Thursday, February 8, 2007

Brown v. State of Maryland (Ct. of Appeals)

Issued February 6, 2007 -- Opinion by Judge Irma Raker. Joined in Judgment Only by Judges Lynne Battaglia and Clayton Greene. Dissenting Opinion by Judge Robert Bell.

Randy Paul Brown ("Brown") arrived at someone else's residence while the police were conducting a search pursuant to a valid warrant. By the time Brown had arrived, police had alrady discovered controlled dangerous substances on the property and had made some arrests incident thereto.

The police detained and searched Brown and discovered marijuana. There was some discrepancy as to whether Brown voluntarily entered the home or was "escorted" in. There was also some discrepancy as to whether Brown voluntarily admitted to the police that he was carrying marijuana on his person before he was searched. The marijuana that the police found formed the basis for Brown's conviction for possession with intent to distribute marijuana.

Brown moved to suppress evidence of the marijuana based on an illegal search and seizure. The Circuit Court denied his motion, and the Court of Special Appeals affirmed. In this case, the Court of Appeals affirmed the opinions of the two lower courts.

Held: Factual determinations of the trial Court are extended great deference by appellate courts, and will not be overturned unless clearly erroneous. Legal determinations are reviewed de novo.

There are three categories of police contacts with individuals: (1) consensual (least intrusive-no justification required); (2) detentions (mid-level intrusive - police must have articulable suspicion that a person has committed or is about to commit a crime); (3) arrest (most intrusive - police must have probable cause). In this case, Brown was detained. The "clear rule" is that "'police may always detain persons found that the premises named in a search warrant, provided (i) the warrant authorizes a 'search for contraband' and (ii) the persons detained are 'occupants.'" (citations omitted). The Court determined that the term "occupant" includes all people "except for persons who clearly are unconnected with any criminal activity and to clearly present no potential danger." Quoting Cotton v. State. In this case, Brown was properly considered an "occupant," and his detention was proper.

Judge Robert Bell dissented and incorporated the rationale from the dissent in Cotton v. State.

Full opinion is available in PDF.

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