Tuesday, January 2, 2007

Christian v. State (Ct. of Special Appeals)

Decided January 2, 2007--Opinion by Judge Timothy Meredith.

A police officer conducting covert narcotics surveillance observed the Appellant hide a bag between the screen and entry doors of a Baltimore City rowhouse, and engage in other suspicious behavior which seemed to suggest that illicit drugs were being sold. The police officer opened the screen door, searched the bag, discovered it contained heroin, and promptly arrested the Appellant.

While arrest was in progress, a second man arrived on the scene who identified himself as the Appellant's brother, and indicated that the Appellant lived with him. According to the police officer, this second man gave him permission to search the house, at which time other drugs were discovered in plain view. In the circuit court, the Appellant's motion to suppress the seized drugs was denied, the case proceeded on a not guilty/agreed statement of facts. The Appellant was found guilty and appealed.

On appeal, the Appellant raised two issues: first, that the circuit court erred by denying Appellant’s motion to suppress; and second, that the circuit court failed to determine that the Appellant's jury trial waiver was knowing and voluntary. The circuit court's guilty verdict was affirmed.

The circuit court denied the Appellant's motion to suppress the drugs found behind the screen door, because it found that he had no reasonable expectation of privacy in this area, as opposed to any area behind the entry door. In affirming the circuit court on this point, the Court of Special Appeals characterized this ruling as a finding of fact which was not clearly erroneous.

The circuit court denied the Appellant's motion to suppress the drugs found in the house, because (a) it resolved in favor of the police officer a conflict in testimony between the police officer and the Appellant's brother regarding the circumstances under which consent was given; and (b) it found that the brother did have authority to consent to search house, because Appellant and his brother had mutual use of the area searched. Again the Court of Special Appeals affirmed because the circuit court was in the best position to resolve conflicts in testimony, and it was correct as a matter of law on the brother's right to consent to the search.

Finally, with respect to the waiver of the jury trial, the Court of Special Appeals affirmed, but suggested a litany of questions to be asked to ensure that a waiver is knowing and voluntary.

The full opinion is available in WordPerfect and PDF.

No comments: