Williams v. State, 4 Sept. Term, 2002.

CourtCourt of Appeals of Maryland
Citation372 Md. 386,813 A.2d 231
Docket NumberNo. 4 Sept. Term, 2002.,4 Sept. Term, 2002.
PartiesEllery WILLIAMS v. STATE of Maryland.
Decision Date19 December 2002

Nancy S. Forster, Deputy Public Defender (Stephen E. Harris, Public Defender, on brief), Baltimore, for petitioner/cross-respondent.

Kathryn Grill Graeff, Asst. Atty. Gen. (J. Joseph Curran, Jr., Atty. Gen. of MD, on brief), Baltimore, for respondent/cross-petitioner.


We granted certiorari to consider whether evidence seized from a motel room following an entry by police is admissible in evidence on the grounds that it was seized as a result of an independent source or that it inevitably would have been discovered. We shall hold that under the circumstances presented herein, the evidence was seized in violation of the Fourth Amendment and is inadmissible.


Ellery Williams, petitioner, was indicted in the Circuit Court for Allegany County for conspiracy to distribute controlled dangerous substances, to wit, cocaine; distribution of controlled dangerous substances, to wit, cocaine; possession of controlled dangerous substances, to wit, cocaine and marijuana; and maintaining a common nuisance. The Circuit Court granted Williams' motion to suppress evidence, and the State appealed, pursuant to Maryland Code (1957, 1998 Repl.Vol., 2001 Supp.) § 12-302(c)(3) of the Courts and Judicial Proceedings Article.1

On March 21, 2001, Maryland State Police Trooper Jason Merritt, assigned to the Narcotics Unit, applied for a search and seizure warrant for rooms 106 and 107 at the Continental Motor Inn in Allegany County, Maryland. Tpr. Merritt had just arrested an individual, Clarence Berry, for distribution of controlled dangerous substances from a motor vehicle. Based on information from Berry that he was staying at the Continental Motor Inn, the trooper drafted the application for a search warrant. While he was doing so, and until he could secure the search warrant, other officers went to the motel.

At approximately 9:00 p.m. that night, while Tpr. Merritt was preparing the warrant application, police officers approached adjoining rooms 106 and 107 of the Continental Motor Inn and knocked on the doors. Williams asked who was at the door, and the police responded "maintenance." Williams opened a curtain but did not open the door. The officers heard Williams running away from the door; they kicked in the door of room 106 and entered, without a warrant. Williams ran into room 107, followed by the police. Upon entering the rooms, the officers smelled marijuana and observed a small amount of marijuana on the bed in room 107. They arrested Williams, and while searching him, they found cocaine in his pajamas. Using a cell phone, the officers called Tpr. Merritt and conveyed to him the information they had just learned; Merritt included the information in his statement of probable cause to support the application for the search and seizure warrant. The warrant was signed by a judge of the District Court of Maryland. The officers searched no further until Tpr. Merritt returned with the warrant.2

Williams filed a motion to suppress evidence seized by the police from his person and from rooms 106 and 107 at the Continental Motor Inn on the grounds that the seizure was unlawful. At the hearing, the State argued that exigent circumstances justified their entry into the rooms before the issuance of the warrant and that they had a right to secure or impound the premises until the police arrived with the warrant. The State also argued that if the initial entry into the rooms was deemed to be unlawful, the court should excise the tainted information in the warrant application and determine whether the remaining information established probable cause.

The Circuit Court granted the motion to suppress, rejecting the State's argument on the grounds that "the State has failed to demonstrate that there was sufficient information for probable cause and even if so found, no exigent circumstances existed that would justify an `impoundment' of the hotel rooms and its occupants without a warrant." The State never argued independent source or inevitable discovery.

In an unreported opinion, the Court of Special Appeals reversed. Before that court, the State argued that exigent circumstances justified the warrantless entry of the motel rooms, and, in the alternative, that even if the entry were unlawful, the warrant provided an independent source for the evidence. The intermediate appellate court held that the Circuit Court was not clearly erroneous in finding that no exigent circumstances justified an "impoundment" of the motel rooms. The court noted that "an impoundment is unreasonable if the exigent circumstances are the result of actions undertaken by the investigating officers." The court then turned to the question of whether the warrant, absent the tainted information, was supported by probable cause. Disagreeing with the Circuit Court, the court held that after the tainted portion was excised, the affidavit supporting the search warrant contained probable cause to conclude that a search of the motel rooms would uncover evidence of crime. The court held that the inevitable discovery doctrine applied to the evidence that Williams sought to suppress and that the State was entitled to introduce that evidence at trial.

We granted Williams' petition for writ of certiorari and the State's cross-petition, presenting the following questions:

"Did the Court of Special Appeals err in holding that the independent source/inevitable discovery doctrine applies in a situation where the police illegally enter a residence, observe marijuana in plain view, seize cocaine from the occupant upon his arrest, and then obtain a search warrant relying, in part, on the information derived from the illegal entry?

"Was the entry and impoundment of the motel room pending receipt of the search warrant justified?"

Williams v. State, 368 Md. 526, 796 A.2d 695 (2002).


Petitioner challenges the Court of Special Appeals' holding that the evidence found in the search of the motel room and on his person pursuant to a search incident to his arrest was admissible. The State argues that the police properly went to the motel to secure the rooms during the time it took to secure a search warrant and that when they arrived at the motel, exigent circumstances justified their entry into the rooms. The State maintains that, based on the earlier drug transaction in the car between the confidential informant and Berry, a cohort of petitioner, the police had probable cause to believe that drugs would be found in the motel room. The State recounts that once the police arrived at the motel room door, they did not immediately enter but merely knocked on the door. After they knocked on the door, petitioner saw the police and ran away. It is the State's position that at this point, if not before, exigent circumstances existed, authorizing a warrantless entry into the rooms.

If this Court were to reject the exigent circumstances argument and find the initial entry into the room unlawful, the State argues that the evidence was admissible pursuant to the independent source doctrine. The State argues that even if there is illegal police conduct, evidence seized pursuant to a subsequently issued valid warrant may be admissible if the warrant serves as an independent source for obtaining evidence. As a fallback position, the State argues that the evidence is admissible based on the inevitable discovery doctrine.

Petitioner agrees with the Court of Special Appeals and the trial court that the warrantless, initial entry by the police into the motel rooms was illegal because there existed no exigent circumstances to justify the entry. Petitioner argues, however, that the Court of Special Appeals should be reversed for three reasons: First, the doctrine of inevitable discovery should not apply to the illegal seizure of primary evidence, as opposed to derivative evidence; second, the State did not establish that the warrant was untainted by the illegal entry into the rooms; and third, assuming arguendo that the doctrine of inevitable discovery is applicable, and further assuming arguendo that redaction of the illegally obtained information is appropriate, after excising the tainted information from the warrant, the warrant lacked probable cause.


Our review of the trial court's grant of a motion to suppress evidence under the Fourth Amendment is based solely on the record of the suppression hearing. Wilkes v. State, 364 Md. 554, 569, 774 A.2d 420, 429 (2001). The facts found by the trial court must be considered in the light most favorable to the party who prevailed on the motion, namely, Williams. Id. at 569, 774 A.2d at 429; Jones v. State, 343 Md. 448, 458, 682 A.2d 248, 253 (1996). We defer to the fact finding of the suppression court and accept the facts as found by that court unless clearly erroneous. Wilkes, 364 Md. at 569, 774 A.2d at 429. In determining whether a constitutional right has been violated, we make an independent, de novo, constitutional appraisal by applying the law to the facts presented in a particular case. Id., 774 A.2d at 429; Cartnail v. State, 359 Md. 272, 283-84, 753 A.2d 519, 525 (2000).


The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures.3United States v. Arvizu, 534 U.S. 266, 273, 122 S.Ct. 744, 750, 151 L.Ed.2d 740 (2002). Searches of the home conducted without a warrant are presumptively unreasonable for "the Fourth Amendment has drawn a firm line at the entrance to the house," Payton v. New York, 445 U.S. 573, 586, 590, 100 S.Ct. 1371, 1380, 1382, 63 L.Ed.2d 639 (1980), and are "prohibited by the Fourth Amendment, absent probable cause and exigent circumstances." Welsh v. Wisconsin, 466 U.S. 740, 749, 104 S.Ct. 2091, 2097, 80 L.Ed.2d 732 (1984). In particular, ...

To continue reading

Request your trial
104 cases
  • Thornton v. State, 1569, Sept. Term, 2016
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • July 25, 2018
    ...exclusionary rule are already embedded into the fruits-of-the-poisonous-tree doctrine and its exceptions. See, e.g. , Williams v. State , 372 Md. 386, 410, 813 A.2d 231 (2002) (citing Nix v. Williams , 467 U.S. 431, 442-44, 104 S.Ct. 2501, 81 L.Ed.2d 377 (1984) ). The three-factor attenuati......
  • State v. Sizer, 0784, Sept. Term, 2016
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • November 29, 2016
    ...So stated, the ‘independent source’ limitation upon 149 A.3d 722the taint doctrine is unquestionably sound.”In Williams v. State, 372 Md. 386, 813 A.2d 231 (2002), the Court of Appeals wrote to the same effect:“The Silverthorne[Lumber Co. v. United States, 251 U.S. 385, 392, 40 S.Ct. 182, 1......
  • Hatcher v. State, 1055 September Term, 2006.
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • November 7, 2007
    ...investigation pursuant to the stop, which was lawful, the doctrine would apply if other conditions were met. Id. In Williams v. State, 372 Md. 386, 813 A.2d 231 (2002), the Court of Appeals discussed the three exceptions to the exclusionary rule. In that case, officers assigned to the narco......
  • Kamara v. State, 650
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • June 7, 2012
    ...of the cash. With respect to the drugs that ultimately were seized pursuant to the warrant, however, the court viewed Williams v. State, 372 Md. 386, 813 A.2d 231 (2002), discussed infra, as dispositive of the issue. It stated: I think that in light of the Williams case, I have to deny your......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT