Bah v. State, 722-2020

CourtCourt of Special Appeals of Maryland
Writing for the CourtGRAEFF, J.
PartiesALHAJI BAH v. STATE OF MARYLAND
Decision Date07 June 2022
Docket Number722-2020

ALHAJI BAH
v.

STATE OF MARYLAND

No. 722-2020

Court of Special Appeals of Maryland

June 7, 2022


Circuit Court for Prince George's County Case No. CT190060X

Graeff, Reed, Wright, Alexander, Jr., (Senior Judge, Specially Assigned), JJ.

OPINION [*]

GRAEFF, J.

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In December 2018, Alhaji Bah, appellant, was indicted in the Circuit Court for Prince George's County for common-law murder, conspiracy to commit murder, and other firearms charges relating to the shooting of James Puryear, Jr. on June 26, 2018. The day following the shooting, the police interviewed appellant, and they searched his cell phone after appellant signed a consent form. Appellant filed a motion to suppress the evidence against him, arguing that the police violated Miranda and illegally searched his cell phone.[1]The circuit court denied the motion. Following a five-day trial, a jury acquitted appellant on the murder charge, but it found appellant guilty of conspiracy to commit murder. The court sentenced appellant to 80 years' imprisonment, with all but 28 years suspended.

On appeal, appellant presents the following questions for this Court's review, [2]which we have consolidated and rephrased, as follows:

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1. Did the circuit court err in denying appellant's motion to suppress evidence found in a warrantless search of appellant's cell phone
2. Did the circuit court err in denying appellant's motion to suppress his June 27, 2018, statement pursuant to Miranda v. Arizona
3. Was the evidence insufficient to support appellant's conviction for conspiracy to commit first-degree murder?

For the reasons set forth below, we shall reverse the judgment of the circuit court.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

I.

Factual Background

At approximately 9:45 p.m. on June 26, 2018, Mr. Puryear was shot 14 times on a neighborhood lawn in Upper Marlboro. Emergency personnel arrived shortly thereafter and pronounced him dead at the scene. The next day, the police interviewed Mr. Puryear's girlfriend, Kelsey Washington, who told them that Mr. Puryear had been planning to meet with appellant on the night of the murder to search for a friend named "Ty." Mr. Puryear had contacted appellant at a phone number with a 202 area code, which was appellant's phone number. As a result of this conversation, the police sought to interview appellant as a potential witness with knowledge of Mr. Puryear's whereabouts on the night of the murder.

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A.

June 27, 2018 Interview

On the afternoon of June 27, 2018, Detectives Dennis Windsor and John Paddy, members of the Prince George's County Police Department, approached appellant outside his home and advised that they wanted to speak with him at the police station about "something that happened to one of his friends." Appellant was calm and made no objection to going with the detectives. Prior to getting into the police vehicle, the detectives frisked appellant and found suspected controlled dangerous substances ("CDS") on his person in the form of pills.[3] The detectives transported appellant to the police station. He sat unrestrained in the front passenger seat of the police vehicle.

At the station, Detective Windsor and Detective Kenneth Smith interviewed appellant about Mr. Puryear in a small interview room for approximately four hours.[4] Prior to the interview, the detectives seized appellant's red iPhone, which had a 240-area-code number. Appellant was not given any Miranda warnings that day.

During the interview, appellant was seated at a table pushed into a corner, and the two detectives were positioned between him and the door in the interview room. The detectives began by offering appellant some food and asking basic identification questions.

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Appellant stated that his cell phone number was the 240-area-code number connected with the red iPhone, and he only had one cell phone.

Appellant told the detectives that he had grown up with Mr. Puryear, and they had been close friends. He stated that he had not seen or spoken to Mr. Puryear for approximately a week. Ms. Washington, whom he had never met, called him at approximately 2:00 a.m. that morning looking for Mr. Puryear, and he told her that he had not seen Mr. Puryear.

Appellant advised that, on the day of the murder, he went to a hospital in Baltimore at approximately 3:00 p.m. to visit his friend "Ty," who had been shot during a robbery, and he stayed at the hospital until approximately midnight. After appellant explained his whereabouts, the detectives stated that they did not "suspect [him] in any wrongdoing," but they wanted to speak with Mr. Puryear's friends to find out what happened.

Detective Smith then asked appellant if he ever lied, stating that "[e]veryone lies" at some point or another. Detective Smith repeatedly asked appellant to answer the question about lying until Detective Windsor interjected to tell appellant that they "just want[ed] to prove that [he was] not bullshitting[.]" The following exchange then occurred:

DETECTIVE WINDSOR: So, this is - one of the things we like to do is this thing, right here. This is my phone, right? Based on what you're telling me, your phone will dictate whether you're telling the truth, okay? All I'm asking for you is permission to be able to look at that and verify what you're telling me is true.
[APPELLANT]: As far as what?
DETECTIVE WINDSOR: As far as like - all right, well you haven't talked to James, right?
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[APPELLANT]: Mm-hmm.
DETECTIVE WINDSOR: So, I'm going to look at your phone and be like, "Oh, he's - he ain't lying to me."
[APPELLANT]: Mm-hmm.
DETECTIVE WINDSOR: You know what I mean? You know, things like that - little things like that. Just to verify, that's all.
[APPELLANT]: Mm-hmm.
DETECTIVE WINDSOR: But of course, I'm asking permission, because I don't think you're lying, to do that.
[APPELLANT]: Mm-hmm.
DETECTIVE WINDSOR: You know, I haven't had any issues, so that's why I'm asking.
[APPELLANT]: Right.
DETECTIVE WINDSOR: Is there any issue with that?
[APPELLANT]: I don't want you to check my phone.
DETECTIVE WINDSOR: Why is that?
[APPELLANT]: Because I just don't want you to.
DETECTIVE WINDSOR: Why, are you concerned about something?
[APPELLANT]: I mean, I just don't want you to go through my phone. I have rights, you know.
DETECTIVE WINDSOR: Yeah, I know, and that's why I'm asking you about it. And I just assumed that you were telling me the truth and that's -
[APPELLANT]: Mm-hmm.
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DETECTIVE WINDSOR: How we would be able to verify that. You know, you didn't talk to James and what time, for example - what time did the girlfriend call you.
* * *
DETECTIVE WINDSOR: I don't care what nudie pics you got. I don't care what weed pics you got. I don't care about none of that.
[APPELLANT]: Mm-hmm.
DETECTIVE WINDSOR: Okay? I'm trying to verify what you told me, and that's why I'm asking you. So it's one of those things where I either, I'm asking permission, or I've got to keep the phone and get a search warrant. And that's not what I want to do, because I don't believe you're a liar.
[APPELLANT]: I mean, I can sit right here and show the messages with you.
DETECTIVE WINDSOR: Well, it's not -
[APPELLANT]: Or show you the calls.
DETECTIVE WINDSOR: We don't want you sitting and waiting in here. I'm not calling anybody. I'm not talking to anybody.

When appellant continued to express reluctance, Detective Windsor offered to let him "take the form home," noting that it "would really help [them] with solving" the murder. Detective Windsor stated that "the only thing that [was] holding [them] up" from eliminating him as a suspect was their ability to "verify [his] timeline" using his phone. The detectives repeatedly appealed to appellant's purportedly close friendship with Mr. Puryear and the effect that Mr. Puryear's death was going to have on his family.

After Detective Windsor stated that he thought appellant was "hiding something in [his] phone," appellant reiterated that he did not want them going through his phone because it was a "personal privacy" issue, and he was "not comfortable" with it. In

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response to appellant stating that he did not know "what else [they] want[ed] him to do," the following occurred:

DETECTIVE WINDSOR: Well, I mean, for starters, maybe you can jump back on the train of telling the truth.
[APPELLANT]: I mean -
DETECTIVE SMITH: You're lying.
[APPELLANT]: I'm not lying about nothing, sir.
DETECTIVE SMITH: Yes you are. I[t]'s okay.
[APPELLANT]: I'm not.
DETECTIVE SMITH: You are. It's okay.
[APPELLANT]: No.
DETECTIVE SMITH: It is okay.
[APPELLANT]: I told you guys everything that I know.
DETECTIVE WINDSOR: No, we know different. We know big time different.
[APPELLANT]: I just told you guys everything that I know, sir.
DETECTIVE WINDSOR: No.
* * *
[APPELLANT]: I'm innocent. I told you guys everything that I know. I told you everything on paper.
DETECTIVE SMITH: What're you saying you're innocent for? Nobody's saying you was guilty. Nobody's saying that. (Indiscernible), you know, we're just - we're all different in here.
[APPELLANT]: Mm-hmm.
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DETECTIVE SMITH: But I know you're a liar. That's something we can prove.

Following this exchange, the detectives both left the room, stating that "maybe [he] need[ed] some time to think" before they went "over this again" because he had "backed [himself] in a corner [he did not] need to be in." Before leaving, they told him that if he did not start telling the truth, it was "not going to be good for [him]." They stated that, when they returned "at some point today" after speaking to "everybody else," they expected him to tell the truth. Appellant was then left alone in the room...

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