Court of Special Appeals Overturns Marijuana Possession Convictions Due To Illegal Search Involving Overly Aggressive Behavior By Police Officer

Earlier this month, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals overturned Richard Williams’ conviction for marijuana possession and possession with intent to distribute marijuana, finding that the officer’s behavior – which involved “grabbing” Williams, “wrestling him” to the ground, and utilizing pepper spray – violated Williams’ constitutional right to be free of unreasonable searches and seizures. The officer pulled Williams over after seeing him talking on his cellphone while driving. After Williams exited the vehicle, the officer saw him toss a bag of marijuana under the car and arrested him.

In reversing Williams’ conviction, the Court of Special Appeals explained that officers may only resort to such aggressive measures when they have “reasonable articulable suspicion” that the person is armed. A court’s evaluation of whether “reasonable articulable suspicion” existed must be derived from an objective analysis of the totality of the circumstances. It cannot be based solely on an officer’s “hunch.” The Court also analyzed whether a reasonably prudent police officer would have felt that he or she was in danger, based on reasonable inferences from particularized facts in light of the officer’s experience.

In this case, the Court determined the officer had no reason to believe Williams presented a threat to him. The officer had testified at a pre-trial hearing that he never felt he was in danger during the stop. Writing for the Court, Judge Nazarian expounded upon the critical nature of reigning in overly aggressive police conduct, explaining “we will not ‘rubber stamp’ conduct, simply because the officer believed he had a right to engage in it.” This ruling may be the first in Maryland appellate courts, since the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25th, restricting the previous wide discretion given to police officers engaged in effectuating arrests of motorists and other suspects. Follow this link to read the whole opinion.

Nathans & Biddle LLP is a highly respected advocate for individuals and businesses involved in a broad spectrum of criminal and civil disputes, forfeitures, and attorney grievance matters. With offices in Baltimore, Annapolis, and Greenbelt, we represent clients across Maryland (both federal and state courts), the Washington D.C. area, and several other federal courts across the country.

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