Richardson v. State

CourtCourt of Special Appeals of Maryland
Citation481 Md. 423,282 A.3d 98
Docket Number46, Sept. Term, 2021
Parties Anthony J. RICHARDSON v. STATE of Maryland
Decision Date29 August 2022

481 Md. 423
282 A.3d 98

STATE of Maryland

No. 46, Sept. Term, 2021

Court of Appeals of Maryland.

August 29, 2022

Argued by Michael T. Torres, Assistant Public Defender (Paul B. DeWolfe, Public Defender of Maryland, Baltimore, MD), on brief, for Petitioner

Argued by Derek Simmonsen, Asst. Atty. Gen. (Brian E. Frosh, Atty. Gen. of Maryland, Baltimore, MD), on brief, for Respondent

Argued before:* Getty, C.J., Watts, Hotten, Booth, Biran, Lynne A. Battaglia (Senior Judge, Specially Assigned), Robert N. McDonald (Senior Judge, Specially Assigned), JJ.

Biran, J.

481 Md. 434
282 A.3d 104

Chief Justice John G. Roberts observed in Riley v. California that modern cell phones are akin to powerful "minicomputers."1 Because today's smartphones contain information touching on "nearly every aspect" of a person's life, "from the mundane to the intimate," an unfettered search of a cell phone by law enforcement will "expose to the government far more than the most exhaustive search of a house."2 In Riley , the Supreme Court considered the privacy implications of widespread smartphone use for one of the exceptions to the Fourth Amendment's warrant requirement, a search incident to arrest. The Court concluded:

Modern cell phones are not just another technological convenience. With all they contain and all they may reveal, they hold for many Americans "the privacies of life." The fact that technology now allows an individual to carry such information in his hand does not make the information any less worthy of the protection for which the Founders fought. Our answer to the question of what police must do before searching a cell phone seized incident to an arrest is accordingly simple – get a warrant.[3 ]

The privacy concerns implicated by cell phone storage capacity and the pervasiveness of cell phones in daily life do not fade away when police obtain warrants to search cell phones. In the case before us here, police did obtain a warrant to search a suspect's cell phone. One of the questions we must decide in this case is whether that warrant complied with the Fourth Amendment's requirement to describe with particularity "the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be

481 Md. 435

seized"4 or whether it was, in effect, a "general warrant" that allowed police to engage in the type of exploratory rummaging that led the Founders to adopt the protections of the Fourth Amendment.

After a school resource officer broke up a fight in which Petitioner Anthony J. Richardson was involved, Richardson's backpack dropped from his body to the ground. The officer and Richardson reached for the backpack simultaneously; the officer picked it up before Richardson could do so. Richardson then ran from the scene. Soon afterwards, the officer opened the backpack. Among its contents were a firearm, three cell phones, and Richardson's school ID card. Further investigation established that one of the phones in Richardson's backpack had been stolen in a robbery three days earlier. The police connected one of the other phones in the backpack to the perpetrators of that robbery, after which they obtained a warrant to search that cell phone. The warrant authorized the officers to search for "[a]ll information, text messages, emails, phone calls (incoming and outgoing), pictures, videos, cellular site locations for phone calls, data and/or applications, geo-tagging metadata, contacts, emails, voicemails, oral

282 A.3d 105

and/or written communication and any other data stored or maintained inside of [the phone]."

After he was charged in the Circuit Court for Prince George's County with armed robbery and other offenses, Richardson moved to suppress the fruits of the warrantless search of his backpack and of the warranted search of the cell phone. The circuit court denied Richardson's suppression motion as to both searches, and Richardson entered a conditional guilty plea under which he preserved his right to appeal the circuit court's adverse suppression rulings. The Court of Special Appeals affirmed the circuit court's denial of Richardson's suppression motion.

As discussed below, the warrantless search of Richardson's backpack was permissible because Richardson abandoned the

481 Md. 436

backpack before the officer searched it. With respect to the search of the cell phone, we conclude that the warrant failed to comply with the particularity requirement of the Fourth Amendment because it authorized investigators to search everything on the phone. However, based on the detailed information about the specific crime under investigation that was contained in the affidavit submitted as part of the application for the search warrant, which was incorporated into the warrant itself, we conclude that the officers reasonably relied on the warrant in executing the search of the cell phone. Thus, the good faith exception to the exclusionary rule applies to the fruits of the cell phone search. For this reason, we affirm the judgment of the Court of Special Appeals.



A. The Search of the Backpack

On September 28, 2018, a large fight broke out behind Crossland High School in Temple Hills, Maryland. Corporal Myron Young of the Prince George's County Police Department, who served as a school resource officer at Crossland, responded to a call about the fight. When he arrived on the scene, Corporal Young saw approximately 30 students engaged in the melee. A young man later identified as Richardson was "throwing punches" with other students when Corporal Young intervened. Corporal Young was familiar with most of the students at Crossland High School, but he did not recognize Richardson, who, it turned out, attended a different high school.

Corporal Young grabbed another young man who was trying to punch Richardson from behind, effectively ending the fisticuffs in which Richardson specifically was involved. As Richardson got up from the ground, a backpack strapped across his body fell to the ground. Richardson and Corporal Young reached for the backpack at the same time, but it was Corporal Young who picked it up. Corporal Young thought it was suspicious that Richardson tried to grab the bag, instead

481 Md. 437

of focusing on the other young men who were still fighting nearby. After Corporal Young picked up the bag, Richardson immediately fled the scene at "full speed." Had Richardson not fled, Corporal Young would have detained him, as well as the other person with whom Richardson had been fighting.

When Corporal Young picked up the backpack, he noticed that the "bag had a decent amount of weight to it," and he "suspected that there was most likely a weapon in the bag." Within one or two minutes of his picking up the bag and Richardson's flight, Corporal Young opened the backpack. He did not pat the backpack down before opening it. In the backpack, Corporal Young saw a silver and gray Smith & Wesson semiautomatic

282 A.3d 106

handgun. He also found an identification card for Richardson associated with a different school, three cell phones, and some cash, among other items. Based on his review of Richardson's school ID card, Corporal Young was able to positively identify Richardson as the person he saw drop the backpack and flee.

B. The Police Connect Richardson to an Armed Robbery.

One of the cell phones found in Richardson's backpack was a Rose Gold iPhone 8+ that subsequently was determined to have been stolen from Jonathan James-Parks in an armed robbery in District Heights, Maryland, on September 25, 2018. James-Parks had arranged to buy a PlayStation 4 from a seller on the mobile marketplace application "letgo." When he arrived at a pre-arranged meeting point to complete the purchase, a man asked James-Parks if he was "Jonathan." When James-Parks said he was, another individual came out from a concealed location wearing a mask, pointed a handgun at James-Parks, and demanded that James-Parks hand over his property. James-Parks gave the robber his iPhone and his wallet containing approximately $140 in cash, debit cards, and other items. The two assailants fled the scene, and James-Parks reported the robbery to police. James-Parks gave police the letgo account information for the person who had agreed to sell him the PlayStation 4.

481 Md. 438

One of the other phones in Richardson's backpack was a T-Mobile Space Gray iPhone SE with an International Mobile Equipment Identity ("IMEI"5 ) number of 356600080434043 (the "T-Mobile iPhone SE"). Police sent a message to the letgo account that the purported seller of the PlayStation 4 had used to communicate with James-Parks. The T-Mobile iPhone SE then produced an alert that it had received a message via the letgo application.

C. The Warrant to Search the...

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6 cases
  • Zadeh v. State
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • June 29, 2023
    ...the constitutionality of the August 7 Order under the Fourth Amendment. Applying the guidelines articulated in Richardson v. State, 481 Md. 423 (2022), and Whittington v. State, 474 Md. 1 (2021), we hold that the August 7 Order did not meet the requirements of a warrant. From here, we apply......
  • Rovin v. State
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • July 31, 2023
    ...from Heien, Maryland recognizes and routinely applies the good-faith exception to the exclusionary rule. See, e.g., Richardson v. State, 481 Md. 423, 468-69 (2022); Agurs v. State, 415 Md. 62, 77-78 (1999). Indeed, Maryland's appellate courts have gone a step further by seeking to ensure th......
  • McDonnell v. State
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • December 1, 2022
    ...action, he reclaimed a reasonable expectation of privacy in the data. In a recent Court of Appeals opinion, Richardson v. State , 481 Md. 423, 282 A.3d 98 (2022), law enforcement officers sought and obtained a search warrant for the retrieval of information stored in a cellphone. The Court ......
  • Cuffey v. State
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • November 23, 2022
    ...seized. "The Supreme Court has often said that 'the ultimate touchstone of the Fourth Amendment is reasonableness.'" Richardson v. State, 481 Md. 423, 445 (2022) (further quotation marks omitted) (quoting Riley v. California, 573 U.S. 373, 381-82 (2014) (in turn quoting Brigham City v. Stua......
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