Circuit Court for Baltimore City Case No. 116110012
Deborah S., Meredith, Battaglia, Lynne A. (Senior Judge,
Specially Assigned), JJ. [*]
sitting in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City convicted
Daniel T. Mills, appellant, of possession of cocaine with
intent to distribute as well as simple possession of that
drug. The circuit court thereafter sentenced Mills to twelve
years' imprisonment, with all but four years suspended,
to be followed by three years' probation. Mills then
noted this appeal, raising the following issues:
I. Whether the trial court erred in holding that the
defendant failed to make a prima facie showing of
discrimination under Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79
(1986), based solely on the court's finding that the
racial makeup of the seated jury resembled the racial makeup
of the jury pool;
II. Whether the State failed to present sufficient evidence
that the defendant possessed cocaine when there was no
evidence that the defendant could see the cocaine in the
vehicle in which he was a passenger; and
III. Whether the prosecutor's improper and repeated
suggestions in closing argument that the defendant was
right-handed, a fact not in evidence, require a new trial.
that the trial court erred in aborting Mills's
Batson challenge at step one of the inquiry. We
further hold that the evidence was sufficient to sustain the
convictions and that the claim concerning the
prosecutor's comments was not preserved but that, in any
event, those comments were not improper. Finally, for reasons
we shall explain henceforth, we hold that the appropriate
remedy for the court's Batson error is a limited
remand for a hearing on Mills's Batson
challenge, to determine whether he is entitled to a new
early morning hours of March 21, 2016, Detective Melvin Jones
of the Baltimore City Police Department was on "routine
patrol" in a marked police cruiser when he observed a
blue Chevrolet Cruze traveling westbound on Pulaski Highway
near Highland Street in Baltimore City. As the Chevrolet
approached a red light and came to a stop, Detective Jones
pulled up behind it and, using an onboard electronic
database, ran a "random tag check." In doing so, he
noticed that its owner, David Fitzgerald, had a suspended
driver's license. After pulling alongside the Chevrolet
and confirming that Fitzgerald was, in fact, driving,
Detective Jones initiated a traffic stop, notifying his
dispatcher as he did so. There was one other occupant of that
vehicle-Mills, who was sitting in the front passenger seat.
Jones approached the Chevrolet and "made contact
with" Fitzgerald. While he was speaking with Fitzgerald,
Officers Derek Bowman and Jacob Reed, having heard about the
traffic stop from the dispatcher, arrived at the scene,
having driven separately in marked police vehicles.
precaution, Officer Reed parked directly in front of
Fitzgerald's Chevrolet to prevent it from moving, while
Officer Bowman pulled in behind Detective Jones's
vehicle. Officer Reed then approached the passenger side of
Fitzgerald's car and began speaking with Mills, asking
him "where they were both coming from and where they
were going," but Mills sat silently, ignoring the
officer's questions and avoiding eye contact.
an "intoxicated male" bystander "started
walking up to" Fitzgerald's vehicle and
"yelling something like he knew the individual in the
car." Officer Bowman "told him several times"
that he needed to "stand to the side." Eventually
he heeded that advice and left the scene.
Reed, who had been questioning Mills, then asked him to step
out of the vehicle and "stand towards the back,"
where Officer Bowman was then located. After Mills complied
with that request, Officer Reed "knelt over and looked
under the [front passenger] seat." When he did so, he
saw a Glock 9 mm semiautomatic handgun "under the
seat." The officer "backed away from" the car
and several times said "1030," a code indicating
that he intended to arrest Mills. Neither Officer Bowman nor
Detective Jones heard that warning, however. Then, looking at
Detective Jones, Officer Reed said, "Gun." Upon
hearing the latter exclamation, Mills "took off running
northbound on Highland Avenue."
Jones and Officer Bowman gave chase, while Officer Reed
remained with Fitzgerald's car. The pursuing police
officers were joined in the chase by Sergeant Frederick
Steigerwald, who was stationed nearby and who had heard about
the foot chase over the police radio. Sergeant Steigerwald
ultimately found Mills hiding underneath a parked truck, four
blocks from the scene of the traffic stop.
search incident to Mills's arrest yielded a
"bundle" of cash in his right front pocket,
totaling $1, 676, as well as two cell phones. When
Fitzgerald's car was searched, Officer Reed recovered, in
an open storage compartment in the passenger side door,
"a clear plastic bag" containing what was later
confirmed to be crack cocaine, lying next to a pair of socks,
as well as the aforementioned handgun.
thirteen-count indictment was returned, charging Mills with
possession of, and conspiracy to possess, a firearm under
sufficient circumstances to constitute a nexus to drug
trafficking; three counts of possession of a regulated
firearm after conviction of a disqualifying crime; wearing,
carrying, and transporting a handgun in a vehicle, and
conspiracy to do the same; wearing, carrying, and
transporting a handgun on and about the person; possession of
ammunition after conviction of a disqualifying crime;
possession of, and conspiracy to possess, cocaine with intent
to distribute; and possession of, and conspiracy to possess,
case proceeded to a jury trial, which began with a
Batson challenge that will be discussed more fully.
Following various dismissals and grants of motions for
judgment of acquittal, five charges were presented to the
jury: possession of cocaine with intent to distribute;
possession of cocaine; possession of a firearm under
sufficient circumstances to constitute a nexus to drug
trafficking; possession of a regulated firearm after
conviction of a disqualifying crime; and possession of
ammunition after conviction of a disqualifying crime. The
jury convicted Mills of both drug offenses and acquitted him
of all firearms-related offenses. The court sentenced Mills
to a term of twelve years' imprisonment, with all but
four years suspended, to be followed by three years'
probation, for possession of cocaine with intent to
distribute and merged the simple possession count. Mills
thereafter noted this timely appeal.
contends that the trial court erred in concluding that he did
not establish a prima facie case, under Batson,
that the State had exercised its peremptory challenges in a
racially discriminatory manner. He further contends that the
remedy for that error is a new trial.
State counters that the trial court "properly, if
perhaps inartfully, determined that Mills did not establish a
prima facie case of 'purposeful'
discrimination." In the alternative, the State asks
that, if we were to agree with Mills that the trial court
erred in determining that Mills did not establish a prima
facie case, we order a limited remand so that the court may
consider Mills's Batson challenge.
Batson, the Supreme Court held that the
prosecution's exercise of peremptory challenges in a
racially discriminatory manner violates the Equal Protection
Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Batson, 476 U.S.
79, 89 (1986). Batson and its progenyestablished a
three-step process for resolving a claim of purposeful
discrimination in the exercise of peremptory strikes.
Initially, the defendant must "make out a prima facie
case 'by showing that the totality of the relevant facts
gives rise to an inference of discriminatory
purpose.'" Johnson v. California, 545 U.S.
162, 168 (quoting Batson, 476 U.S. at 93-94). Then,
"[o]nce the defendant makes a prima facie showing, the
burden shifts to the State to come forward with a neutral
explanation for challenging black jurors."
Batson, 476 U.S. at 97. Finally, "in light of
the parties' submissions, the trial court must determine
whether the defendant has shown purposeful
discrimination." Snyder v. Louisiana, 552 U.S.
472, 477 (2008) (citations and quotations omitted).
one, Mills's burden was to "produce some
evidence" that the State's peremptory challenges
were exercised "on one or more of the constitutionally
prohibited bases," in this instance, race.
Ray-Simmons v. State, 446 Md. 429, 436 (2016)
(citing Purkett v. Elem, 514 U.S. 765, 767 (1995)
(per curiam)). A "defendant satisfies the requirements
of Batson's first step by producing evidence
sufficient to permit the trial judge to draw an inference
that discrimination has occurred." Johnson, 545
U.S. at 170.
instant case, as jury selection proceeded, the State, in a
harbinger of what would later become an issue in this appeal,
raised a Batson challenge against the defense,
apparently alleging that all of Mills's peremptory
strikes had, thus far, been exercised against Caucasians (or,
in any event, against all but
African-Americans). The following colloquy took place:
[THE STATE]: Your Honor, at this time --
(The defendant approached the bench.)
[THE STATE]: -- the State is respectfully challenging based
THE COURT: Well, I've got to tell you I'm not exactly
sure what the race of the -- the gentleman [Juror 2181] who
sat down was.
[DEFENSE COUNSEL]: And I struck him because he was late.
THE COURT: Huh?
[DEFENSE COUNSEL]: I couldn't read his number. I
THE COURT: Okay. But I don't know what his -- his race
[DEFENSE COUNSEL]: I understand. I'm just telling