Huggins v. State, 59-2021

CourtCourt of Appeals of Maryland
Writing for the CourtGould, J.
Docket Number59-2021
Decision Date07 July 2022



No. 59-2021

Court of Appeals of Maryland

July 7, 2022

Argued: May 5, 2022

Circuit Court for Howard County Case No.: C-13-CR-19-000521

Fader, C.J. Watts Hotten Booth Biran Gould Eaves, JJ.


Gould, J.


On February 27, 2019, Luis Felepe Huggins was indicted in the Circuit Court for Howard County on charges of possessing a regulated firearm after having been convicted of a crime of violence and other related crimes. Mr. Huggins moved to suppress the gun and the loaded magazine that police recovered inside a closed overnight bag while conducting a warrantless search of Mr. Huggins's hotel room. After an evidentiary hearing, the Honorable Timothy J. McCrone denied the motion to suppress.

The State filed a superseding indictment under a new case number to add additional charges. Mr. Huggins renewed his motion to suppress in the new case. This time, the motion to suppress was heard by the Honorable Richard S. Bernhardt. At the hearing on the motion, defense counsel explained that the motion had been argued and denied in the case filed under the original indictment and that Mr. Huggins renewed the motion under the new case number only to ensure that the denial of the motion to suppress was preserved for appeal. Judge Bernhardt understood, explaining:

Now, my reading of the two indictments, it seems to me that the motion that was litigated in front of Judge McCrone is precisely the same motion that is before this Court. The new counts on the superseding indictment don't impact the motion, doesn't create any legal arguments that weren't available before, doesn't include any evidence that wasn't available before, doesn't include any witnesses that weren't relevant before. The new counts have nothing to do with the motion. That's the way I looked at it

Judge Bernhardt further explained that "for judicial economy, it makes sense to just incorporate the old motion," and that he "wouldn't rehear it because we're just not going to do do-overs unless there's a reason for it, a unique reason for it." Judge Bernhardt suggested that defense counsel scan the transcript from the prior motions hearing and have


it incorporated into the record. Defense counsel agreed to do so but emphasized that Mr. Huggins was preserving his objections from the original motion. The State agreed. Judge Bernhardt directly addressed Mr. Huggins to make sure he understood what was happening:

THE COURT: What's being agreed to by your attorney and the State's attorney today is, instead of just having a brand-new hearing, bringing witnesses in and starting all over again, we're going to take a transcript that's a full and complete transcript of the motion before Judge McCrone. Mr. Clerk will scan it in, and it'll be incorporated by agreement into the record of this case. In other words, that will be the Motion for Suppression in this case. By agreement, six exhibits that were presented before Judge McCrone will become part of this record, too. So if you are found guilty in this case, the Appellate Courts will have a transcript to read. I mean, a transcript is a transcript
THE COURT: They'll have this transcript to read which will be the entire hearing before Judge McCrone and they'll have the same exhibits to look at. In other words, [it] seems to me that they'll be in the same position that they would have been had you been found guilty in the first case and then you appealed it. Have I made myself clear to you?
THE DEFENDANT: Yeah, I understand. As they waited for the transcript to be scanned, Judge Bernhardt stated:
[W]hat [defense counsel is] doing now, the Public Defender's Office, I did that for like fifteen years, most of it in this county. And what I say is - you know, I don't know anything about your case beyond what I've seen in court. I don't know about your conversations with her nor am I asking. None of my business. But many times, the motion litigation is the most important part of a case. I mean, I would have guys where stuff is in their pocket. There's no doubt. Everyone knows the stuff was in their pocket and nobody's disputing that stuff was in their pocket. The real question is, when the police officer's hand went in his pocket, was that okay? So, we'd litigate motions and if I won, I won. Good for us. The stuff is suppressed. The jury gets hung. If I lost, well, then I lost. But you can't plead guilty and have an appeal.
And the value to the Defendant is that the Appellate issue, whether or not the suppression ruling by the judge was right, is preserved and you can appeal it ....

The transcript and all exhibits from the motion filed in the first case were admitted and then incorporated into the record. No additional argument was heard.

During Mr. Huggins's subsequent trial, the police officer testified about his search of the overnight bag, and the items found therein-the handgun, pictures of the handgun, and the gun's magazine-were admitted into evidence. As each was offered into evidence, defense counsel stated: "No objection."

Mr. Huggins was convicted of first-degree assault, use of a firearm during the commission of a crime of violence, possession of a regulated firearm after having been convicted of a crime of violence, and possession of ammunition after having been prohibited from possessing a regulated firearm.

Mr. Huggins appealed, arguing in part that the circuit court erred in denying his motion to suppress. In an unreported opinion, the Court of Special Appeals sua sponte considered whether Mr. Huggins had waived this argument. Luis Felepe Huggins v. State, No. 816, Sept. Term 2020, 2021 WL 4893362 (filed Oct. 20, 2021). Relying primarily on Jackson v. State, 52 Md.App. 327 (1982), Erman v. State, 49 Md.App. 605 (1981), and Brice v. State, 225 Md.App. 666 (2015), the Court concluded that Mr. Huggins had waived his right to appeal the denial of his suppression motion, stating:

In short, if a court denies a motion to suppress and the defendant says nothing at all when the State moves to introduce the challenged evidence at trial, the
defendant has preserved an objection to the denial of the motion to suppress. Jackson v. State, 52 Md.App. at 331. If, on the other hand, the court denies a motion [to] suppress and the defendant affirmatively states that the defense has no objection to the introduction of the challenged evidence at trial, the defendant has waived the objection to the denial of the motion to suppress. Erman v. State, 49 Md.App. at 630.

The Honorable Daniel A. Friedman filed a concurring opinion. Concluding he was bound by that Court's decision in Jackson, 52 Md.App. 327, Judge Friedman concurred in the result, but wrote separately to emphasize his belief that Mr. "Huggins has a strong claim that the warrantless search of his closed bag found in his hotel room was unconstitutional[,]" which could not be raised until post-conviction. Judge Friedman opined that this inequitable result "ought to be rectified by modifying the Rule or reevaluating that aspect of Jackson."

Mr. Huggins filed a petition for certiorari, which we granted. Huggins v. State, 477 Md. 381 (2022). Mr. Huggins presents us with two questions:

1. Did the Court of Special Appeals err by raising and deciding, on its own initiative, that Petitioner waived his objection to the denial of his motion to suppress where the State did not argue waiver on appeal?
2. If a pretrial motion to suppress is heard and denied and at trial when the evidence is offered by the State defense counsel says "no objection," does counsel's statement constitute a waiver, so that the issue is not preserved for review?

We hold that Mr. Huggins did not waive his right to appeal the suppression ruling, and we therefore vacate the judgment of the Court of Special Appeals and remand this case to that Court for consideration of Mr. Huggins' appeal on the merits. As a result, we do not address his first question.



The Parties' Contentions

Embracing the plain language of Maryland Rule 4-252(h)(2)(C),[1] Mr. Huggins argues that the denial of his motion to suppress the evidence was binding at trial and the search and seizure issue was preserved for appeal. He contends that his trial counsel's "no objection" to the State's offer of each item into evidence did not speak to the claim previously adjudicated at the suppression hearing, but instead simply informed the court that Mr. Huggins had no evidentiary objection to the admission of the evidence. Thus, he argues, the Court of Special Appeals erred in finding that "no objection" constituted a waiver of the search and seizure issue.

In response, the State adopts the gist of the Court's analysis. The State does not dispute that Mr. Huggins properly preserved the search and seizure issue under Rule 4-252. Indeed, the State observes that the issue would have remained preserved under Rule 4-252 had defense counsel kept silent as each item was offered and admitted. But because defense counsel instead represented, without prompting by the court, that Mr. Huggins had "no objection," the State maintains that Mr. Huggins affirmatively waived the issue. Claiming that the Court properly applied waiver law, the State contends that defense counsel "had


not alerted the trial court that she intended to say 'no objection' in front of the jury while nevertheless preserving the suppression hearing claims."

As did the Court of Special Appeals, the State claims support for its position in Erman v. State, 49 Md.App. 605 (1981), Jackson v. State, 52 Md.App. 327 (1982), and Brice v. State, 225 Md.App. 666 (2015). The State also cites to numerous Maryland appellate decisions, including our more recent opinion in Lopez-Villa v. State, 478 Md. 1, 19 (2022),[2] in which this Court...

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