By Amanda Burdette
ANNAPOLIS – The Maryland Court of Special Appeals Tuesday reversed an Anne Arundel County court’s decision to suppress evidence – a plastic bag of drugs – dropped by a passenger fleeing the scene of a traffic violation.
The decision means that the trial of Leon Surgeon, charged with two counts of possession and possession with the intent to distribute, will proceed.
Surgeon had claimed at a hearing to suppress the evidence that what was a traffic violation had turned into an arrest and seizure, in violation of his Fourth Amendment rights. Anne Arundel County Circuit Judge Clayton Greene Jr. agreed. The prosecutors then appealed Greene’s decision.
Surgeon was a passenger in a car that pulled over Nov. 15, 1996, for going 5 mph over the 25 mph speed limit on Taylor Avenue in Annapolis.
According to the charges, Surgeon fled the scene on foot after an officer told him to get back into the car. A chase followed, and, police say, Surgeon threw the bag over a fence.
Annapolis City Police Officer Glenn Shorter testified at the suppression hearing that he ordered Surgeon to stop running and get down on the ground. When Surgeon did not follow the order, Shorter testified that he sprayed him with pepper mace and then retrieved the bag of drugs.
Peter S. O’Neill, attorney for Surgeon, said in an interview that he thought the two officers stopped the yellow Mitsubishi because of ulterior motives. He added that in his 14 years of trying cases he had never heard of a car being stopped for traveling 5 mph over the speed limit.
In Surgeon’s brief, O’Neill wrote that Shorter testified that he was “unable to say with any precision the speed of the Mitsubishi.”
O’Neill argued that the officers stopped the car unlawfully; therefore “any evidence seized from the vehicle or persons therein is barred.”
The state, meanwhile, argued that Surgeon’s Fourth Amendment rights were not violated because he had abandoned the plastic bag and police were entitled to confiscate.
Mary Ellen Barbera, assistant attorney general, wrote that the seizure of a person occurs only when “the police apply force to the body of the person or the police direct a show of authority at the person and the person acquiesces in that show of authority.”
The three-judge panel of the Court of Special Appeals agreed. Surgeon did not acquiesces in what occurred, Judge James Getty of Cumberland wrote in the opinion. Instead, “he fled.” But “no one laid a hand on him until after he had discarded the contraband. As a result there was no Fourth Amendment violation” and no reason to suppress the evidence. The decision was unreported, meaning that it does not set precedent but merely resolves the dispute at hand. Surgeon was ordered to pay the costs of the judgment reversal. -30-