montgomery County Case No. 126667C
Barbera, C.J., Greene, Adkins, McDonald, Watts, Hotten,
issued a writ of certiorari in this case to consider whether
the police had probable cause to search the trunk of a car
owned and driven by Ms. Casey O. Johnson, Respondent, based
in part on drug evidence found on the person of her
front-seat passenger. We hold, based on the facts found at
the suppression hearing viewed in their totality, that there
was probable cause to conduct the search. We therefore
reverse the judgment of the Court of Special Appeals, which
came to the opposite conclusion.
The Suppression Hearing
and Anthony Haqq, her front-seat passenger, were charged with
conspiracy to possess marijuana with intent to distribute and
possession with intent to distribute. Both filed motions to
suppress the evidence found by the police during an extended
detention that had begun as a traffic stop. A joint hearing
was conducted before the Circuit Court for Montgomery County
on the co-defendants' respective motions to suppress. The
following facts, either undisputed or expressly found by the
suppression court, were drawn from witness testimony and the
audio and video feed from a police vehicle's dashboard
camera-colloquially referred to as a
"dashcam"-which was played and admitted into
evidence at the hearing. Montgomery County Police Officers
Robert Sheehan and Michael Mancuso testified for the State,
and Mr. Haqq testified for the defense. Respondent did not
testify. The suppression court accepted the State's
version of the events, as described by the two officers and
supported by the dashcam recording.
time of the stop, Officer Sheehan was assigned to the
Germantown District Community Action Team ("Community
Action Team"), a unit assigned to high-crime areas for
crime suppression. He had served as a police officer for
twelve years, including one year on the Special
Investigations Criminal Street Gang Unit and one year on the
Special Investigations Narcotics Enforcement Team. Officer
Sheehan had taken several classes concentrating on drug
interdiction, completing 417 hours of training on the
Sheehan testified that one evening in January 2015 he was
patrolling a high-crime area of Germantown, Maryland. As he
approached a red traffic light, Officer Sheehan pulled
directly behind what later was determined to be a four-door
Mitsubishi sedan owned and driven on that evening by
Respondent. Officer Sheehan noticed that the car had a
defective brake light. He activated his vehicle's
emergency equipment, which triggered the video and audio
recording via his vehicle's dashcam. The recording
captured much of what ensued.
Sheehan testified that he turned on the vehicle's
spotlight and shined it through the rear window of
Respondent's car. When the traffic light turned to green,
Respondent drove through the intersection. Officer Sheehan
followed and was able to see Respondent and a front-seat
passenger, later identified as Mr. Haqq, through the rear
window. Officer Sheehan was unable to discern at that time
the presence of a third occupant of the car, Kevin Helms, who
was seated in the backseat.
continued to drive for twenty-five seconds before turning
into a commercial parking lot, where she stopped. As he
followed, Officer Sheehan could see with the aid of the
spotlight that Respondent and Mr. Haqq were making
"furtive movements." Officer Sheehan saw
Respondent's left hand on the steering wheel as she
reached over the center console with her right arm,
"reaching in that area and reaching over towards Mr.
Haqq's seat." Officer Sheehan testified that
"[i]t looked like she may have been manipulating
something in the center console area." He observed Mr.
Haqq moving in his seat at the same time. On three or four
occasions, Mr. Haqq "occasionally would lift his rear
end up off the seat and then bring it back down, as if he was
either trying to reach underneath where he was sitting, or
the seat or the floorboard." Based on the above,
together with his training and experience, Officer
Sheehan's first thought was that Mr. Haqq and Respondent
may be trying to conceal drugs or weapons.
pulled to a stop in a commercial parking lot. Officer Sheehan
parked his vehicle behind Respondent's car and approached
the driver's side window on foot. As he approached, he
shined his flashlight into the car and observed Mr. Haqq
leaning over his legs with his hands between them, but he
could not see what Mr. Haqq was doing with his hands. When
Officer Sheehan identified himself by name, Mr. Haqq
"immediately jumped back in his seat . . . and pulled
his shirt down over his crotch area." Respondent
similarly "bounce[d] back like she was in the center
console area" and said that she was "looking for
[her] registration right now."
appeared "extremely nervous" despite the routine
nature of the stop: her voice was shaking; her hands were
trembling; and "the carotid pulse on her neck [was]
beating quickly." She fumbled with her wallet for her
license, flipping past it several times and having difficulty
grasping her license because her hands were trembling. Her
nervousness never subsided and was, in Officer Sheehan's
estimation, beyond the "normal baseline" level of
nervousness that he had observed over his twelve years of law
enforcement and "thousands of traffic stops."
Throughout, Mr. Haqq sat "like a statue, " staring
out the window with his sweatshirt "pulled down over his
crotch." He remained motionless in that position, even
when Respondent asked him to help her retrieve the
registration from the glove compartment.
Sheehan testified that, based on those observations, he
suspected that something "illegal" was "going
on." He returned to his patrol vehicle with
Respondent's license and registration and called in a
request for assistance from his fellow members of the
Community Action Team and a canine unit.
while continuing to observe Respondent's car, Officer
Sheehan "start[ed] processing the traffic stop." He
accessed an electronic ticketing system, "eTix, "
and began to input Respondent's information. As part of
his typical procedure during traffic stops, he also accessed
several systems to conduct a "warrant check" on
Respondent. While doing that, Officer Sheehan noticed that
Mr. Haqq was no longer sitting "statue-esque" but,
rather, was "moving back and forth, " "lifting
up off his seat and leaning back, " and appearing to
"reach around" the inside of the car.
Dos Santos arrived on the scene while Officer Sheehan was
processing Respondent's background checks. Officer
Sheehan informed Officer Dos Santos of his observations, and
it was agreed that they would await the arrival of a third
member of the Community Action Team before retrieving further
information from Respondent and the two passengers. Officer
Mancuso arrived shortly thereafter.
Sheehan informed Officer Mancuso of what he had discerned
from his observations of Respondent and Mr. Haqq. The three
officers then approached Respondent's car. Officer
Sheehan went to the driver's side window to speak with
Respondent, Officer Dos Santos went to the rear seat on the
driver's side of the car to speak with Mr. Helms, and
Officer Mancuso went to the front passenger side to speak
with Mr. Haqq.
Dos Santos and Mancuso obtained identifying information from
Messrs. Helms and Haqq as they remained seated in the car.
While questioning Mr. Helms, Officer Dos Santos noticed that
Mr. Helms was acting "kind of weird, "
"nervous, or just odd." Officer Mancuso asked Mr.
Haqq general questions, but Mr. Haqq "didn't seem
too eager to talk" and gave "one-word answers"
to some of the questions. During questioning, Mr. Haqq also
sat "extremely still in the passenger seat, staring
straight ahead through the windshield."
other officers were questioning Messrs. Haqq and Helms,
Officer Sheehan asked Respondent to step outside so he could
show her the defective brake light and "ask her some
qualifying questions." As he questioned her, Respondent
began each answer with "uh or um, " as if she was
"trying to think up an answer." When asked who the
passengers were, Respondent answered, "[m]y
friends" who lived in the area. Officer Sheehan asked
her how long she had known them, to which she responded,
"I don't know. You know, about a month?" When
asked from where they were coming, she answered only
"from right over here."
Sheehan then told Respondent that he had seen "a lot of
movement in the car" and asked, "What were you guys
doing?" Respondent replied, "Oh, nothing. I was
just, I mean, moving around, because I don't understand.
I was just (unintelligible), I wasn't doing
anything." Respondent denied that there were drugs or
weapons in the car. Officer Sheehan asked Respondent for her
consent to search the car, which she declined. He then asked
for consent to search her pockets, and she agreed. The search
conducted at that time did not reveal any contraband. Then or
shortly thereafter, Officer Dos Santos reported to Officer
Sheehan that he heard Respondent say-though it is unclear to
whom- that she was "picking up a friend" from a
store. The record does not reflect precisely when that
exchange occurred, but it appears from the dashcam audio that
it likely occurred soon after Officer Dos Santos began
questioning Mr. Helms and before Respondent stepped out of
Sheehan returned to his patrol car to check whether Messrs.
Haqq and Helms had outstanding warrants. As he had done in
running Respondent's warrant check, he ran Mr. Haqq's
and Mr. Helms's information through NCIC, E-Justice,
LInX, and Case Search. Officer Sheehan learned that both Mr.
Haqq and Mr. Helms had prior convictions of possession with
intent to distribute or distribution of a controlled
dangerous substance and that Mr. Haqq had prior convictions
of assault on law enforcement.
thereafter, Officer Kelly arrived with a canine. Officer
Sheehan, who was with Respondent, noticed that, upon the
arrival of the canine, "[Respondent] looked up" and
then "put her head down." Officer Sheehan
informed Respondent that the canine would conduct a scan of
her vehicle and asked if there was any reason it might
"hit" on her vehicle. She "wouldn't answer
[him] at first, " so Officer Sheehan asked a second
time, to which Respondent said, "No." Officer
Sheehan told Officer Kelly that, given Respondent's
reaction to the arrival of the canine unit and her and Mr.
Haqq's movements, he was "pretty sure" the dog
would "hit" on the car.
accordance with the police department's policy, Officer
Mancuso directed the occupants to step out of the vehicle to
allow the canine unit to conduct a vehicle scan. When Mr.
Haqq exited, he, without request, "immediately turned
around, " raised his hands, and spread his feet. Mr.
Haqq then consented to a search of his person. The search
revealed a small bag containing 13.14 grams of marijuana in
the waistband under Mr. Haqq's sweatshirt, and Officer
Mancuso smelled PCP on Mr. Haqq's breath. Officer Mancuso
then arrested Mr. Haqq.
record does not reflect why the officers did not conduct the
canine scan. Instead, they proceeded to search the passenger
compartment, finding nothing of evidentiary value. The
officers then conducted a search of the trunk, which revealed
a backpack containing a large shopping bag. Inside the bag
was a digital scale and a container holding a gallon-sized
bag with 104.72 grams of marijuana. Respondent was arrested,
and a further search of her person revealed $544.00 in U.S.
conclusion of testimony, the court heard argument from the
State and counsel for Mr. Haqq and Respondent. Respondent,
through her counsel, incorporated Mr. Haqq's arguments
and advanced two theories in support of suppression of the
marijuana found in the trunk of her vehicle. She argued first
that the police detained her without the requisite
justification of reasonable suspicion of criminal activity
beyond the point at which the concededly lawful traffic stop
should have concluded. Respondent further argued that, even
if the superseding stop was supported by reasonable suspicion
of criminal activity, the police did not possess probable
cause to search the trunk. Respondent argued that, at most,
the police could perform a search under Arizona v.
Gant, 556 U.S. 332 (2009), limited to the passenger
compartment where Mr. Haqq had been sitting and that there
was no "nexus between the drugs found on Mr. Haqq and
the trunk of the car[.]"
suppression court took the matter under advisement and, at a
subsequent hearing, made extensive findings of fact and ruled
on the pending suppression motions of Respondent and Mr.
Haqq. The court first addressed the total length of the
detention and concluded that in the initial few minutes of
the encounter before the traffic stop was concluded, the
officers had developed reasonable suspicion to continue
detaining Respondent and her passengers beyond the time that
would otherwise be attributable to a routine traffic stop.
court credited the experience, training, and testimony of the
officers. The court found that the traffic stop occurred in a
high-crime area, Respondent and Mr. Haqq made "furtive
movements" before and during the stop, and both
displayed an "unusual degree of nervousness" for a
routine traffic stop. The court further found that Mr. Haqq
displayed "exaggerated immobility" in Officer
Sheehan's presence, given his refusal to respond to
Respondent's request to retrieve her registration from
the glove compartment and the manner he held his sweatshirt
over his knees. The court determined that those circumstances
viewed in their totality gave the officers reasonable
suspicion that the individuals in the vehicle were involved
in criminal activity, permitting the continued detention.
court further ruled, in light of the totality of the
circumstances, that by the time the officers searched the
trunk of Respondent's vehicle they had amassed probable
cause, under Carroll v. United States, 267 U.S. 132
(1925), to believe the trunk contained evidence of
drug-related activity. The court recounted the recovery of
marijuana from Mr. Haqq, the "strong odor of PCP on his
breath, " the "furtive behavior" of both
Respondent and Mr. Haqq, the location of the stop in a
high-crime area, and the evasive answers and extreme
nervousness of Respondent and Mr. Haqq. The court also
concluded that it was "not unreasonable" for the
officers to believe that "the possession of narcotics by
a vehicle's passenger in conjunction with the evidence of
recent use" indicates "current possession of unused
narcotics somewhere else inside the vehicle, including the
trunk."Accordingly, the suppression court denied
Respondent's and Mr. Haqq's motions to suppress.
The Trial, Appeal, and Writ of Certiorari
and Mr. Haqq were tried jointly on charges of conspiracy to
possess marijuana with intent to distribute and possession
with intent to distribute. A jury found Respondent not guilty
of conspiracy, and the court declared a mistrial as to
possession with intent to distribute. Respondent was retried,
and a jury found her guilty of possession with intent to
distribute. Respondent was sentenced to five years'
incarceration suspended to time served and placed on
supervised probation for five years.
noted an appeal to the Court of Special Appeals, which
reversed the judgment in a reported opinion. Johnson v.
State, 232 Md.App. 241 (2017). Respondent presented two
questions for that court's review. The first asked
whether the police had reasonable suspicion to continue
detaining Respondent after the initial traffic stop ended.
Id. at 244. The second is the subject of this
further appeal--whether the police had probable cause to
search Respondent's trunk. Id.
Court of Special Appeals addressed only the second question.
Applying Carroll and its progeny, the intermediate
appellate court reasoned that "the permissible scope of
the search in this case was defined by the object of the
search: to find contraband that Haqq may have left or
concealed within the vehicle." Johnson, 232
Md.App. at 268 (citing California v. Acevedo, 500
U.S. 565 (1991); United States v. Ross, 456 U.S. 798
(1982); Wilson v. State, 174 Md.App. 434 (2007)).
The Court of Special Appeals, focusing specifically on what
the police found in searching Mr. Haqq, concluded that the
scope of the search was limited to the passenger area of
Respondent's vehicle because "the officers lacked
probable cause to believe that drugs were in the trunk based
solely on the drugs found in the waistband and on
the breath of the front passenger." Id. at 244,
259, 271 (emphasis added).
Court of Special Appeals premised its decision on the
following facts: the police had already searched
Respondent's pockets to no avail; nothing evinced that
she had taken illegal drugs; and "certainly her
nervousness could not, alone, " establish
probable cause that she was transporting contraband in her
trunk. Id. at 267 (emphasis added). The intermediate
appellate court further reasoned that there was no evidence
to suggest that Mr. Haqq had control over the vehicle
"or would have had access to the trunk as say, if he was
on a long road trip or in a common criminal enterprise with
Johnson." Id. at 268. Rather, the intermediate
appellate court evidently concluded that the only information
known to the police was that Mr. Haqq was Respondent's
friend whom she had known for only "about a month."
Id. The Court of Special Appeals also considered
that no officer had testified as to why there was probable
cause to believe-or even reasonable suspicion- that there
were additional drugs or contraband in Respondent's
vehicle. Id. Given its disposition as to the search
of the trunk of Respondent's vehicle, the Court of
Special Appeals did not address the first question presented:
whether the police had reasonable suspicion to continue
detaining Respondent beyond the time that should have brought
the traffic stop to an end. Id. at 244.
State filed a petition for writ of certiorari on the question
of whether the police lacked probable cause to search
Respondent's trunk. We granted certiorari, State v.
Johnson, 454 Md. 678 (2017). We now reverse the judgment
of the Court of Special Appeals and remand the case to that
court for it to decide the remaining Fourth Amendment issue
not yet addressed by that court.
review of a motion to suppress is "limited to the record
developed at the suppression hearing." Moats v.
State, 455 Md. 682, 694 (2017). "We view the
evidence and inferences that may be drawn therefrom in the
light most favorable to the party who prevails on the motion,
" here, the State. Raynor v. State, 440 Md. 71,
81 (2014). "We accept the suppression court's
factual findings unless they are shown to be clearly
erroneous." Id. We give "due weight to a
trial court's finding that the officer was
credible." Ornelas v. United States, 517 U.S.
690, 700 (1996). "[W]e review legal questions de
novo, and where, as here, a party has raised a
constitutional challenge to a search or seizure, we must make
an independent constitutional evaluation by reviewing the
relevant law and applying it to the unique facts and
circumstances of the case." Grant v. State, 449
Md. 1, 14-15 (2016) (quoting State v. Wallace, 372
Md. 137, 144 (2002)).
Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution protects
"[t]he right of the people to be secure in their
persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable
searches and seizures." U.S. Const. amend. IV.
"[T]he ultimate touchstone of the Fourth Amendment is
'reasonableness.'" Riley v. California,
134 S.Ct. 2473, 2482 (2014) (quoting Brigham City v.
Stuart, 547 U.S. 398, 403 (2006)). Reasonableness within
the meaning of the Fourth Amendment "generally requires