Courts are frequently called upon to apply the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition against unreasonable searches and seizures to police procedures. Maryland’s Court of Special Appeals this week reviewed whether the use of fare inspections on a light rail train violated the Fourth Amendment in a case called Kenneth Carter v. State of Maryland.
The opinion indicates that Maryland Transit Authority police gathered on the platform of a Baltimore light rail station, for the purpose of doing a fare inspection to see if passengers had paid for their fare. There was no evidence of any signs posted in the stations that such fare sweeps may be done. Failure to pay the fare is a crime subject to a $50 fine. When the train pulled into the station, an officer entered each train and announced that each passenger had to show their ticket proving they had paid the fare.
Carter approached an officer and admitted he had no ticket, and was directed to another officer on the platform who obtained his identification. A record check showed a possible warrant outstanding for Carter, who then tried to flee and was tackled. During the melee the police found that Carter had a gun, and it turned out he was a convicted felon. At trial, defendant’s motion to suppress evidence because of an illegal detention was denied, and he was convicted of firearms offenses and resisting arrest.
The appellate Court noted that in determining whether an investigatory detention by police had occurred, it would look at such factors as the use or show of force or authority by the police so that a reasonable person would believe they were not free to leave or refuse to answer questions. Here, the appellate Court found that by announcing to all passengers that they could not leave the train until producing proof of fare payment, Carter had in fact been detained even before he admitted he had no ticket.
Since one of the officers at trial admitted that they used fare checks as a means of enforcing outstanding warrants, the appellate Court declared this police misconduct in violation of the Fourth Amendment. Therefore, the motion to suppress evidence should have been granted, and the convictions were reversed.
Thomas Patrick Ryan is a partner in the Rockville law firm of McCarthy Wilson, which specializes in civil litigation.