Hazel v. State, 2414-2019

CourtCourt of Special Appeals of Maryland
Writing for the CourtZIC, J.
Docket Number2414-2019
Decision Date23 July 2021



No. 2414-2019

Court of Special Appeals of Maryland

July 23, 2021

Circuit Court for Baltimore City Case No. 117248010

Friedman, Wells, Zic, JJ.



We are called upon to determine whether the Circuit Court for Baltimore City improperly admitted an officer's body-worn camera footage and if there was any error, whether the error was harmless. For the following reasons, we reverse the trial court's conviction of appellant Ryan Kelly Hazel and remand the case to the Circuit Court for Baltimore City for a new trial.


On August 10, 2017, at approximately 11:15 p.m., Detectives Scott Armstrong and Daniel Waskiewicz initiated a traffic stop and stopped the driver, Mr. Hazel, in a Nissan Maxima after observing the vehicle travelling without its headlights turned on. As Detective Armstrong approached the stopped car, Mr. Hazel took off without warning. At the time of the stop, Mr. Hazel had a suspended driver's license. Detectives Armstrong and Waskiewicz pursued the Nissan Maxima but lost sight of the vehicle.

The vehicle traveled several blocks and, by happenstance, passed another group of officers[1]-Detectives Jeffrey Henry, Mark Tallmadge, and Richard Weese, and Officer Allyson Hobe-who were conducting an unrelated traffic stop. Within a few seconds of the vehicle passing at a high rate of speed, the four officers heard a loud crash. The officers immediately terminated the unrelated traffic stop and responded to the accident where they found the Nissan Maxima had collided with another vehicle. The other vehicle was occupied by Margaret Hall, who was pronounced dead on the scene.[2]

Detective Henry testified that when he arrived at the scene, he saw a man, whom he believed to be the driver lying between two cars. He sat the man up and placed him in handcuffs. When Detective Armstrong arrived, he confirmed that the man was Mr. Hazel, the driver of the Nissan Maxima. It was apparent that Mr. Hazel was injured and required medical attention-he had blood coming out of his mouth and suffered a broken leg. Detective Henry immediately called for a medic and accompanied Mr. Hazel to shock trauma. He further testified that he did not recover any drugs or guns on Mr. Hazel or in the surrounding area.

Meanwhile, Officer Hobe approached the Nissan Maxima and observed Iyen Palmer still in the passenger seat. Officer Hobe confirmed that Ms. Palmer was the only occupant of the car and that the driver's side door was closed but not latched. She described Ms. Palmer as very upset, appeared to be in pain, and looked like she was in shock. Officer Hobe testified that Ms. Palmer could not speak very well or move and that she stayed with Ms. Palmer until the medics arrived. Officer Hobe further testified that Ms. Palmer asked her to find her purse as well as her phone to call her mother. Detective Armstrong later determined that the Nissan Maxima was registered to Ms. Palmer.

After the medics arrived and Mr. Hazel and Ms. Palmer were taken to a hospital, Detective Tallmadge and Officer Hobe conducted an inventory search of the Nissan Maxima. In the front passenger seat footwell where Ms. Palmer had been sitting, Detective Tallmadge located a "small [white] backpack or satchel that contained a handgun and a significant amount of CDS, or narcotics." Detective Tallmadge testified that the white bag[3] was closed and that there was significant property and debris in the area where it was found. The white bag contained a handgun with a magazine and ammunition, a scale, plastic bags of narcotics, and a Nordstrom gift card. The Nordstrom gift card did not have a name on it. The magazine was a 50-round drum, which contained 35 rounds. The parties stipulated that the gun was test-fired and determined to be operable. Detective Tallmadge testified that, in his expert opinion, the recovered CDS was of sufficient quantity to suggest that it was intended for street-level sales and not for personal use. A forensic scientist testified for the State that her analysis of the evidence revealed that the items in the plastic bags tested positive for heroin, cocaine, oxycodone, and alprazolam. Detective Tallmadge searched the entire vehicle and found no other contraband. He testified that he never saw Mr. Hazel in possession of the drugs, the gun, or the white bag and that narcotics bags were not dusted for fingerprints.

Mr. Hazel was ultimately charged with various drug and gun possession offenses: possession with the intent to distribute heroin; possession with the intent to distribute cocaine; possession of a firearm during the commission of a drug trafficking crime; possession of narcotics, specifically heroin, cocaine, oxycodone, and alprazolam; wearing, carrying, or transporting a handgun in a vehicle; unlawfully receiving a detachable magazine; fleeing and eluding a police officer; and unlawful possession with intent to use drug paraphernalia.

Before trial, Mr. Hazel moved to suppress Officer Hobe's body-worn camera footage, which recorded her conversation with Ms. Palmer. At a pretrial hearing, the court questioned the probative value of the video. The State argued that it was seeking to admit the video so the jury could observe Ms. Palmer's "demeanor" because her "demeanor" indicates that Mr. Hazel, rather than Ms. Palmer, owned the white bag:

[THE COURT]: What's the State's argument on how that's probative
[THE STATE]: Your Honor, that are two people in the car that was in the accident. There was Mr. Hazel and Ms. Palmer. That Your Honor, is absolutely probative just like any other body-worn camera. This is not about there's no mention of someone in Ms. Hall's car that was dead. It doesn't show Ms. Hall's car at all. It has nothing to with the prejudice behind the, you know, manslaughter matter that I do agree is unfair and prejudicial
[THE COURT]: Yeah. But I'm asking what does this prove other than the fact that she was involved in the accident and suffered some injury
[THE STATE]: Your Honor, this is the only person they can pin to the gun and the drugs found. The gun and drugs later I'll proffer --
[THE COURT]: This is the only person --
[THE STATE]: The only other person that they could try to raise reasonable doubt that had the drugs and gun upon them. The bag that the gun and drugs was found, where the gun and drug was found was in the satchel bag at that woman's feet.
That's what Officer Talma[d]ge will later testify to. There was a lot of junk all over that car. . . . It's not prejudicial because it doesn't say anything about the murder and at that woman's feet is where we find the gun and all the drugs in a satchel bag.
The State's going to argue that that drug and gun belonged to Mr. Hazel. That was the reason why he was in control of that vehicle and that's why he was found on the street. That's the State's case. So it's very probative just like any body-worn camera it's probative -- the officer is on the stand[] all the time. . . .
[THE COURT]: I don't think. But all evidence must be relevant because irrelevant evidence is inadmissible as a general rule. That's why I was asking you what relevance it played. The fact that it happened doesn't necessarily make it admissible. It has to be relevant.
[THE STATE]: The State's point, Your Honor, given that woman's demeanor, given the way she is in that accident, the State has to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that it is either constructive possession or that it is Mr. Hazel's and seeing the demeanor of the other person beyond just the description or testimony from an officer is absolutely important that includes tell the fact finder that it is more likely or less likely that that woman did not own that satchel bag and Mr. Hazel did.
[THE COURT]: All right. Defense?
[DEFENSE]: Your Honor, I would argue that's exactly why it's inadmissible. The State wants to dovetail in testimony of Ms. Palmer by using this video to say that she's not the one who owned this gun with the giant extended magazine, so that it must be Mr. Hazel. That's why Mr. Hazel's on trial. The State has made a determination that she seems weak or unable and they want to dovetail that in without giving us an opportunity to put her on the stand and cross examine her and to proffer. I think that's exactly the reason why the State says they want to use it is why it is inadmissible.
[THE STATE]: Your Honor, now this is a hearsay argument as opposed to probative. Of course, all evidence that the State is going to present is prejudic[ial] and I know that this tough but if we're talking about the hearsay, I believe that all this presen[t] sense impression and excited utterance up until certainly five minutes, Your Honor, where she starts coming a little bit further and she holds that officer's hand.
But all the statements that Ms. Palmer makes are not in for the truth of the matter asserted. They're excited utterances and beyond hearsay.

(emphasis added). After viewing the video, the court determined that it would permit the State to play the footage: "All right. I'm inclined to allow this video. I don't find anything unduly prejudicial. There's no blood. There's no gore, and it's indicative of who else is in the case [sic car?] at the time of the collision."

Following the trial court's ruling to admit the video, Mr. Hazel requested that the court admonish the State not to "make arguments that based on the video, she's sympathetic, based on her demeanor and try to dovetail this into some kind of eviden[ce] to use." The court responded, "[w]ell, we'll see how that goes" and that it would "not . . . pre-rule on that."

During the trial, before the video was played to the jury, Mr. Hazel again objected to the recording. Mr. Hazel renewed his objections and reminded the court that he...

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