Ott v. State

Citation325 Md. 206,600 A.2d 111
Decision Date01 September 1991
Docket NumberNo. 31,31
PartiesThomas E. OTT, III v. STATE of Maryland. ,
CourtCourt of Appeals of Maryland

Victoria S. Lansburgh, Asst. Public Defender (Stephen E. Harris, Public Defender, both on brief), Baltimore, for petitioner/cross respondent.

Gary E. Bair, Asst. Atty. Gen. (J. Joseph Curran, Jr., Atty. Gen., both on brief), Baltimore, for respondent/cross petitioner.



This case presents for resolution the questions whether Thomas E. Ott, III, the petitioner, was illegally detained and/or illegally arrested and, if he was, whether the evidence seized by reason of the detention or arrest should have been suppressed. The latter question requires a determination of petitioner's standing to challenge the seizure of the evidence. The Circuit Court for Frederick County ruled in favor of petitioner, finding that: (1) he had standing by virtue of his occupation of the driver's seat in the automobile; (2) "the officers had [no] probable cause in the first place to go in like they did;" and (3) the search of the car's glove box was not incident to petitioner's arrest "and certainly not for the presence of weapons." The court, therefore, suppressed the evidence and the State appealed. 1

The intermediate appellate court reversed. State v. Ott, 85 Md.App. 632, 584 A.2d 1266 (1991). Assuming arguendo that petitioner had standing, the court held that the initial encounter between petitioner and the police did not rise to a Fourth Amendment violation. It further held that the petitioner's arrest, albeit pursuant to an invalid arrest warrant, was effected in good faith. "Thus, the warrantless search of the vehicle was valid as a search incident to a lawful arrest...," 85 Md.App. at 646-47, 584 A.2d at 1273, notwithstanding that the petitioner had been handcuffed and placed outside the automobile before the glove box was searched.

We granted petitioner's petition for writ of certiorari and the State's conditional petition to address the important questions presented. For the reasons hereinafter set forth, we will reverse the judgment of the Court of Special Appeals.


The facts are not in dispute. Consequently, we will adopt the statement of facts as set out in the opinion of the Court of Special Appeals:

On January 5, 1990, Cpl. Fogle 2 was on routine patrol near the Francis Scott Key Mall in Frederick, Maryland. At about 1:40 a.m., he observed two people sitting in a car in an otherwise deserted public parking lot in that mall. No signs were posted that said "No trespassing," nor were there any indicating that parking was prohibited after certain hours. In short, no restrictions had been posted at all. Fogle [approached] the car and its occupants because of thefts and acts of vandalism that previously had occurred in the parking lot. When he decided to do so, he saw nothing suspicious occurring in the car or anywhere else nearby.

Fogle asked the two individuals their names and also asked what they were doing there. They identified themselves as Thomas Ott (seated in the driver's seat) and Sandra Sorenson (seated in the passenger's seat), and said that they were just talking. After Fogle obtained identification from each one, he radioed police headquarters to run a computer check to determine whether either of them was the subject of an outstanding warrant. Nothing in Fogle's testimony suggested that Ott's or Sorenson's responses to his initial questions were suspicious in any manner; likewise, Fogle appears to have requested written identification to run a computer check as a matter of routine.

The computer check indicated that an outstanding warrant existed for Ott because of his failure to appear in a civil "non-payment" case. Fogle subsequently arrested Ott on this basis. Fogle then asked Sorenson--the car owner--to step out of the car so that the other officers on the scene could conduct a search incident to Ott's arrest. As Sorenson exited the car, Cpl. Johnson spied a Twenty-dollar bill rolled up into a straw that fell from her lap. Fogle confiscated the bill as evidence, recognizing that it could be used to ingest controlled dangerous substances. The officers proceeded to search the car. They discovered in the glove compartment three bags of a white powdery substance that Fogle recognized to be cocaine. In addition they found under the passenger seat a small round mirror with a white powdery residue on it. The officers handcuffed Ott and Sorenson, and transported them both to the police station. After Ott signed a waiver of rights form he told Cpl. Smith that he was trying to sell the cocaine to get out of debt.

Cpl. Fogle later determined that, in fact, no outstanding warrant existed for Ott because the bench warrant had been satisfied on December 29, 1989. Another sheriff apparently had served the warrant, but had not removed it from the computer before January 5, 1990. At the suppression hearing, the State introduced a computer printout which showed that there was an active warrant when Cpl. Fogle ran the computer search.

85 Md.App. at 634-35, 584 A.2d at 1267-68.


Petitioner did not present any evidence. He argued, however, that, since the warrant on the basis of which the arrest was made was invalid, he was illegally arrested. Petitioner also contended that he had standing, by virtue of his being seated in the driver's seat of the car.


It is undisputed that petitioner was arrested on the basis of an outstanding arrest warrant which had been satisfied seven days earlier. Thus, unless Cpl. Fogle's subjective good faith reliance on the outdated information supplied by the Frederick County sheriff's computer mandates a different result, petitioner's arrest was illegal. The State argued below, and the Court of Special Appeals agreed, that the good faith exception to the exclusionary rule applies to the case sub judice. The court reasoned that the policy underlying the exclusionary rule, "a judicially created remedy designed to safeguard Fourth Amendment rights generally through its deterrent effect, rather than a personal constitutional right of the party aggrieved," United States v. Leon, 468 U.S. 897, 906, 104 S.Ct. 3405, 3412, 82 L.Ed.2d 677, 687 (1984), quoting United States v. Calandra, 414 U.S. 338, 348, 94 S.Ct. 613, 620, 38 L.Ed.2d 561, 571 (1974), and, in particular, "to deter police misconduct", id., 468 U.S. at 917, 104 S.Ct. at 3417, 82 L.Ed.2d at 694, is not furthered by suppressing evidence when, rather than acting in bad faith, the police act in complete good faith. 85 Md.App. at 643-44, 584 A.2d at 1272, citing Leon, 468 U.S. at 919, 104 S.Ct. at 3418, 82 L.Ed.2d at 696 (citing United States v. Peltier, 422 U.S. 531, 539, 95 S.Ct. 2313, 2318, 45 L.Ed.2d 374, 382 (1975)). As the Peltier Court put it:

If the purpose of the exclusionary rule is to deter unlawful police conduct, then evidence obtained by a search should be suppressed only if it can be said that the law enforcement officer had knowledge, or may properly be charged with knowledge, that the search was unconstitutional under the Fourth Amendment.

Id. The Court of Special Appeals recognized the applicability of the "collective knowledge/collective ignorance" rule, see Albo v. State, 477 So.2d 1071, 1075 n. 4 (Fla.App.1985); nevertheless, it was of the view that, because of the relatively small number of days by which the information was outdated, "this is [not] a case of police misconduct or negligence such that we should apply the exclusionary rule." 85 Md.App. at 646, 584 A.2d at 1273. The court relied upon Commonwealth v. Riley, 284 Pa.Super. 280, 425 A.2d 813, 816 (1981) and Childress v. United States, 381 A.2d 614 (D.C.App.1977).

The State argues, in addition, that Maryland v. Garrison, 480 U.S. 79, 107 S.Ct. 1013, 94 L.Ed.2d 72 (1979); Illinois v. Rodriguez, 497 U.S. ----, 110 S.Ct. 2793, 111 L.Ed.2d 148 (1990); and Florida v. Jimeno, 500 U.S. ----, 111 S.Ct. 1801, 114 L.Ed.2d 297 (1991) require affirmance of the Court of Special Appeals. It contends that police reliance on warrant information received from its computer was objectively "reasonable conduct under the Fourth Amendment and therefore no Fourth Amendment violation occurred...."

Petitioner concedes that Cpl. Fogle acted in "subjective good faith," i.e. he was not aware that the warrant on the basis of which he made the arrest had been previously served. Petitioner denies, however, that that fact is dispositive. Applying the "collective knowledge/collective ignorance" rule, which he too asserts is applicable, he argues that Cpl. Fogle must be charged with knowledge that the warrant had been satisfied prior to petitioner's arrest. That result is required, according to petitioner, because the outdated information came from a computer belonging to the Frederick County Sheriff's Department, the warrant was issued in Frederick County, it had been turned over to the Sheriff's Department for execution, and the warrant had been executed by a member of the Sheriff's Department. From this, the petitioner maintains that the arresting officer did not act objectively reasonably. Moreover, petitioner observes, "the State does not explain why a County Sheriff's department would reasonably require more than seven days to update its own records."

In Whiteley v. Warden, 401 U.S. 560, 91 S.Ct. 1031, 28 L.Ed.2d 306 (1971), a sheriff in one Wyoming county, acting on an informant's tip, obtained a warrant for the arrest of Whiteley and a companion. That fact, along with descriptions of the two men, were broadcast over state-wide police radio. An officer in another Wyoming county, relying on the descriptions, arrested Whiteley and his companion. Evidence uncovered during the search incident to that arrest was used, over objection that he was illegally arrested, to convict Whiteley. The Supreme Court...

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