Secret Police Surveillance over Baltimore City

By: Elizabeth Hays

For the past few months, the Baltimore Police Department, pressured to find a new way to reduce crime, conducted a secret aerial surveillance program over the city.[1]  The police recorded over 300 hours of surveillance, which covered approximately 32 square miles each flight.[2]  The Police commissioner and the mayor, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, knew about the surveillance program from the beginning.[3]

           Maryland lawmakers and the American Civil Liberties Union (“ACLU”) are now considering legislation that would regulate police surveillance programs.[4]  The legislation would prevent the police department from acquiring new surveillance technology without public approval.[5]  Although the resolution on the cameras is too low to identify particular individuals, it can be used to track individuals and vehicles from crime scenes.[6]  The ACLU as well as other critics voiced concerns about possible Fourth Amendment violations.[7]  In fact, the footage from the plane was used to track down the suspects accused of killing two elderly siblings back in February.[8]   However, the police did not refer to the aerial surveillance in charging documents that were presented in court.[9]  Although this may be a benefit for law enforcement, citizens’ civil rights must be protected throughout this process.[10]  While the plane is not currently conducting surveillance, the police state that it might be used later during the Baltimore Running Festival in mid-October.[11] The future legislation regarding this matter could result in an impact on anything where the police have cameras that view the public, such as body cameras, CCTV cameras, or even dash cameras.[12]


unnamed-3Elizabeth Hays is a third-year day student at the University of Baltimore. She serves as a Staff Editor of the UB Law Forum and is Co-president of UBSPI. Her legal interests include, administrative and military law.  She can be reached at elizabeth.hays@ubalt.edu

What’s That Smell You Ask? That’s Just My Fourth Amendment Rights

 

By: Jared Lerner

A sniff is considered a search, according to the Court of Appeals of Maryland.[1]  Maryland’s highest appellate court ruled in favor of Terrance Jamal Grant (“Grant”) when it determined that the sniff search of his vehicle, by a police officer, following a routine traffic stop violated his Fourth Amendment rights.[2]

At the suppression hearing, the Circuit Court for Frederick County found the following: Deputy First Class Chad Atkins (“Deputy Atkins”) observed Grant speeding and pulled him over;[3] from the video of the traffic stop, Deputy Atkins’ head appeared to have breached the windowpane into Grant’s car;[4] and it was unclear from the video and Deputy Atkins’ testimony as to when he smelled the odor of marijuana.[5]  The trial court denied the suppression motion,[6] and Grant appealed to the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland,[7] which determined, under a totality of the circumstances standard, that the stop and search were reasonable.[8]

The standard of review of a circuit court’s denial of a motion to suppress is limited to the record of the suppression hearing, and facts are considered in the light most favorable of the prevailing party, the State.[9]  However, constitutional challenges to a search or seizure are reviewed de novo, and factual findings of the circuit court will not be disturbed unless they are clearly erroneous.[10]

The Court of Appeals determined the initial stop, due to Grant’s speeding, and detention to be constitutional,[11] but the case depended on when Deputy Atkins detected the odor of marijuana – before or after he breached the windowpane.[12]  The court provided a detailed Fourth Amendment analysis,[13] culminating with a finding that Grant’s vehicle was protected from illegal searches and seizures.[14]  Next, the court determined that Deputy Atkins conducted a search when he “inserted his head into the constitutionally-protected area of [Grant’s] vehicle” without a warrant or other justification.[15]  It explained that there were no exigent circumstances that made the warrantless search reasonable.[16]

The court determined that the exclusionary rule applied since it was unclear when Deputy Atkins observed the odor of marijuana.[17]  The State failed to meet its burden of proof by failing to show that Deputy Atkins discovered the odor of marijuana prior to breaching the windowpane.[18]  Thus, the Court of Appeals determined that the circuit court erred in denying Grant’s suppression motion.[19]

Maryland attorneys should take note of the circumstances surrounding the Grant case.  In suppression hearings for evidence obtained as a result of the detection of marijuana, it is important to identify the exact moment that the searching officer identified the odor in the car.  The State must meet its burden of proof with a showing that the searching officer detected the odor of marijuana before breaching the windowpane of the defendant’s car.  Without such a showing, the evidence obtained as a result of the search should be excluded.


unnamed-1Jared Lerner is a third-year law student at the University of Baltimore School of Law. He will graduate in May 2017 with a concentration in litigation and advocacy. He is currently working on a research paper that applies tort principles to company data breaches. Throughout law school, Jared gained practical experience in several practice areas, including trusts and estates, alternative dispute resolution, trial and appellate litigation, and administrative law. Most recently, he served as an honors law clerk at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in the Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. Prior to law school, he attended the University of Central Florida where he earned a B.A. in May 2014. Jared can be reached at jared.lerner@ubalt.edu.

Throwback Thursday: Citizen Journalists & the Right to Gather News.

In 2014, Law Forum published Citizen Journalists & the Right to Gather News: Why Maryland Needs to Acknowledge a First Amendment Right to Record the Police by Kristine L. Dietz (J.D., 2014).

More than half of cell phone users in the United States own a smartphone. The video recording capabilities of smartphones make it possible for users to record anything, almost anywhere, at anytime. This modem technology allows for the immediate transfer and widespread dissemination of footage. Recently, videos of alleged police misconduct have gone viral on the Internet and the police are not happy about it. This increase in citizen journalism has left police officers defensive about their privacy and their ability to do their job without interference.