Norman v. State

Decision Date27 March 2017
Docket NumberNo. 56, Sept. Term, 2016,56, Sept. Term, 2016
Parties Joseph NORMAN, Jr. v. STATE of Maryland
CourtCourt of Special Appeals of Maryland

Allison Pierce Brasseaux, Assistant Public Defender (Paul B. DeWolfe, Public Defender of Maryland of Baltimore, MD), on brief, for petitioner.

Daniel J. Jawor, Assistant Attorney General (Brian E. Frosh, Attorney General of Maryland of Baltimore, MD), on brief, for respondent.

Barbera, C.J., Greene, Adkins, McDonald, Watts, Hotten, Getty, JJ.

Watts, J.

In 2014, the General Assembly decriminalized the possession of less than ten grams of marijuana, and reclassified such possession a "civil offense" rather than a misdemeanor. See 2014 Md. Laws. 1119, 1124 (Vol. II, Ch. 158, S.B. 364); Md. Code Ann., Crim. Law (2002, 2012 Repl. Vol., 2014 Supp.) § 5–601(c)(2).

Recently, in Robinson v. State , 451 Md. 94, 99, 152 A.3d 661 (2017), this Court addressed whether, in light of the decriminalization of possession of less than ten grams of marijuana, a law enforcement officer has probable cause to search a vehicle based on an odor of marijuana emanating from the vehicle. This Court unanimously held that

a law enforcement officer has probable cause to search a vehicle where the law enforcement officer detects an odor of marijuana emanating from the vehicle, as marijuana in any amount remains contraband, notwithstanding the decriminalization of possession of less than ten grams of marijuana; and the odor of marijuana gives rise to probable cause to believe that the vehicle contains contraband or evidence of a crime.

Id. This case requires us to decide a different issue involving the odor of marijuana emanating from a vehicle—namely, whether a law enforcement officer who detects an odor of marijuana emanating from a vehicle with multiple occupants has reasonable articulable suspicion that the vehicle's occupants are armed and dangerous, and thus may frisk—i.e. , pat down—the vehicle's occupants for weapons.

In this case, Trooper First Class Jon Dancho of the Maryland State Police ("Trooper Dancho") initiated a traffic stop of a vehicle in which Joseph Norman, Jr. ("Norman"), Petitioner, was the front seat passenger. Trooper Dancho detected what he described as a strong odor of fresh marijuana emanating from the vehicle. Trooper Dancho ordered the vehicle's three occupants to exit the vehicle so that he could search the vehicle for marijuana. Before searching the vehicle, Trooper Dancho frisked Norman and uncovered marijuana.

Norman contends that the odor of marijuana emanating from a vehicle, without more, does not give rise to reasonable articulable suspicion to believe that the vehicle's occupants are armed and dangerous. The State, Respondent, argues that the odor of marijuana emanating from a vehicle gives rise to a reasonable inference that all of the vehicle's occupants are engaged in the common enterprise of drug dealing—which is often associated with guns.

We reaffirm our holding in Robinson , 451 Md. at 98–99, 152 A.3d 661, that the odor of marijuana alone gives rise to probable cause to search a vehicle because the odor of marijuana indicates that the vehicle contains contraband or evidence of a crime. We hold that, where an odor of marijuana emanates from a vehicle with multiple occupants, a law enforcement officer may frisk, i.e. , pat down, an occupant of the vehicle if an additional circumstance or circumstances give rise to reasonable articulable suspicion that the occupant is armed and dangerous. Stated otherwise, for a law enforcement officer to have reasonable articulable suspicion to frisk one of multiple occupants of a vehicle from which an odor of marijuana is emanating, the totality of circumstances must indicate that the occupant in question is armed and dangerous. An odor of marijuana alone emanating from a vehicle with multiple occupants does not give rise to reasonable articulable suspicion that the vehicle's occupants are armed and dangerous and subject to frisk.

BACKGROUND

In the Circuit Court for Somerset County ("the circuit court"), the State charged Norman with possession of marijuana with intent to distribute, possession of marijuana, and possession of drug paraphernalia. Norman filed a motion to suppress, challenging "the stop and the fruits thereof." The circuit court conducted a hearing on the motion to suppress.

At the hearing, as the only witness for the State, Trooper Dancho testified that, on March 22, 2015, at approximately 9 p.m., he initiated a traffic stop of a 1996 Nissan with an inoperable right taillight near southbound U.S. Route 13 at Allen Road in Princess Anne. In addition to the driver, Norman was in the vehicle's front passenger seat, and another passenger was in the backseat. Trooper Dancho called for backup. Within a few minutes, two more troopers arrived. Trooper Dancho "made contact" with the driver, and detected a strong odor of fresh marijuana emanating from the vehicle's passenger compartment. Trooper Dancho told the vehicle's three occupants to exit the vehicle so that he could search the vehicle for marijuana.

Trooper Dancho testified that, before searching the vehicle, for his safety, he frisked the vehicle's occupants to look for weapons. Within two minutes of telling the vehicle's occupants to exit the vehicle, Trooper Dancho frisked the driver for approximately thirty seconds, and did not find any weapons or drugs. Trooper Dancho then frisked Norman, and Trooper Dancho felt what seemed like "large quantities of some foreign objects in his pants[.]" Trooper Dancho felt what seemed like plastic- or cellophane-covered, individually packaged bags of drugs in Norman's pants pocket. Trooper Dancho asked Norman what was in his pants pocket. Norman did not reply. Trooper Dancho testified that he moved Norman's pants pockets to make sure that what was in Norman's pants was not a weapon. Trooper Dancho "shook" Norman's pants pocket, and a bag of marijuana fell onto the ground. Trooper Dancho frisked the other passenger, and did not find any weapons or drugs.

After frisking all three of the vehicle's occupants, Trooper Dancho searched the vehicle, and found a grinder with traces of marijuana, as well as a small amount of marijuana in the dashboard's center compartment, above the gear shift. Trooper Dancho arrested Norman and transported him to the State Police Barrack. At the Barrack, Trooper Dancho searched Norman, and located another bag of marijuana, which fell from Norman's pants. Trooper Dancho read Norman his Miranda rights,1 which Norman waived. Norman admitted that all of the drugs and drug paraphernalia in the vehicle belonged to him, and claimed that they were for his personal use. On cross-examination, Trooper Dancho acknowledged that there is a difference between a frisk and a search of a person, and acknowledged that, in his report, he had written that he searched Norman prior to searching the vehicle.

As a witness for Norman, Franklin Braham ("Braham") testified2 that on March 22, 2015, he was a passenger in a vehicle with Norman and Trevon Lamar Robinson ("Robinson"), the driver. A law enforcement officer stopped the vehicle and said that a taillight was out. The law enforcement officer used his radio, and, thirty seconds later, two more law enforcement officers approached. The first law enforcement officer returned to the vehicle, said that he smelled marijuana, and pulled Robinson out of the vehicle. Another law enforcement officer pulled Norman out of the vehicle, and the third law enforcement officer pulled Braham out of the vehicle. According to Braham, all three of the vehicle's occupants were frisked twice. Braham testified that during Norman's frisk, the law enforcement officer was "tugging all over" Norman's body, and marijuana "fell out." According to Braham, the law enforcement officer put his hand under Norman's pants. After the traffic stop, Braham checked the vehicle's taillights, and the taillights seemed to be working.

As a witness on his own behalf, Norman testified that on March 22, 2015, he was a passenger in a vehicle when it was stopped. According to Norman, a law enforcement officer other than Trooper Dancho told him to exit the vehicle, and he did so. The law enforcement officer led Norman to the back of the vehicle and told him to undo his belt buckle, then place his hands on the vehicle; Norman did so. The law enforcement officer patted Norman's chest and waist, moved his hands around Norman's boxer briefs' waistband, and then checked Norman's right pant leg, where the law enforcement officer found marijuana. As he was being frisked, Norman looked at the rear of the vehicle and saw that all of the lights were on.

After Norman's testimony, the State recalled Trooper Dancho, who testified as a rebuttal witness that the vehicle's right taillight was inoperable and that, during the frisks, he did not put his hand inside anyone's clothing or under anyone's pants.

After Trooper Dancho's testimony, the circuit court heard argument from the parties. Norman's counsel contended that Trooper Dancho lacked reasonable articulable suspicion that Norman was armed and dangerous, and pointed out that there were multiple officers present, which ameliorated the risk of danger. Norman's counsel asserted that the odor of marijuana does not give rise to probable cause to search a vehicle in light of the decriminalization of possession of less than ten grams of marijuana. The prosecutor argued that possession of any amount of marijuana was criminal at the time of the traffic stop, and maintained that, based on the odor of marijuana alone, Trooper Dancho would not have known whether the vehicle contained more or less than ten grams of marijuana, and that, as such, Trooper Dancho had reason to believe that criminal activity was afoot.

The circuit court denied the motion to suppress. The circuit court found that Trooper Dancho conducted a frisk of Norman as opposed to a search of his person, and that the trooper properly Mirandized Norman. The...

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