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Carter v. State

Court of Special Appeals of Maryland

November 14, 2019

KENNARD CARTER
v.
STATE OF MARYLAND

          Circuit Court for Baltimore City Case No. 117303014.

          Leahy, Reed, Friedman, JJ.

          OPINION

          Reed, J.

         Kennard Carter ("Appellant") was charged with (1) possession of a firearm after having been convicted of a crime of violence; (2) possession of a firearm after having been convicted of a disqualifying crime; (3) wearing, carrying, and transporting a handgun on his person; (4) possession of a controlled dangerous substance (cocaine); and (5) resisting arrest.[1] Prior to trial, defense counsel stipulated that Appellant had a prior conviction that disqualified him from possessing a weapon.

         At trial, Appellant's counsel filed a Motion to Suppress physical evidence seized by Maryland Transit Administration ("MTA") officers subsequent to Appellant being removed from a Light Rail Train. The Motion claimed that Appellant's Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures had been violated. Following the suppression hearing, the Court denied Appellant's Motion to Suppress.

         On March 26, 2018, a jury in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City convicted Appellant of Counts 1, 3, and 5.[2] Appellant was then sentenced to ten (10) years' imprisonment as to Count 1, suspending all but a mandatory minimum of five years without the possibility of parole, and to concurrent three-year (3) terms on Counts 3 and 5, with three (3) years' supervised probation. This appeal followed.

         In bringing his appeal, Appellant presents one question for appellate review:

         I. Did the trial court err in denying Appellant's Motion to Suppress?

         For the following reasons, we hold that Appellant was illegally seized. Furthermore, we hold that Appellant's Motion to Suppress should have been granted, as the Strieff factors weigh against attenuation in this case. As such, we reverse the convictions of Appellant.

         Factual & Procedural Background

         On October 2, 2017, at approximately 8:00 p.m., six Maryland Transportation Authority ("MTA") officers[3] gathered on the Mount Royal station platform and waited for the train to arrive in order to conduct a fare inspection. Fare inspections, also referred to as "fare sweeps," are used by MTA officers to check whether passengers have committed the crime of not paying their fare. Anyone who travels on a Light Rail Train without paying their fare is subject to a fifty-dollar ($50) citation pursuant to Maryland Code, Transportation Article § 7-705.

         Fare inspections are typically conducted by teams of MTA officers, where the officers broadcast an announcement through the train that a fare inspection is being conducted while the train is stopped and instruct all passengers to show their passes when approached. There was no evidence establishing whether any signs warning passengers that they would be subject to being checked for payment for a possible violation of the Transportation Article were posted at the station or on the train. At that time, some officers walked through the train seeking proof of payment from each passenger; the remaining officers remained on the platform outside the train. During the suppression hearing in this matter, Corporal Latoya Russell (hereinafter "Corporal Russell") testified that passengers are not allowed to leave the train while the inspections are conducted. Any passenger who refuses, or is unable, to produce their fare ticket is ordered off the train and directed to the officers on the platform to receive a citation. Corporal Russell also testified that officers typically collect identifying information and run warrant checks through MTA dispatch on every passenger who receives a citation for traveling without a fare ticket. Furthermore, when later asked, Corporal Russell answered in the affirmative that fare inspections are "an apparatus to be able to check people for warrants."

         As a Light Rail Train arrived at the Mount Royal station on October 2, 2017, an officer boarded each of the four train cars. Each officer broadcasted an announcement that they were about to conduct a fare inspection and instructed passengers that officers were checking tickets. The officers then proceeded to ask every passenger onboard for their ticket.

         Appellant was travelling in one of the train cars boarded by MTA officers on October 2, 2017. After Corporal Russell boarded Appellant's car, Appellant approached Corporal Russell and informed her that he did not have a ticket. Corporal Russell then instructed Appellant to get off of the train and directed him to Officer Zachary Tobin, who was waiting on the platform. Officer Tobin then escorted Appellant to a bench on the platform, where he remained until the Light Rail Train departed from Mount Royal station.

         Once the train left the Mount Royal station, Officer Tobin collected Appellant's name, date of birth, and social security number. Officer Tobin then provided that information to MTA dispatch, who informed Officer Tobin that Appellant had a possible positive arrest warrant. At that time, Appellant attempted to get up from the bench where he had been sitting and leave the platform, prompting three officers to tackle Appellant. During the ensuing melee, Officer Tobin yelled that Appellant had a gun. In response, Corporal Russell utilized her taser to subdue Appellant until Officer Tobin was able to fully handcuff Appellant.

         After Appellant was handcuffed, Officer William Camphor searched Appellant and found ten bags of white powder. Officers also located a gun and bullets in the track area, which were introduced into evidence at Appellant's trial. The officers then transported Appellant to Central Booking, where it was confirmed that a warrant existed for Appellant's arrest. Appellant was subsequently charged with (1) possession of a firearm after having been convicted of a crime of violence; (2) possession of a firearm after having been convicted of a disqualifying crime; (3) wearing, carrying, and transporting a handgun on his person; (4) possession of a controlled dangerous substance (cocaine); and (5) resisting arrest.

         At Appellant's trial, Appellant's counsel filed a Motion to Suppress the physical evidence found on Appellant and in the track area on the ground arguing that Appellant's Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures had been violated. Denying the motion, the court ruled that Corporal Russell had "engaged in a mere accosting by announcing the fare inspection, and therefore [her] inquiry did not require Fourth Amendment justification." The trial court further reasoned that "after the fare inspection was announced, [Appellant] voluntarily approached Corporal Russell" to confess he did not have a fare ticket, thus providing MTA officers probable cause to detain him and conduct the warrant check which ultimately led to his arrest. The court also stated that even had Corporal Russell's actions been an unlawful investigatory stop, "the discovery of a valid, pre-existing warrant attenuated the connection between the unlawful stop and the evidence seized from [Appellant] incident to arrest."

         On March 26, 2018, a jury convicted Appellant of possession of a firearm with a disqualifying conviction; wearing, carrying, and transporting of a handgun on his person; and resisting arrest. That day, Appellant was sentenced to ten years' imprisonment with all but five years suspended for the possession of a firearm conviction, without the possibility of parole, and two concurrent three-year sentences for the second and third convictions. Appellant was also sentenced to three years of supervised probation once released.

         Standard of Review

         In reviewing a trial court's decision to grant or deny a motion to suppress, this Court limits its review to the record of the motions hearing. Trusty v. State, 308 Md. 658, 669- 72 (1987). The evidence is viewed in the light most favorable to the prevailing party, and the trial court's fact findings are accepted unless clearly erroneous. Williamson v. State, 413 Md. 521, 531 (2010). "The ultimate determination of whether there was a constitutional violation, however, is an independent determination that is made by the appellate court alone, applying the law to the facts found in each particular case." Belote v. State, 411 Md. 104, 120 (2009) (citations omitted); see also Carter v. State, 367 Md. 447, 457 (2002).

         Discussion

         A. Parties' Contentions

         Appellant contends that he was unconstitutionally seized by MTA officers on October 12, 2017. Appellant further contends that his encounter with Corporal Russell was a nonconsensual encounter based on Corporal Russell's show of authority upon entering the train car. As there was no probable cause to believe that he or anyone else aboard the train had committed any crime prior to that point, Appellee asserts that Corporal Russell violated his Fourth Amendment rights. Furthermore, Appellant emphasizes that the MTA officers were acting with a primarily law enforcement purpose when boarding the Light Rail Train.

         Appellant objects to the trial court's conclusion that Corporal Russell had merely accosted him prior to Appellant voluntarily confessing his failure to purchase a fare ticket. Appellant asserts that the illegal seizure began the moment Corporal Russell entered the train car, and case law establishes that consent to search is invalid if such consent is preceded by an illegal seizure. Appellant further rejects the trial court's reliance on the typical nature of fare inspections; Appellant argues that the absence of particularized suspicion on the part of MTA officers makes their conduct more objectionable than the trial court believed.

         Finally, Appellant asserts that the discovery of a valid arrest warrant against Appellant does not attenuate the taint created by the alleged illegal seizure. Citing Brown v. Illinois, 422 U.S. 590 (1975), Appellant claims that his alleged seizure was too temporally proximate to the discovery of the warrant, there was no intervening circumstance between those two events, and the alleged misconduct committed by Corporal Russell was too flagrant to allow for the attenuation doctrine to apply. In relying on Utah v. Strieff, 136 S.Ct. 2056 (2016), Appellant concludes that the MTA's "suspicionless fishing expeditions" are strictly prohibited by the Fourth Amendment. As such, Appellant believes that the trial court erred in denying his Motion to Suppress.

         The State argues that Appellant and Corporal Russell's interaction constitutes a voluntary encounter and not a seizure. The State emphasizes the lack of evidence supporting Appellant's accusation that the MTA officers showed authority or that Appellant could not leave freely at any point prior to his arrest. The State also contends that fare inspections are voluntary under the principle of implied consent. Specifically, the State asserts that "societal norms" exist and that reasonable individuals using the Light Rail Train understand that they are expected to pay for a fare ticket and be ready to provide proof upon request. The State turns to the video evidence presented at trial and the signage around Mount Royal station indicating the requirement that patrons buy fare tickets prior to traveling on the Light Rail Train.

         Even if Corporal Russell's actions constituted a seizure, the State asserts that such a seizure was reasonable. The State compares the MTA's action with a sobriety checkpoint to show that warrantless seizures have been deemed constitutional in the past. It also rejects Appellant's reliance on City of Indianapolis v. Edmond, 531 U.S. 32 (2000), by emphasizing that while Edmond rejected seizures whose purpose is to reveal if a motorist committed any crime, the MTA's fare inspections were tailored solely towards finding those who ...


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