Zadeh v. State

Docket Number0011-2022
Decision Date29 June 2023
CourtCourt of Special Appeals of Maryland


Circuit Court for Montgomery County Case No. 12-77-06-C

Leahy Zic, Ripken, JJ. [**]


Leahy J.

The case involving the love-triangle and the murder of Cecil Brown ("Brown") returns to us following the retrial of Hussain Ali Zadeh ("Zadeh").

Just after noon on August 4, 2014, Takoma Park Police responded to a call reporting a woman screaming at the home located at 805 Colby Avenue. When the police arrived, they found Brown's deceased body face-down in the backyard and bleeding from apparent blunt force trauma to the back of his head. Brown's wife, Larlane Pannell-Brown ("Pannell-Brown"), quickly became a suspect after detectives learned that Pannell-Brown was having an affair with a man twenty-years younger named "Ali" who worked at the nearby Enterprise Rental Car. Later that day detectives spoke with Ali Zadeh, who denied any involvement in Brown's murder. Through the course of the investigation, however, detectives obtained evidence that Pannell-Brown and Zadeh were romantically and financially involved.

In March 2017, Zadeh and Pannell-Brown were tried together as co-defendants before a jury in the Circuit Court for Montgomery County, Maryland. Both were convicted of second-degree murder but acquitted of first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder. On appeal, we reversed Zadeh's conviction for second-degree murder, holding, among other things, that Zadeh was unfairly prejudiced when he was tried together with Pannell-Brown.[1] See Pannell-Brown et al. v. State, Nos. 1065 &1329, Sept. Term 2017, slip op. at 44-45 (filed Feb. 26, 2019). On April 3, 2020, the Supreme Court of Maryland[2]affirmed our decision reversing Zadeh's conviction and remanded for a new trial. See State v. Zadeh, 468 Md. 124, 163-64 (2020).

A jury convicted Zadeh of second-degree murder at the conclusion of his second trial on November 18, 2021. Several months later, the court sentenced Zadeh to 30 years with credit for time served and subsequently denied his motion for a new trial.

Zadeh filed a timely appeal on March 3, 2022, and presents the following five questions for our review:

I. Did the trial court err in denying Zadeh's motion to suppress cell-site location information collected from his cell phone as untimely?
II. Did the trial court err in engaging in ex parte communications with the jury without apprising Zadeh of those communications or seeking his input?
III. Did the trial court err in denying Zadeh's request to provide Maryland Criminal Pattern Jury Instruction 3:18 concerning the voluntariness of Zadeh's statement to the police?
IV. Did the trial court err in admitting evidence and argument concerning premeditation and conspiracy in violation of Zadeh's double jeopardy rights?
V. Did the trial court err in denying Zadeh's motion for a judgment of acquittal, finding sufficient evidence to support the conviction?

We must reverse the judgment in this case because the trial court erred in denying Zadeh's request to give Criminal Pattern Jury Instruction 3:18 regarding the voluntariness of a defendant's statements to law enforcement. Considering the very low bar imposed by the "some evidence" standard for generating a jury instruction, together with the principle that it is within the province of the jury to determine whether a defendant's statement to law enforcement was voluntarily given, we conclude that the trial court erred in failing to give any voluntariness instruction. We reach the remaining issues, except Zadeh's second question, to guide further proceedings on remand.

This opinion is divided into two parts. We address Zadeh's first question separately, in Part I, because it raises several distinct substantive and procedural issues before the suppression court. Ultimately, we hold that the trial court did not err in denying Zadeh's motion, relying on new law articulated in Carpenter v. United States, 138 S.Ct. 2206 (2018), to suppress historical cell-site-location-information ("CSLI") that Takoma Park Police had obtained pursuant to a court order issued several days after the murder on August 7, 2014 ("August 7 Order"). Contrary to the suppression court, however, we arrive at this determination by way of the good faith exception to the exclusionary rule, rather than because Zadeh's motion to suppress was untimely. We hold that the 30-day filing requirement contained within Maryland Rule 4-252(b) does not apply to motions to suppress on remand for a new trial following the reversal or vacatur of a conviction. Considering the plain text of the rule, we conclude that strict application of the 30-day deadline cannot apply in that context because there is no uniform point from which the 30-day clock can reset following reversal on appeal.

In Part II, we examine Zadeh's challenges to the trial court's rulings during his second jury trial, including the only issue on which we reverse concerning the voluntariness instruction. We hold that Zadeh's double jeopardy rights were not violated when the court admitted evidence and argument of premeditation and conspiracy because the same evidence also supported a conviction for second-degree murder. Finally, we hold that there was sufficient evidence to support Zadeh's conviction for second-degree murder.


The court anchored its denial of the suppression motion on its untimeliness under Rule 4-252(b), despite agreeing with Zadeh that the August 7 Order was "void ab initio" because it was issued by the district court rather than the circuit court as required by section 10-401(12) of the Maryland Code (1973, 2020 Repl. Vol.), Courts and Judicial Proceedings Article ("CJP"). Maryland Rule 4-252(b) provides that mandatory motions, including those that address "[a]n unlawful search [or] seizure" under 4-252(a), "shall be filed within 30 days after the earlier of the appearance of counsel or the first appearance of the defendant before the court pursuant to Rule 4-213(c)[.]"

Zadeh challenges the trial court's denial of his motion to suppress on the following grounds: (1) Maryland Rule 4-252 does not apply to retrials; (2) the motion to suppress is properly considered a supplement to Zadeh's original omnibus motion; and (3) even if Rule 4-252 applies, the court erred in declining to find that "good cause" existed to overcome the lateness of the filing. The State disagrees and contends that even if the motion to suppress was timely, the CSLI evidence should not be suppressed because the police relied on the court order in good faith.

Our summary of the relevant facts is drawn solely from the facts and information in the record before the suppression court. Longshore v. State, 399 Md. 486, 498 (2007).

1. Procedural History Leading to Second Trial

On May 28, 2015, Zadeh and Pannell-Brown were arrested and later indicted on charges of first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit the murder of Cecil Brown. On July 31, 2015, defense counsel appeared before the Circuit Court for Montgomery County to hear the statement of charges against Zadeh.

On August 5, 2015, Zadeh's counsel filed a general omnibus motion pursuant to Maryland Rule 4-252, alleging, among other things, that "[a]ny search and seizure in this case was not pursuant to a valid warrant or any recognized exception to the warrant requirement" and requesting "[s]uppression of any evidence which is the product or fruit of any unlawful search, seizure, or interception of wire or oral communication." That same day, defense counsel also filed a motion to suppress evidence specifying that Zadeh sought suppression of "All other Evidence and Testimony" obtained as a result of "an illegal arrest or search and seizure conducted in violation of the common law of Maryland, the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments" and "the Maryland Declaration of Rights." Neither motion, however, identified any illegal search or seizure or specific evidence to be suppressed.

After obtaining specially admitted out-of-state counsel from Williams &Connolly, LLP, Zadeh filed a motion to sever, which was denied. Beginning on March 20, 2017, Zadeh was tried with Pannell-Brown as his co-defendant on charges of first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder. The jury was also presented with second-degree murder as a lesser-included offense. The jury found Zadeh guilty of second-degree murder and acquitted him of both first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder. Zadeh appealed, and on February 26, 2019, we reversed Zadeh's conviction for second-degree murder, holding that Zadeh and Pannell-Brown should have been tried separately because the cumulative effect of the non-mutually admissible evidence unfairly prejudiced Zadeh. See Pannell-Brown et al. v. State, Nos. 1065 &1329, Sept. Term 2017, slip op. at 44-45 (filed Feb. 26, 2019). As mentioned above, the Supreme Court of Maryland affirmed our decision reversing Zadeh's conviction and the case was remanded to the circuit court. State v. Zadeh, 468 Md. 124, 163-64 (2020).

2. Pre-trial Motions on Remand

The circuit court received the Supreme Court's mandate on June 17, 2020. The week before, on June 12, 2020, three different attorneys from Williams &Connolly, LLP, entered their appearances in the circuit court on behalf of Zadeh. A status conference was held on July 15, 2020, during which the court set the new trial date for March 8, 2021. The court also directed the parties to file any motions in limine by February 5, 2021 and preset a motions hearing for February 19, 2021. A scheduling order with these operative dates was then entered on the docket.

Approximately two months before the...

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