Warnken, LLC Attorneys at Law, Attorneys & Lawyers, Pikesville, MD

Henderson v. State

Henderson v. State, 416 Md. 125(2010)

Defendant in this matter was convicted of possession of a controlled dangerous substance with the intent to distribute and possession of a firearm in connection with a drug trafficking crime. The State’s evidence in that matter was seized during a warrantless search of Defendant’s person and his mother’s automobile. Defendant argues that such evidence should have been suppressed on the ground that those searches violated his Fourth Amendment rights.

The Defendant was stopped by a sheriff’s deputy when he twice failed to fully stop at stop signs. The deputy recognized the driver of the vehicle and the Defendant from prior CDS activities. After running a license check, the deputy requested a K-9 unit. The officers on the scene further found that there was an outstanding warrant for another passenger in the vehicle, who was removed and arrested once further backup was on the scene (per departmental regulations). Approximately 24 minutes after the vehicle was stopped for the traffic violation, the K-9 unit arrived. The Defendant and driver were asked to exit the vehicle, and were subsequently arrested after the K-9 gave a positive alert to the officers. Officers further recovered crack cocaine from inside a skull cap the driver was wearing. Deputies searched the vehicle, which did nor result in a finding of CDS, but did recover two weapons (a handgun and pocket knife).

During the trial, Defendant filed a motion to suppress arguing that (1) the police did not have a legal basis to detain him for a traffic violation he did not commit, and (2) the police impermissibly extended the length of the stop to allow the K-9 unit enough time to arrive. The lower court denied the motion to suppress finding that there was no argument that the stop was valid. The only argument was that the stop was prolonged. The lower court found that “It was reasonable for the officers to conclude that these three persons, traveling together that evening, with histories of drug use and selling, and with a large amount of cash on the person of one and CDS on the person of the other were involved in the common activities of using and selling CDS.”

The CSA upheld the lower court’s decision and further held that the Defendant’s Fourth Amendment rights were not denied, “especially when there was substantial evidence of criminal activity entirely independent of the traffic violations.” With respect to the issue of illegally extend the traffic stop, once the underlying basis for the initial traffic stop has concluded, a police-driver encounter which implicates the Fourth Amendment is constitutionally permissible only if either (1) the driver consents to the continuing intrusion or (2) the officer has, at minimum, a reasonable articulable suspicion that criminal activity is afoot. The CSA concluded the open warrant for one of the passengers of the vehicle and the presence of substantial amount of currency permitted the officers to pursue their drug investigation further by detaining the men until the K-9 unit could arrive.

The COA, cited the SCOTUS decision in Whren v. US. In that matter, SCOTUS held that the Fourth Amendment permits an officer who observes a traffic violation to stop the motorist, even though the true reason for the stop is the officer’s interest in investigating whether the motorist is involved in other criminal activity. However, the right to make a forcible stop does not justify a subsequent unreasonable detention. US v. Place, 462 U.S. 696 (1983). However, in this matter, the record provides that the police extended the traffic stop beyond the time reasonably necessary to (1) place Mr. Lewis under arrest, and (2) issue traffic citations to Mr. Austin. Once the passenger with an open warrant was arrested and the other passengers were cleared, the extra 12 minutes the police detained the individuals in waiting for a K-9 was unreasonable.

Just because a driver “failed to come to a full and complete stop” at a stop sign had a car full of occupants who were in an “alert system” does not provide reasonable articulable suspicion that they are drug users / sellers presently involved in criminal activity. As such, the judgment of the CSA is reversed.