Walker v. State

Decision Date28 June 2012
Docket NumberSept. Term, 2010.,No. 2733,2733
Citation206 Md.App. 13,47 A.3d 590
PartiesKarl Marshall WALKER, Jr. v. STATE of Maryland.
CourtCourt of Special Appeals of Maryland

OPINION TEXT STARTS HERE

Brian L. Zavin (Paul B. DeWolfe, Public Defender, on the brief) Baltimore, MD, for appellant.

Brenda Gruss (Douglas F. Gansler, Atty. Gen., on the brief), Baltimore, MD, for appellee.

Panel: MATRICCIANI, GRAEFF, HOTTEN, JJ.

HOTTEN, J.

Appellant, Karl Marshall Walker, Jr., was indicted in the Circuit Court for Howard County for sexual abuse of a minor and attempted sexual abuse of a minor. On September 10, 2010, the circuit court denied appellant's motion to suppress evidence seized from the desk he used while employed as an assistant to the special education teachers at an elementary school. Following a two day bench trial on September 21 and 22, 2010, the circuit court convicted appellant of both charges and imposed a sentence of thirteen years, with all but seven years suspended and five years of supervised probation. Appellant timely appealed, presenting the following questions:

1. Was the evidence sufficient to convict Appellant of sexual abuse of a minor where the State showed only that he exchanged inappropriate letters of a non-sexual nature with the alleged victim?

2. Did the court err in denying Appellant's motion to suppress evidence seized during a warrantless search of his desk at his place of employment?

For the reasons that follow, we affirm the judgments of the circuit court.

I. MOTION TO SUPPRESSA. Factual Background

At the hearing concerning appellant's motion to suppress, Mr. M.,1 the principal of the elementary school where appellant was employed, testified that appellant served as a “paraeducator,” which is an assistant to the special education teachers, during the 20092010 school year. He stated that on March 17, 2010, a teacher gave him letters written by appellant that were found in the desk of either C.B. or her twin sister, third-grade students who shared a homeroom. Mr. M. testified that he called appellant that evening and left a voicemail message. When appellant returned Mr. M.'s call the following morning, Mr. M. advised that there was an investigation involving inappropriate communications between appellant and a student and that appellant should remain away from the school until further notice. Mr. M. also contacted other administrators, the head of his school's security, and the police.

He stated that Detective First Class Erika Heavner and another officer arrived at the school on March 18, 2010. The officers asked Mr. M. about appellant and requested that Mr. M. provide consent to search the desk used by appellant. Mr. M. executed a consent form and led the officers to the desk. The officers opened the drawers and examined the contents as Mr. M. stood nearby.

At the hearing, Mr. M. described appellant's desk, which was owned by the school system, as being located in the “first grade pod,” an area surrounded by three first grade classrooms, a technology classroom, and an alternative education classroom. This common area also contained two other desks used by two other paraeducators. According to Mr. M., appellant did not share his desk with anyone and, as a returning faculty member, could retain the same desk from year to year. Appellant's desk could have been locked, but appellant had not requested a key to lock the desk. Mr. M. also indicated that lockers were available for paraeducators to store their personal belongings, but, to his knowledge, appellant had not requested one. Because appellant's desk was located in a common area between classrooms, Mr. M. observed that there was a good deal of student traffic passing by appellant's desk between classrooms and that small groups and after-school programs used the common area. He went on to state that the groups using the common area would not need to access appellant's desk unless “to borrow a pencil or something like that.”

Lastly, Mr. M. testified that appellant's employment was terminated soon after March 18, 2010. Mr. M. collected some of appellant's belongings from the desk, storing them in a bin in his office bathroom. Appellant never returned to the school to collect these items, but Mr. M. was uncertain whether appellant was allowed to enter the school.

Next, Detective Heavner, who was assigned to the Sexual Assault and Child Abuse Section of the Criminal Investigations Division, Family Crimes Unit of the Howard County Police Department, testified regarding her investigation on March 18, 2010. She indicated that she received Mr. M.'s permission to search the desk. Detective Heavner described the desk as having a vertical column of three drawers labeled “seminars, research data,” “student data,” and “learning” and a flat drawer in the center of the desk in front of the chair labeled “utensils.” In the drawers, she found greeting cards and assignments from various students, a printed excerpt of a book entitled “Laughter: A Scientific Investigation,” a blank “Paraeducator/Paraprofessional Voluntary Transfer Request Form,” a drawing of a bear, and a small cardboard box. The box contained a number of folded pieces of paper. She stated that the first piece of paper was addressed to “Raven K,” a nickname for appellant, from “ Steeler girl,” a nickname for C.B. Detective Heavner stated that once she saw the first paper on top, she placed all the papers back into the box and seized the box. On March 26, 2010, eight days later, Detective Heavner applied for and executed a search warrant for the box and its contents. The box contained a multitude of notes and cards that appeared to be from C.B. to appellant.

Following the receipt of testimony and argument, the circuit court denied appellant's motion to suppress, finding that appellant did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in the contents of the desk. The circuit court ruled as follows:

I make my decisions based on the evidence that's in front of me, this desk was, in fact, assigned to Mr. Walker, that's without dispute. This desk was capable—he was invited by the school to lock it if he wished, that's indisputable. This desk, and I'm looking at State's [Exhibit] J, the photograph of the front of the desk, has a key lock on the drawer underneath where the seat—or right above the seat, the mid-drawer, it has a key lock. There's no evidence that it's not capable of locking. This desk is in an open area where people have ample access to it. Given the nature of the use of the area it's a type of place where you could reasonably expect people to sit down and use the surface when Mr. Walker wasn't there. Because of the nature of the uses that the school system put it to there weren't specific work sites, that I could see in photograph G, that would accommodate these interventions,[2 so it's reasonable to think that this desk or any other desk could be used by other persons during these interventions or other uses of this open space and general space. This desk was not locked, it's clear to me it was not locked.

And what's of importance to me is the labels on the drawers. Just because a person is permitted exclusive use doesn't mean the person has to agree to permissive use. And look to the facts individually in each case to determine whether or not there's been demonstrated a subjective expectation that his or her property or possessions will not be searched and whether or not that is an objectively reasonable expectation of the circumstances.

All I know is that this was assigned to Mr. Walker, that it could have been locked but it was not, that's in an open use area. And these labels are very important to me, the labels are as follows; on the general drawer it's labeled utensil and desk items, then are three other drawers, they're a tower—they're stacked one on top of each other type drawers on the right side of the desk, the top drawer is labeled seminars and research data, the middle drawer is labeled student data, the middle drawer 3 is labeled materials, learning. Now, if this was Mr. Walker's personal space that he had a reasonable expectation of privacy in then he certainly would not have any need to label the drawers, because he would know what was in the drawers. But, more importantly, the labels on the drawers are for items that cry out for collegial use, for use by other adults involved in the education of the children. There's no reason to label these things unless the teacher, perhaps, he's assisting needs to know how to get to student data based on one of the students in Mr. Walker's absence. There's no need to put utensils on a drawer except to direct anybody who needs a fork or something where to look. These labels say to anybody who walks by, these drawers contain items that are generally used in the business of bettering our children.

And I think that under the circumstances it has not been demonstrated that there was a reasonable expectation of privacy. So, therefore the police action conduct in this case is not impermissible and I'll deny the motion for that reason.

B. Discussion

Appellant contends that the circuit court erred in denying his motion to suppress the evidence seized during the warrantless search of the desk. According to appellant, the court's findings that (1) the desk was located in a common area rather than a private office; (2) the desk was not locked when the police searched it; and (3) the desk drawers had general, non-personal labels were insufficient to support a finding of no reasonable expectation of privacy. The State counters that the circuit court correctly found that appellant did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in the desk because its location suggested that other people would use it, it was not locked, and the labels on the drawers suggested it was for “collegial use.” Additionally, the State avers that even if appellant had a reasonable expectation of privacy in the desk, the principal's consent rendered the search valid either under...

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14 cases
  • Thomas v. State
    • United States
    • Maryland Court of Appeals
    • October 26, 2012
    ...an important consideration. Sexual child abuse, especially that involving incest, is a most serious crime, see Walker v. State, 206 Md.App. 13, 41–42, 47 A.3d 590, 606–607 (2012), and is treated as such. See id. Indeed, our laws are designed, by penalty and procedure, to protect our childre......
  • Williams v. State
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • June 26, 2013
    ...suppression judge unless clearly erroneous; however, we review the ultimate question of constitutionality de novo. Walker v. State, 206 Md.App. 13, 22–23, 47 A.3d 590 (2012). 4. While on the witness stand, Patrolman Walker was asked if he knew the front-seat passenger and if his presence in......
  • Walker v. State
    • United States
    • Maryland Court of Appeals
    • July 8, 2013
    ...of a minor, whether physical injuries are sustained or not.” The Court of Special Appeals affirmed the convictions.Walker v. State, 206 Md.App. 13, 47 A.3d 590 (2012). Petitioner does not deny that his behavior was highly inappropriate but he argues that his actions did not amount to a crim......
  • Jones v. State
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • September 4, 2013
    ...presented to determine, de novo, whether it was legally sufficient to sustain appellant's convictions. See, e.g., Walker v. State, 206 Md.App. 13, 41, 47 A.3d 590 (2012) (quoting Polk v. State, 183 Md.App. 299, 306, 961 A.2d 603 (2008) for the proposition, “An assessment of the legal suffic......
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1 books & journal articles
  • Katz Reasonable Expectation of Privacy (Rep)
    • United States
    • Maryland State Bar Association Warnken's Maryland Criminal Procedure (MSBA) Chapter 7 Fourth Amendment Applicability
    • Invalid date
    ...fundamentally changed because [the defendant] shared an office with other union officials. Id. at 369. By contrast, in Walker v. State, 206 Md. App. 13 (2012), the Court of Special Appeals held that an assistant to a special educator did not have an REP in his desk at school, stating: We re......

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