WASHINGTON – A federal appeals court has upheld the 25-year sentence handed down to an “armed career criminal” after police searched his Baltimore home and found numerous guns.
In a published opinion, a three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected Robert Wardrick’s claim that the “no-knock” search of his home was unconstitutional.
The appeals court also ruled Thursday that four of Wardrick’s previous convictions could be classified as “violent felonies” — more than enough for him to be considered a career criminal.
The case began in January 2000 during an audit of ammunition sales at three stores by Baltimore Police Detective Robert Overfield. He noticed that Wardrick had purchased .357 Magnum and .32-caliber ammunition, as well as shotgun shells.
The transactions interested Overfield because he had previously arrested Wardrick and Wardrick’s wife, Mary Frances, on firearms charges. Wardrick also had three previous convictions for firearms and three for battery, according to court documents, as well as convictions for assault, escape and resisting arrest.
Believing that Wardrick might illegally possess firearms, Overfield got information on him from a variety of sources, including Verizon, then got a warrant to search Wardrick’s Division Street house. The warrant authorized seizure of firearms, or boxes, receipts or manuals related to those firearms, Circuit Judge Robert B. King wrote in the opinion.
Overfield asked for, and received, a no-knock warrant on safety grounds, saying that he had heard Wardrick make references to assaulting police officers after a previous court appearance. Overfield said Wardrick also claimed that “he always carried a loaded gun and that he ‘never missed,'” King wrote.
Police seized three handguns, three shotguns — two of them sawed-off — a rifle, a pellet gun, a starter pistol, holsters and numerous rounds of ammunition, in addition to a gas and electric bill, Wardrick’s driver’s license and a refund notice, during the Jan. 23, 2001, search.
Wardrick tried to suppress that evidence, arguing that the search was unconstitutional because officers failed to announce their presence prior to entering. He also claimed that Overfield had improperly obtained his personal information from Verizon, and that many of the items seized during the search exceeded the scope of the warrant.
His motions were rejected in October 2001 and Wardrick was convicted after a May 2002 trial of two firearms charges. He was sentenced in September 2002 to 25 years in prison, plus a concurrent two-year term.
Wardrick again challenged the evidence on appeal, but the appeals court upheld the district court ruling. The appellate judges said the no-knock warrant was justified because the search could have been dangerous given Wardrick’s criminal history. Announcing police presence may have given Wardrick time to destroy evidence, too.
It rejected Wardrick’s challenge of the information Overfield got from Verizon, noting that “Wardrick’s address and phone number had been obtained from other records” before Overfield contacted Verizon.
The items seized linked Wardrick to the premises and the illegal firearms police found there, so they did not exceed the scope of the warrant, the appeals court said.
Finally, Wardrick argued that he should not have been sentenced under Armed Career Criminal Act, which requires a minimum 15-year sentence for someone with “three previous convictions . . . for a violent felony.” Wardrick argued that only one of his previous convictions was for a violent crime, but the panel disagreed.
Assistant Federal Public Defender Denise Barrett, who represented Wardrick, said the court did not address significant questions in the case, including whether a person has a reasonable expectation of privacy resulting from an unpublished telephone number. But she declined further comment, saying she had not spoken with Wardrick.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Debra Dwyer did not return a phone call seeking comment.