Smith v. State

Decision Date01 April 2005
Docket NumberNo. 2371,2371
Citation161 Md. App. 461,870 A.2d 1228
PartiesJames Nathaniel SMITH v. STATE of Maryland.
CourtCourt of Special Appeals of Maryland

Douglas J. Wood, Riverdale, for appellant.

Annabelle L. Lisic (J. Joseph Curran, Jr., Atty. Gen., on brief), for appellee.

Panel KENNEY, ADKINS, CHARLES E. MOYLAN, JR. (Retired specially assigned) JJ.

KENNEY, J.

James Nathaniel Smith, appellant, was convicted after a bench trial in the Circuit Court for Prince George's County of possession with intent to distribute greater than fifty grams of crack cocaine and possession of a firearm with nexus to drug trafficking. He was sentenced to ten years for the drug possession charge, with all but five years suspended, and five years for the possession of a firearm charge, with the sentences to be served concurrently. On appeal, Smith poses the following question, which we have slightly reworded:

Did the circuit court err in denying his motion to suppress evidence obtained in violation of his rights under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution?

Because we find that Smith's rights were not violated, we affirm the judgment of the circuit court.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

On May 2, 2003, Detective Anthony Weaver was assigned to the Narcotics Enforcement Division of the Prince George's County Police Department. In a telephone conversation, a confidential source revealed to Detective Weaver that a man named "Jimmy" was present in the vicinity of Emo Street in Prince George's County for the purpose of distributing crack cocaine. The informant described "Jimmy" as "a black male, thin build, corn rows, light beard, with a black T-shirt ... driving a grayish-black Jeep Cherokee with tinted windows."

In response to the informant's tip, Detective Weaver and Sergeant Edward Davey,1 traveling in separate cars, ventured to the Emo Street and Clovis Avenue neighborhood. They arrived there at approximately 7:30 p.m. Shortly thereafter, the officers located a gray Jeep Cherokee in the eight or nine hundred block of Clovis Avenue. It had tinted windows and was facing the direction indicated by the informant. Surveilling the Jeep and the area, the officers witnessed a man matching the description given by the informant exit the vehicle several times, approach a group of males across the street, and then reenter the driver's seat of the vehicle. Both Detective Weaver and Sergeant Davey later identified the man as James Smith. Detective Weaver met with uniformed patrol officers on a nearby street for the purpose of instructing them to stop the vehicle when it was driven away. Sergeant Davey remained to watch the Jeep.

When Smith drove away, he was quickly stopped and surrounded by three marked Prince George's County police vehicles in the middle of Balboa Avenue. Officer Gurry, the uniformed officer conducting the stop, ordered Smith to exit the vehicle. Smith was escorted away from the Jeep. Two passengers, William Frazier and Andre Taylor, were then ordered to exit the Jeep and were escorted off to the side.

Detective Weaver and Sergeant Davey both arrived on the scene shortly after the stop. Sergeant Davey had Maggs with him, a police canine trained to detect the odors of marijuana and crack cocaine, among other illicit drugs. He then conducted an exterior canine scan of the vehicle. While passing the rear driver's side of the Jeep, Maggs jerked her head, indicating to Sergeant Davey that she had detected an odor she was trained to recognize.

When Maggs was placed in the interior of the Jeep, she immediately went to the center console. After being prompted to search the back seat, Maggs returned to the center console and began scratching it. Sergeant Davey testified that Maggs had been trained to scratch at an area where she discovers the strongest scent of an odor that she had been trained to detect. Sergeant Davey informed Detective Weaver concerning the alerts Maggs had given.

Based on that information, Detective Weaver began a search of the Jeep's interior. An electronic scale with suspected cocaine residue on its top and sides was found in the glove compartment. In addition, some hollowed out "backwoods cigars" were found in the center console and some plastic bags were found on the rear seat. Following the initial search of the Jeep, Smith was placed under arrest. He was searched incident to arrest and $1,573 and some suspected marijuana were found.

According to the testimony of Detective Weaver and Sergeant Davey, after Smith's arrest, the continued search of the Jeep was interrupted several times due to increased traffic on Balboa Avenue. Although Balboa Avenue was a two lane road, vehicles were parked on both sides of the road making it impossible for two vehicles traveling in opposite directions to pass. Determining that a continued search of the Jeep at that location was too dangerous, the officers impounded the Jeep and towed it to the District IV precinct.

Upon the arrival of the Jeep at the precinct, Sergeant Davey again walked Maggs around the outside of the Jeep. According to Sergeant Davey, Maggs alerted to the same spot near the driver's side rear tire. Moreover, a continued search of the interior of the vehicle revealed what Sergeant Davey considered to be an overabundance of air fresheners and electrical wires. As a result of his suspicion that the wires controlled access to a secret compartment, Sergeant Davey called in the "fire board" or fire department. The fire department located a secret compartment in the rear of the vehicle and used tools to open it. Inside the compartment were two handguns, a Beretta and a Glock, some money, and what appeared to be bags of crack cocaine totaling more than fifty grams. Cellular phones were recovered from the Jeep's interior.

On May 27, 2003, the Grand Jury for Prince George's County indicted Smith for: 1) possession with intent to distribute greater than fifty grams of crack cocaine; 2) possession of cocaine, a controlled dangerous substance, with intent to distribute; 3) possession of cocaine, a controlled dangerous substance; 4) possession of marijuana, a controlled dangerous substance; 5) possession of drug paraphernalia; 6) possession of a firearm, Beretta, with nexus to drug trafficking; and 7) possession of a firearm, Glock, with nexus to drug trafficking.

The Suppression Hearing

Smith moved to suppress the evidence obtained from the search incident to his arrest and from the search of the Jeep, alleging that the officers violated his rights under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. A hearing was held on August 29, 2003.

Detective Weaver was the first witness called by the State. He testified that, on May 2, 2003, he received a phone call from a confidential informant regarding Smith. According to Detective Weaver, the informant told him that a black male named "Jimmy" was on Emo Street for the purpose of distributing crack cocaine. The informant described Jimmy as "a black male, thin build, corn rows, light beard, with a black T-shirt. He also said that he would be driving a grayish-black Jeep Cherokee." After he and Sergeant Davey had gone to the area around Emo Street and Clovis Avenue, Detective Weaver was again contacted by the informant, who reiterated his prior description.

Detective Weaver recalled that the same confidential informant had once before provided information, which was relied on to obtain a search warrant and effectuate an arrest. Furthermore, he stated that none of the information provided by the confidential informant had been proven incorrect or inaccurate.

He then testified as to the eventual location of the Jeep matching the informant's description and the subsequent surveillance. According to Detective Weaver, a group of men were surrounding the Jeep and a man matching the informant's description exited and reentered the Jeep several times. On one occasion, a man approached the driver's side window of the Jeep, but Detective Weaver was too far away to determine what was occurring. He stated that he did not witness anything that he "could verify as a drug transaction." Detective Weaver left the area to instruct uniformed patrol units to stop the vehicle.

Although he was not present when the Jeep was stopped, Detective Weaver arrived on the scene shortly afterward, and he was informed by Officer Gurry, the officer conducting the stop, that the three occupants of the Jeep were "extremely nervous." Officer Gurry ordered all of the occupants out of the Jeep. Sergeant Davey then conducted the canine scan and informed Detective Weaver that Maggs had alerted.

Detective Weaver then searched the car. He found an electronic scale in the glove compartment, some cigars in the console, and some plastic bags in the back seat. He did not remember whether he performed a field test, but Detective Weaver testified that there was suspected cocaine residue on the top and sides of the scale. According to Detective Weaver, after the scale was found, Smith was placed under arrest. A search incident to Smith's arrest revealed $1,573 and a small quantity of suspected marijuana.

Detective Weaver testified that, following Smith's arrest, Balboa Avenue became crowded with traffic. Because it was a "very narrow" street, when traffic passed, the continued search of the Jeep had become unsafe and had to be halted. The Jeep was towed to the District IV precinct.

When the Jeep arrived at the precinct, Detective Weaver observed Sergeant Davey conduct a second exterior canine scan. Sergeant Davey informed him that Maggs had alerted to the same location. While the search of the Jeep continued outside, Detective Weaver went into the station house to begin preparing paperwork.

During cross-examination, Detective Weaver stated that he did not remember taking notes on his phone conversations with the informant. He also did not remember whether the informant had provided him a...

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