Ordinarily in criminal cases, the prosecution that loses a criminal case does not have the right to appeal, unless the trial Court prior to trial has granted a defense motion to suppress evidence.
What can happen when the State challenges a trial judge’s suppression of the key evidence in a criminal case is illustrated in an unreported opinion this month from Maryland’s intermediate appellate Court in a case called State of Maryland v. Jason Louis Friday.
The opinion indicates that Friday successfully filed Motion to Suppress evidence seized after he was stopped, handcuffed and then arrested after officers smelled a strong odor of marijuana coming from his car.
The testimony from police officers at the hearing on the motion indicated that several officers were conducting surveillance in an area of Montgomery County known for high drug/high crime activity.
One officer spotted Friday pumping gas at a service station, and computer searches of his tag number lead to a screen indicating “Armed Approach With Cautions Drug User/Seller Use Universal Precautions.”
When the officer followed Friday’s vehicle he observed that his car had tinted windows that appeared to be unlawful, and saw him drive into a neighborhood in what the officer testified appeared to be an attempt to evade the police vehicle.
After following him further, the officer activated his emergency equipment and Friday pulled into a parking lot.
The officer said he saw the driver begin to exit the vehicle, and the officer pulled his weapon and told him to stay in the car.
He then handcuffed him and another officer smelled a strong odor of marijuana coming from the vehicle, which led to his arrest and a search of the vehicle that led to a vial of PCP.
The trial judge held that the officer’s subjective belief that Friday was attempting to evade the police was unreasonable, that he had improperly used force after pulling the suspect over and that the arrest was unreasonable and violated the Fourth Amendment prohibition against unreasonable searches and seizures.
The State could therefore not use the evidence seized as a result of the arrest (without which there could be no drug conviction).
The Court of Special Appeals disagreed with the trial judge, and held that the Motion to Suppress should have been denied.
Thomas Patrick Ryan is a partner in the Rockville law firm of McCarthy Wilson, which specializes in civil litigation.