WASHINGTON – A federal appeals court said Baltimore police acted properly when they searched three separate homes frequented by a drug dealer, ruling that “common sense” gave enough probable cause to issue warrants for the houses.
The published opinion by a three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the drug convictions of Kenneth Grossman, who argued unsuccessfully that drugs, cash and weapons found in the searches should have been barred from his trial.
Grossman said he did not live in any of the homes, and the mere fact that he was a suspected drug dealer with access to the houses was not enough to establish that there might be drugs inside.
The appeals court disagreed.
“Probable cause is ultimately a matter of common sense. And here common sense indicated that contraband was likely to be located within the three dwellings,” Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson wrote.
Calls to Grossman’s attorney Thursday were not returned.
The case began in January 2002, when a police informant told Baltimore City Police Detective Keith Gladstone that Grossman was selling cocaine and shuttling large quantities of it between “stash houses” in a Toyota and a Mercedes-Benz.
On Jan. 24, Gladstone followed Grossman as he drove a Mercedes-Benz to a home on Coleman Avenue, where Grossman got out and looked in all directions before letting himself into the house. He emerged 40 minutes later and started walking toward a Toyota, when Gladstone began questioning him.
After Grossman gave evasive answers, Gladstone got a search warrant for the house, where police found about $10,000 and a handgun with an obscured serial number, according to court documents. They also found mail addressed to “Michael Gregory” — an alias Grossman had used in the past — at a Gwynns Falls Parkway address.
That led to a second warrant, for the Gwynns Falls apartment, where police found more than $12,000 and about 4.5 kilograms of cocaine. That apartment was rented by Leslie Lawson, who told police she shared the apartment with Grossman and offered that he sometimes stayed with his aunt in a house on North Milton Avenue.
Gladstone then got a warrant for the North Milton Avenue home, where police said they found papers with the names Kenneth Grossman and Michael Gregory on them, as well as plastic wrappers with remnants of cocaine.
Grossman was indicted in March 2002 on one count of possession with the intent to distribute 500 or more grams of cocaine.
He tried to keep the evidence seized in the searches out of his trial, saying there was not enough of a nexus between the suspected criminal activity and the homes to issue a warrant. But the trial judge disagreed and admitted the evidence.
Grossman was convicted on Feb. 26, 2003, for drug possession with intent to distribute, and sentenced to 135 months in prison and four years of supervised release.
Grossman raised the search warrants again on appeal, but the circuit court rejected his argument.
A spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Baltimore would only say prosecutors were “pleased with the result, but other than that we can’t say much more.”
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