Wilson v. State

Citation409 Md. 415,975 A.2d 877
Decision Date20 July 2009
Docket NumberNo. 91, September Term, 2007.,91, September Term, 2007.
PartiesFrancis Eugene WILSON, Jr. v. STATE of Maryland.
CourtCourt of Special Appeals of Maryland

Argued before BELL, C.J., RAKER,* HARRELL, BATTAGLIA, GREENE, JOHN C. ELDRIDGE (Retired, specially assigned) and DALE R. CATHELL (Retired, specially assigned), JJ.

RAKER, Judge.

In this criminal appeal, we consider whether petitioner was seized in violation of the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution. We shall hold that the police officer's seizure of petitioner was an unlawful arrest and in violation of the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Accordingly, the trial court erred in denying his motion to suppress the evidence resulting from his unlawful seizure.

I.

Francis Eugene Wilson, petitioner, was indicted by the Grand Jury for Washington County on charges of second degree assault, resisting arrest, disarming a law enforcement officer, possession of marijuana, and disorderly conduct. He proceeded to trial before a jury and he was convicted of all the charges, except for disarming a law enforcement officer. He was sentenced to a term of imprisonment of three years on the resisting arrest charge, a consecutive term of one year imprisonment on the marijuana charge, and a concurrent term of imprisonment of sixty days for the disorderly conduct charge.

In the Circuit Court, petitioner filed a motion to suppress the search and seizure conducted by the police. The parties agreed that the trial court could rule on the motion as part of the trial rather than to hold a separate hearing on the motion. After police officer Zimmerer testified before the jury, the trial court excused the jury, and, after argument on the motion, ruled on the motion to suppress. As did the Court of Special Appeals, we shall focus on the officer's testimony up until the point when the court excused the jury and ruled on the motion to suppress.

Officer Zimmerer testified that at approximately 5:00 a.m. on February 13, 2005, while on routine patrol in Hagerstown, Maryland, in an unmarked police car, he saw something in the roadway. He thought the object was a trash bag or tarp that had blown into the roadway, and he activated his emergency lights. As he activated his emergency lights he noticed that the object was actually petitioner lying in the roadway. In response to the lights, petitioner stepped up in front of a van located one lane over to the right of the officer, went onto the sidewalk and started walking westbound, in the same direction as the unmarked police car. Officer Zimmerer then slowed down, left his lights on, and pulled up to the curb.

Petitioner continued walking past Officer Zimmerer, at which point the officer exited his vehicle and called to petitioner because "he wanted to see if he was okay." Although Officer Zimmerer was in an unmarked police car, he was dressed in full uniform and his police badge was displayed. Petitioner did not respond and appeared to the officer "to be picking up his pace." The officer noticed some abrasions on petitioner's face and knuckles. He grabbed petitioner by his coat, sat him down on the curb, and began talking to him. The officer testified that he "tried to find out his name, ask him what was wrong with him, tried to find out where he lived at." In response, petitioner "just sat there with a blank stare." Officer Zimmerer testified that, based upon petitioner's mannerisms although he did not know what was wrong with petitioner, he thought that he was "possibly under the influence of a controlled dangerous substance." He told petitioner that he was going to take him to the hospital and that he would have to be handcuffed before he was placed in the police cruiser. He testified that it was department policy to handcuff everyone prior to being put in a police cruiser. Officer Zimmerer then put petitioner's right hand behind his back to place the handcuffs on him. At that point, petitioner began to struggle.

The trial court then dismissed the jury and permitted defense counsel the opportunity to cross-examine the officer. Although he maintained that petitioner was not under arrest, the officer agreed that petitioner was not free to leave. The court then heard argument on the motion to suppress, and denied the motion. The court determined that, given the circumstances, the officer had a right to accost petitioner to see if anything was wrong and that "he had a right to do that because he was building reasonable articulable suspicion." The court stated as follows:

"And perhaps maybe not at that time, but once he contacted the defendant, saw the injuries I think on his face and hands and knuckles, started gathering more information that something was seriously amiss, asked the defendant his name, asked other questions. The defendant just stared blankly after he had him sit down. So certainly this Officer had reasonable articulable suspicion to believe that something was going on with the defendant, either a crime was being committed because the defendant was under the influence of drugs, perhaps not alcohol because he couldn't smell it, that the defendant was injured and needed help or assistance, that the defendant was having some type of mental or physical problem for which he needed to go to the hospital. So the officer had a right to detain, to do something that was less intrusive than an actual arrest in order to determine if a crime was being committed, had been committed, the defendant's identity to determine if he needed help or assistance, and there is a community caretaking function here. It's like ..., there have been cases where the appellate courts have said that hearing screams in a building, they have a right to run in there to see if anything or anyone was in need of assistance or a crime was being committed. Here the defendant, because of his actions, the observations of the injuries, seeing him in the middle of the road just lying there, the defendant could have gotten killed at that point in time by a vehicle coming along not observing him until it was too late and running over him. So the Officer had articulable suspicion that perhaps a crime had been committed, was being committed, that the defendant was injured, that the defendant needed help, or that in fact after observing him, that the defendant was either assaulted, having a medical issue, or was under the influence of drugs. So taking him into ..., detaining him was a perfectly valid thing to do at that point in time. And telling him, `I'm taking you to the hospital,' was also perfectly valid either because there was a basis for a Terry type of stop and detention or there was a basis to take him to the hospital because there was cause, certainly cause to believe that the defendant was having an injury, an illness or a medical condition, or was so under the influence that he was potentially going to injure himself or others in the future."

The court denied the motion to suppress, the trial resumed, and additional facts not to be considered on the motion to suppress were presented to the jury. The jury heard that petitioner continued to resist the officer's attempts to place him in handcuffs and that the officer used pepper spray, a back-up officer used a taser stun gun on petitioner, and petitioner was ultimately arrested, taken to the hospital, and then to jail. The jury heard also that while petitioner was being processed at the police booking station he requested to go to the bathroom, where he attempted to dispose of a baggie of marijuana.

The jury found petitioner guilty of second degree assault, resisting arrest, possession of marijuana, and disorderly conduct. As indicated, the court sentenced petitioner to four years of incarceration.

Petitioner noted a timely appeal to the Court of Special Appeals. Affirming the judgment of conviction, the intermediate appellate court held that petitioner was detained properly by the police in the exercise of their community caretaking function. Wilson v. State, 176 Md.App. 7, 932 A.2d 739 (2007). The court noted that the police caretaking function "permits searches of private property by police that would otherwise violate the Fourth Amendment where the police have initiated the search, not to investigate crime, but to `aid persons in apparent need of assistance' or to protect property." Id. at 13-14, 932 A.2d at 743 (quoting State v. Alexander, 124 Md.App. 258, 269, 721 A.2d 275, 280 (1998)). The question not decided by Maryland appellate courts, the court observed, is whether the caretaking function extends beyond searches to seizures of persons. Id. at 14, 932 A.2d at 743. The intermediate appellate court held that there is no basis, in logic or policy, for drawing a distinction between searches and seizures for community caretaking purposes, because, the same policy underlies both—protection of citizens from likely physical harm. Id.

We granted Wilson's petition for writ of certiorari to answer the following question:

"Did all of the evidence of guilt adduced against petitioner flow from a violation of his Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable seizure where a police officer, lacking even a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity, approached petitioner in full uniform, with weapon and badge displayed, and emergency lights activated; grabbed petitioner by the arm from behind, interrogated him, informed petitioner that he would be removed from the scene in the rear of a squad car, and then sought to place handcuffs upon him?"

Wilson v. State, 402 Md. 352, 936 A.2d 850 (2007).1

II.

In reviewing the trial court's denial of a motion to suppress, we review the evidence in the light most favorable to the...

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