Washington v. State

CourtCourt of Appeals of Maryland
Docket Number15-2022
Decision Date19 December 2022



No. 15-2022

Maryland Supreme Court[*]

December 19, 2022

Argued: November 3, 2022

Circuit Court for Baltimore City Case No. 420234003

Fader, C.J. Watts Hotten Booth Biran Gould Eaves, JJ.


Watts, J.


In recent years, the Baltimore Police Department has experienced a series of unsettling events, giving rise to what has been described as an increased public awareness of police misconduct and a fear of police officers by some residents of Baltimore City, particularly those who are African American. Due to disquieting events of late across the country and in our State, this dynamic has not been limited to Baltimore City.

Over the last several years, among other events, protests occurred in Baltimore City after the death of Freddie Carlos Gray, Jr., a young African American man, in police custody, a United States Department of Justice investigation found that the Baltimore Police Department “deployed a policing strategy that, by its design, led to differential enforcement in African-American communities,” U.S. Dep't of Justice, Civil Rights Div., Investigation of the Balt. City Police Dep't at 8 (Aug. 10, 2016), available at https://www.justice.gov/crt/file/883296/download [https://perma.cc/YJU8-6YAW], and “in a shocking and unfortunate scandal, it was discovered that members of the Department's Gun Trace Task Force had engaged in what has been described as ‘a wideranging, years-long racketeering conspiracy'” that included officer assaults, robberies, and extortion of people in Baltimore City, Balt. City Police Dep't v. Potts, 468 Md. 265, 271, 276, 278, 227 A.3d 186, 190, 193-94 (2020). In addition to media coverage generated by the foregoing events, footage from cell phones and body-worn cameras has displayed graphic images of violence involving police, sometimes deadly, against people, particularly African American people, in encounters with law enforcement officers in various parts of the country.

In the instant case, we must address the import of this reality in determining the


constitutionality of police stops of people on the street. In Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 30 (1968), the Supreme Court held that a law enforcement officer may stop an individual for a brief investigatory detention when the "officer observes unusual conduct which leads him reasonably to conclude in light of his experience that criminal activity may be afoot[,]" i.e., a Terry stop must be supported by reasonable suspicion of criminal activity. Using the standard set forth in Terry, in Illinois v. Wardlow, 528 U.S. 119, 124-25 (2000), the Supreme Court concluded that reasonable suspicion justified the stop of a defendant who fled from police officers without provocation in a high-crime area. Repeatedly, the Supreme Court has instructed in its case law that a court must assess the totality of the circumstances surrounding a stop to determine whether it was justified by reasonable suspicion. See United States v. Arvizu, 534 U.S. 266, 273-74 (2002); United States v. Cortez, 449 U.S. 411, 417-18 (1981). Based on Supreme Court case law, this Court has adopted the same totality of the circumstances analysis. See Collins v. State, 376 Md. 359, 368, 829 A.2d 992, 997 (2003).

This case stems from the contention that, due to increased public awareness of police misconduct, people, particularly young African American men, fear encounters with police officers and that, as such, unprovoked flight in a high-crime area should no longer be considered factors that give rise to reasonable articulable suspicion for a Terry stop. The resolution of this contention is necessary to determine whether the trial court properly denied a motion to suppress a handgun seized from Tyrie Washington, Petitioner.

Washington and another person were standing in an alley in Baltimore City when they saw a marked police vehicle. Both Washington and the other person fled. After seeing


a different unmarked police vehicle, Washington ran, jumped over a fence and tried to hide behind a bush in a backyard. Detective Alex Rodriguez got out of the second vehicle, and Washington ran and jumped over another fence. Ultimately, Detective Rodriguez stopped Washington, whereupon another detective found a handgun in Washington's waistband.

Although two of the detectives involved testified as to observing details that indicated Washington might have a gun, neither of the detectives had advised Detective Rodriguez of the observations. Detective Rodriguez had not seen any sign of a weapon but had seen Washington fleeing, jumping fences, and trying to hide. All three of the testifying detectives testified that the block where Washington was stopped, and the immediate vicinity, constituted a high-crime area.

Washington contends that Detective Rodriguez lacked reasonable suspicion to stop him based solely on his unprovoked flight in a high-crime area. Washington asserts that young African American men like himself have legitimate fears of mistreatment at the hands of police, providing an innocent reason for his flight, such that his fleeing in a high-crime area was not sufficient to support reasonable suspicion for a stop. According to Washington, an increased public awareness of police misconduct toward African American men, combined with the specific history of police misconduct in Baltimore City, renders outdated the conclusion in Wardlow that unprovoked flight is suggestive of wrongdoing.

The State, Respondent, contends that the Supreme Court considered the essence of Washington's argument in Wardlow and rejected it, concluding that potentially innocent reasons for flight were not enough to overcome a "commonsense" presumption that unprovoked flight from police is indicative of wrongdoing. Wardlow, 528 U.S. at 125 (citation omitted).


The State argues that Washington's case is factually indistinguishable from Wardlow, supporting a conclusion that the stop of Washington was constitutional.

Against this backdrop, we hold that, under the totality of the circumstances analysis, a court may consider whether unprovoked flight is an indication of criminal activity that, coupled with evidence of a high-crime area and any other relevant factors, establishes reasonable suspicion for a stop, or whether unprovoked flight, under the circumstances of the case, is a factor consistent with innocence that adds little or nothing to the reasonable suspicion analysis. In Wardlow, 528 U.S. at 125, in concluding that reasonable suspicion for a Terry stop existed, the Supreme Court explained that people may flee for a variety of reasons, including innocence, and that “the determination of reasonable suspicion must be based on commonsense judgments and inferences about human behavior.” (Citation omitted); see also Wardlow, 528 U.S. at 132-35 (Stevens, J., concurring in part and dissenting in part). As such, in Wardlow, the Supreme Court did not establish a per se rule that unprovoked flight in a high-crime area always gives rise to reasonable articulable suspicion for a Terry stop.

In keeping with the Supreme Court's holding in Wardlow, we conclude that unprovoked flight in a high-crime area does not automatically equal reasonable articulable suspicion for a Terry stop. Rather, under the totality of the circumstances assessment, in determining whether reasonable suspicion for a Terry stop is established, along with evidence that a location is a high-crime area, a court may consider whether unprovoked flight could reasonably be perceived as a factor justifying a conclusion that criminal activity is afoot or a factor consistent with innocence, including the circumstance that some


individuals may fear interactions with police officers in Baltimore City and elsewhere.

Applying this analysis, we conclude that Detective Rodriguez had reasonable articulable suspicion to stop Washington. The specific nature and context of Washington's flight, his other evasive maneuvers, and its occurrence in a location that was established to be a high-crime area lead us to this conclusion. Washington fled not only at the sight of uniformed detectives in a marked police car, but also at the other end of an alley when he spotted different detectives in an unmarked car. Washington fled, headlong, completely unprovoked, and simultaneously with the other individual standing with him in the alley. He also jumped fences and attempted to conceal himself behind a bush while fleeing.

Testimony at a suppression hearing supported the trial court's conclusion that the block on which Detective Rodriguez stopped Washington was a high-crime area. Detective Lopez testified that he had seized approximately 10 to 15 handguns on the specific block of Oakmont Avenue where Washington was stopped "within a three-month span last year." Testimony from other detectives concerned drug trafficking, homicides, shootings, and robberies in the immediate vicinity of Washington's stop. For all of these reasons, we conclude that Detective Rodriguez had reasonable articulable suspicion to stop Washington and that the stop did not violate Washington's rights under the Fourth Amendment.

For the same reasons, we hold that Detective Rodriguez did not violate Washington's rights under Article 26 of the Maryland Declaration of Rights.[1] We decline


to disturb our longstanding practice of interpreting Article 26 in pari materia with the Fourth Amendment.

In short, reasonable suspicion for Washington's stop existed, and we affirm the judgment of the Appellate Court of Maryland (at the time named the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland).[2]


Facing gun charges, Washington filed a motion to suppress a firearm recovered from him, alleging that he was stopped without reasonable suspicion in violation of the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution and Article 26 of the Maryland Declaration of Rights. On June 16,...

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