Sidney v. State, 090820 MDSCA, 410-2019

Docket Nº410-2019
Opinion JudgeFRIEDMAN, J.
Party NameKEITH SHAUNTE SIDNEY v. STATE OF MARYLAND
Judge PanelMeredith, Arthur, Friedman, JJ.
Case DateSeptember 08, 2020
CourtCourt of Special Appeals of Maryland

KEITH SHAUNTE SIDNEY

v.

STATE OF MARYLAND

No. 410-2019

Court of Special Appeals of Maryland

September 8, 2020

Circuit Court for Worcester County Case No.: C-23-CR-17-0224

Meredith, Arthur, Friedman, JJ. [*]

OPINION [**]

FRIEDMAN, J.

This appeal stems from the Circuit Court for Worcester County's denial of Keith Sidney's motion to suppress evidence recovered during a traffic stop. In this case, there is no dispute that the initial traffic stop was legal. The questions are rather, (1) whether the "mission" of that initial traffic stop was complete, and (2) if it was, whether there was either (a) fresh articulable suspicion, or (b) consent to begin a second search and seizure. We hold that the "mission" of the first stop was complete when the police officer walked back to Sidney's car to hand him written warnings for his infractions. Thereafter, the police officer began a second search and seizure for which there was neither fresh articulable suspicion nor consent. As a result, we hold that the second search violated the Fourth Amendment and any evidence seized as a result of the second search must be suppressed. In the absence of that evidence, Sidney's conviction must be reversed.

BACKGROUND

At approximately 4:00 p.m. on March 19, 2017, Detective First Class Shane Musgrave of the Worcester County Sherriff's Office was conducting a routine road patrol on Route 113 when he observed a gray 2017 Nissan Sentra with New York tags. Detective Musgrave noticed that the car appeared to be speeding and used his radar equipment to confirm that the car was going 56 miles per hour in a 45 mile per hour zone. He also noticed, as the vehicle drove past his location, that the driver and sole occupant of the vehicle, later identified as Sidney, was wearing headphones in violation of Maryland law. See Md. Transport. Ann. Code ("TR") §§ 21-801, 801.1 (concerning speeding); TR § 21-1120 (prohibiting headsets while driving).

Detective Musgrave stopped the vehicle, approached the car, identified himself, and asked Sidney if he knew why he was stopped. Sidney replied that he knew he was speeding. Detective Musgrave then asked for Sidney's license and registration. As Sidney obtained these documents, Detective Musgrave observed three cellular phones on the front passenger seat. He then asked Sidney about his travel plans and Sidney replied that he was traveling from Virginia to Pennsylvania. Detective Musgrave testified that he did not notice any luggage in the passenger compartment of the Sentra.1

After stopping Sidney, Detective Musgrave returned to his patrol vehicle to process the paperwork for the traffic stop. When he ran Sidney's name through his electronic system, he learned that Sidney had been stopped twice before in Maryland. Detective Musgrave admitted that he did not know the reason for those stops. The license, vehicle registration, and warrant checks revealed that there were no problems and no open warrants against Sidney.

Detective Musgrave wrote two traffic warnings for speeding and wearing headphones and returned to Sidney's vehicle with the written warnings and Sidney's license and registration. Rather than deliver the written warnings, however, Detective Musgrave asked Sidney to step out of the vehicle to "initiate a conversation with him … and ultimately issue him that written warning."

Sidney got out of his car and walked, as instructed, to the rear of his vehicle. Detective Musgrave asked Sidney if he could pat him down because, he testified, Sidney was wearing "very bulky" clothing and a hooded sweatshirt. Sidney consented to the pat down. Detective Musgrave patted Sidney down for weapons and noticed a large bulge in his front left pants pocket. At the hearing on the motion to suppress, Detective Musgrave testified that he "determine[d] that it was like a cellophane-type bag" that he recognized as "contraband."

After patting him down, Detective Musgrave asked Sidney what was in his pocket, and Sidney's demeanor "immediately shifted." According to the detective, Sidney asked "why is this necessary?," his voice "started to crack," he "started breathing heavily[, ] and then actually started backing away." Sidney then took several steps backward, towards the driver's side of his own vehicle, and Detective Musgrave attempted to coax him back towards his patrol car. By this point, another officer, Deputy Bisman arrived at the scene, and the two officers tried to get Sidney to comply with their requests to return to the rear of the vehicle.

According to Detective Musgrave, Sidney then "pulled away from [the officers] and actually pushed off of his vehicle" and fled around the front of the Sentra, over the guardrail towards the nearby wooded area. During the ensuing pursuit, Detective Musgrave noticed Sidney reaching into the same pocket where he had previously felt the bag. Detective Musgrave testified that, because Sidney was "actively resisting … arrest" and was "trying to … flee the location," he drew his taser and "ended up deploying it into Mr. Sidney's back." Sidney was placed under arrest and a subsequent search of the nearby area, assisted by a K-9 unit, resulted in the recovery of a clear plastic bag.2 A video of the encounter, recorded from Detective Musgrave's vehicle, was admitted into evidence and played for the court during the motions hearing.

On cross-examination, Detective Musgrave stated that, when he first approached Sidney's vehicle at the beginning of the encounter, Sidney was polite, did not show any signs of nervousness, and did not make any furtive movements. Detective Musgrave then confirmed that he did not return Sidney's license and registration or issue the written warnings after he ran the license, vehicle registration, and warrant checks. Instead, Detective Musgrave asked Sidney to exit his vehicle and testified that he was going to verbally explain the potential penalties associated with the written warnings.

In his testimony, Detective Musgrave claimed that, at the point he asked Sidney to exit his vehicle, the traffic stop was not complete. He testified to his opinion that Sidney was not free to leave because he had not issued the warnings or explained those documents. Detective Musgrave also confirmed that at the time of the incident, he and Deputy Bisman were in uniform and were armed. The detective also maintained that Sidney consented to the pat down, despite the fact that he could not leave. With respect to the frisk itself, Detective Musgrave agreed that the bulge did not feel like a weapon, only a plastic bag.

The court found that the initial stop for speeding and wearing headphones was lawful. The court then found that after running the license, vehicle registration and warrant checks, as well as writing the warnings, Detective Musgrave could permissibly ask Sidney to exit the vehicle. Next, finding Detective Musgrave to be credible, the motions court found that he had reason to pat Sidney down for purposes of officer safety, in light of his "bulky clothing." At that point, and relying on the video evidence admitted during the hearing, the motions court found that Sidney consented to the pat down, stating that "the video clearly shows that he puts his arms up and acquiesces, if you will, to the frisk." The motions court agreed, however, that Sidney was not free to go because the stop was not over at this point.

The motions court then addressed the detective's discovery of the clear plastic bag. The court disagreed with Sidney's argument that the item's incriminating nature was not immediately apparent because the detective had to ask Sidney to identify the item. Instead, the court found that the detective merely asked Sidney a question to confirm that the item was contraband. The court also found that, based on the video evidence, Sidney resisted the traffic stop and that his conduct amounted to "fleeing and eluding," thereby triggering "a new traffic offense" that also supported Sidney's arrest. Furthermore, according to the court, Sidney's act of pushing away from the officers was physical resistance, supporting "at least … a colorable claim that he assaulted the officer."

Ultimately, the court found that the traffic stop was not unreasonably prolonged and that there was no second stop in this case because Sidney had not received his license and registration back from the officer, nor had he received the warnings for the moving violations. The court also concluded that Sidney consented to the pat down, which did not have to be supported by reasonable articulable suspicion. The court, therefore, denied the motion to suppress. Sidney was convicted and timely appealed.

DISCUSSION

Traffic stops are lawful under the Fourth Amendment where there is probable cause to believe that the driver has committed a violation of the vehicle laws, or if there is reasonable, articulable suspicion that "criminal activity may be afoot[.]" Brice v. State, 225 Md.App. 666, 695-96 (2015) (quoting Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 30 (1968)); see also Maryland v. Pringle, 540 U.S. 366, 371 (2003) ("[T]he substance of all the definitions of probable cause is a reasonable ground for belief of guilt, and that the belief of guilt must be particularized with respect to the person to be searched or seized.").

During the course of routine traffic stop, an officer "may request a driver's license, vehicle registration, and insurance papers, run a computer check, and issue a citation or a warning." Nathan v. State, 370 Md. 648, 661-62 (2002) (citations omitted). "[T]he tolerable duration of police inquiries in the traffic-stop context is determined by the seizure's 'mission'-to address the traffic violation that warranted the stop … and attend to...

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