Pringle v. State, 705

CourtCourt of Special Appeals of Maryland
Citation785 A.2d 790,141 Md. App. 292
Docket NumberNo. 705,705
PartiesJoseph Jermaine PRINGLE v. STATE of Maryland.
Decision Date28 November 2001

Sherrie B. Glasser, Asst. Public Defender (Stephen E. Harris, Public Defender on the brief), Baltimore, for appellant.

Mary Ann Ince, Asst. Atty. Gen. (J. Joseph Curran, Jr., Atty. Gen., Jason F. Trumpbour, Staff Atty., Baltimore, and Sandra A. O'Connor, State's Atty. for Baltimore County, Towson, on the brief), for appellee.

Submitted before JAMES R. EYLER, SONNER, and JAMES S. GETTY, (Ret., specially assigned), JJ. JAMES R. EYLER, Judge.

Appellant, Joseph Jermaine Pringle, was convicted by a jury in the Circuit Court for Baltimore County of possession with intent to distribute cocaine and possession of cocaine. Finding no error, we shall affirm the convictions.

Background

In the early morning of August 7, 1999, Officer Jeffrey Snyder, a Baltimore County police officer, conducted a routine traffic stop of a Nissan Maxima traveling on High Falcon Road. The vehicle was speeding, and the driver was not wearing a seat belt. Officer Snyder asked the driver for his license and registration, and the driver, Donte Partlow, complied with the request. Accompanying Partlow in the car were appellant, sitting in the front passenger seat, and Otis Smith, sitting in the backseat.

When Partlow opened the glove compartment to retrieve the vehicle registration, Officer Snyder noticed "a large amount of money rolled up." Officer Snyder did not inquire about the money in the glove compartment, but took the license and registration and checked the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration computer system for any outstanding violations. After the computer check did not reveal any violations, Officer Snyder issued an oral warning to Partlow, who was standing outside the car. At this time, a second police car arrived and parked directly behind Officer Snyder's car. Officer Snyder then inquired of Partlow whether he had "any drugs, weapons, [or] narcotics in the vehicle." Partlow said he did not. Officer Snyder then asked whether he could search the vehicle. Partlow consented to the search, and Officer Snyder asked appellant and Smith to step out of the vehicle. After frisking them, Officer Snyder asked all three men to be seated on the sidewalk curb. In the search, Officer Snyder seized $763.00 from the glove compartment and five plastic baggies of cocaine from the backseat. At the hearing on appellant's motion for suppression, Officer Snyder testified as follows, as to the discovery of the cocaine:

[DEFENSE COUNSEL]: And you recovered some suspected narcotics?

[OFFICER Snyder]: Yes.

[Q.]: And they were recovered from inside an armrest that was located in the back seat?

[A.]: Yes.

[Q.]: Did you have—did you have to lift the armrest to get to those drugs?
[A.]: The back rest was up. The seat is flat. The armrest goes up and down. It was in the up position. I pushed it down and the drugs were subsequently there.

[Q.]: Okay. So, the back rest was actually in an upright position?

[A.]: Yes.

[Q.]: And the drugs were actually found sandwiched between the armrest and the back seat of the car?

[A.]: Correct.

[Q.]: And you hadn't seen these drugs when you initially approached the car?

[A.]: Correct.

[Q.]: And you shined your light inside and the first time you noticed the drugs was when all three individuals were sitting on the curb, correct?

[A.] Correct.

Officer Snyder questioned the three men as to the ownership of the drugs and money. He advised all three passengers of the car that, unless he knew who possessed the drugs, "you are all going to get arrested." None of the passengers offered any information as to the ownership of the drugs or the money. Officer Snyder, with the assistance of the other officer at the scene, arrested the three men and transported them to the police station.

A few hours later, Officer Snyder met with appellant and, following a waiver of his Miranda1 rights, procured a written confession. Appellant said that the cocaine belonged to him and that he and his friends were on their way to a party where he either intended to sell the cocaine or "use it for sex." Appellant went on to say that Partlow and Smith did not know about the drugs.

At trial, Officer Snyder testified, and his testimony was similar to that given at the suppression hearing. Irwin Litopsky, a forensic chemist, also testified and stated that the baggies discovered by Officer Snyder contained .7 grams of cocaine. Detective Frank Massoni, an expert in controlled substances, testified that the drugs were intended to be distributed.

Discussion

1.

Appellant contends that the circuit court erred in permitting Detective Massoni to express an expert opinion. The following colloquy is relevant:

[Prosecutor]: Detective, based upon your expertise in the area of drug distribution, packaging and recognition, do you have an opinion, based upon that expertise, within a reasonable degree of scientific certainty, as to whether the defendant intended to distribute the cocaine that is enclosed in those five zip lock baggies?

[Defense Counsel]: Object.

The Court: Overruled.

[Prosecutor]: Do you in fact have an opinion?
[Witness]: My opinion is that the drugs that were here were going to be distributed in some form or fashion, either to regain money or to be used for sex.

[Prosecutor]: And how is it you come to that opinion, officer?

[Witness]: Based on the statement that I have before me and the fact that, I mean, we have got five baggies and they are packaged individually, which is the way they are usually packaged for resale, generally twenty dollar bags.

The statement referred to was a statement by appellant that he was going to a party to sell the drugs or exchange them for sex.

Appellant contends that the evidence was inadmissible under Rule 5-704(b) because it constituted an opinion as to appellant's mental state at the time of his arrest. Additionally, according to appellant, the evidence violated the rule that one witness cannot comment on the credibility of another witness, in this case, appellant. We disagree.

The witness never opined as to appellant's state of mind or his credibility. The witness opined that "the drugs were going to be distributed" with no reference to appellant's intent or credibility.

Appellant's reliance on Hartless v. State, 327 Md. 558, 611 A.2d 581 (1992), is misplaced. The expert opinion in Hartless is distinguishable from Detective Massoni's testimony. There, the expert explicitly alluded to the defendant's state of mind, writing in a report, "it is my opinion that David Hartless did not intend to murder the victim ...". Hartless, 327 Md. at 572-73,611 A.2d 581. Contrary to appellant's contentions, Detective Massoni did not explicitly or implicitly testify that appellant intended to distribute drugs. Rather, Detective Massoni's opinion related to the quantity and packaging of the drugs that were contained in five zip lock baggies each containing similar amounts of cocaine. The substance of Detective Massoni's testimony was consistent with his area of expertise in drug distribution, packaging, and recognition.

The case of Bohnert v. State, 312 Md. 266, 539 A.2d 657 (1988), upon which appellant relies, is also distinguishable from the instant case. After being properly qualified, the expert testified that the victim was abused, basing her opinion solely on the results of questioning the victim; no other objective medical tests or medically recognized syndromes were utilized. Bohnert, 312 Md. at 276, 539 A.2d 657. In effect, the expert was testifying to the credibility of the victim, the key witness in the case. The Court recognized, "[i]n a criminal case tried before a jury, a fundamental principle is that the credibility of a witness and weight to be accorded the witness' testimony are solely within the province of the jury." Id. at 277, 539 A.2d 657 (citing Battle v. State, 287 Md. 675, 685, 414 A.2d 1266 (1980)).

In the instant case, appellant did not testify. The jury had no reason to weigh the testimony and credibility of appellant. Even if appellant had testified, Detective Massoni's remarks would have had a different consequence than the remarks in Bohnert. Detective Massoni's statement that the drugs were going to be distributed "either to regain money or to be used for sex" was based on his review of appellant's written statement. The mere repetition of appellant's statement was not a judgment of appellant's credibility. In contrast to Bohnert, Detective Massoni based his expert opinion on several factors, including the packaging of the drugs, appellant's statement, and his expertise in drug distribution, packaging and recognition. Similar to our findings in Wilson v. State, 136 Md.App. 27, 764 A.2d 284 (2000), Detective Massoni's expert opinion would not impinge on the jury's function to weigh credibility. Wilson, 136 Md.App. at 55-68, 764 A.2d 284 (rejecting the argument that four doctors' expert opinions were inadmissible comments on credibility).

2.

Appellant contends that the circuit court erred in denying his motion to suppress his statement to a police officer. In support of that contention, he argues that the statement was (1) the fruit of an illegal arrest, and (2) the result of an improper inducement.

Probable Cause

The United States Supreme Court instructs us that "the usual traffic stop is more analogous to a so-called `Terry stop,' ... than to a formal arrest." Berkemer v. McCarty, 468 U.S. 420, 439, 104 S.Ct. 3138, 82 L.Ed.2d 317 (1984) (citing Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 88 S.Ct. 1868, 20 L.Ed.2d 889 (1968)); see also Livingston v. State, 317 Md. 408, 411, 564 A.2d 414 (1989)

. "Therefore, stopping a vehicle for a speeding [or seat belt] violation and detaining its occupants does not constitute a custodial arrest." Livingston v. State, 317 Md. 408, 412, 564 A.2d 414 (1989) (citing Colorado v. Bannister, 449 U.S. 1,...

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  • Hatcher v. State
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
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