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Md. court upholds search warrant based on observations from arrest

The Court of Special Appeals upheld the conviction of a man who challenged the validity of a warrant that was based on observations police made when they arrested him in his home earlier that day.

Curtis Groves pleaded guilty to possession of heroin with the intent to distribute and possession of a firearm in a drug trafficking crime in Washington County in December 2017. He was sentenced to 32 years in prison with all but 26 years suspended.

Groves reserved the right to appeal a pretrial ruling on his motion to suppress drugs, ammunition and a handgun found in a search of his residence in January 2017. He argued the search and seizure warrant was not valid because police had been in his home earlier that day and arrested him, then used what they had seen during the arrest as “the essential core of the warrant application.”

The motion to suppress argued the “unreasonable extent and duration of that earlier intrusion in the course of which the police made those observations violated the Fourth Amendment.”

But the three-judge appellate panel determined officers’ earlier presence was valid as a protective sweep, or “a cursory inspection of the premises where the arrest took place to search for other known suspects.”

In a published opinion issued Dec. 21, Senior Judge Charles E. Moylan Jr. wrote the information available to law enforcement permitted them to make a protective sweep of the premises when they arrested Groves.

Groves was represented by Marc A. DeSimone Jr. of the Maryland Office of the Public Defender. DeSimone declined to comment Friday.

The protective sweep was recognized by the Supreme Court in 1990 in a case that originated in Maryland, and Moylan pointed out that the high court articulated reasoning similar to that of the Court of Special Appeals when it heard the case.

The Supreme Court determined if there is reasonable belief that there may be someone who could pose a danger at the scene, police can conduct a quick and limited sweep incident to an arrest for safety purposes.

The circumstances of Groves’ arrest could “objectively have created in a police officer a reasonable trepidation that an armed confederate might have been lurking in the shadows, especially in the basement,” Moylan wrote.

Groves’ criminal history included drug- and gun-related offenses. In the fall of 2016 the Washington County Narcotics Task Force had received information he was in Hagerstown and selling drugs.

Five task force officers testified at the suppression hearing and said there was no initial answer when they knocked on Groves’ door. They also testified that he had an active parole retake warrant, was known to be a gang member, had secreted himself in the dark basement, initially refused to respond, and there was uncertainty about who else was in the house.

Moylan found the officers made plain-view observations during the sweep and they were properly included in the later application for a search warrant of the home.

A spokesperson from the Maryland Office of the Attorney General did not respond to a request for comment.

The case is Curtis Lee Groves v. State of Maryland, No. 2146, Sept. 2017.

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