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Court says Md. law was correctly applied to NJ search

Court of Special Appeals upholds double-murder conviction

Maryland’s second-highest court has upheld murder convictions in the 2015 slaying of a Port Deposit couple, ruling the trial judge properly applied Maryland’s police-friendlier law to officers’ controversial search of the fugitive killer’s New Jersey hideout, where incriminating evidence was found.

The application of Maryland law was more than just an academic exercise in the case.

Had New Jersey law applied, the DNA, ammunition and key to the couple’s home that police found in Derrick L. Carroll’s Trenton, New Jersey, lair would have been inadmissible because the search warrant was defective, the Court of Special Appeals stated in its reported 3-0 decision last week.

But the court ruled the Trenton, New Jersey, search valid because the officers investigating the Maryland slaying acted on an objectively reasonable, “good faith” belief that the flawed search warrant was proper, which comports with Maryland law.

New Jersey, by contrast, does not recognize a good-faith exception to an invalid search warrant — thus the damning evidence could not have been introduced at trial if that state’s law applied.

The appellate court concluded that Maryland law applied to the search of the New Jersey home because Maryland had a “greater governmental interest in the case” than New Jersey. Specifically, the case involved a Maryland trial of a Maryland man’s suspected murder in Maryland of a Maryland couple, the court said.

“Nothing in the record suggests that the Maryland police were consciously trying to evade Maryland law; New Jersey was involved only because appellant (Carroll) had left Maryland and went to New Jersey,” Judge James A. Kenney III wrote for the court. “Clearly, the application of the good faith exception in this case will, in no way, impact the privacy rights of New Jersey citizens or impair or negatively disrupt the procedures employed in New Jersey’s criminal justice system.”

The Maryland Attorney General’s Office declined to comment Wednesday. Assistant Maryland Public Defender Samuel P. Feder, Carroll’s appellate counsel, did not return a telephone message seeking comment on the Court of Special Appeals’ decision.

Maryland law reflects Supreme Court precedent that the federal Constitution’s Fourth Amendment deems a search valid if police had an objectively reasonable, good-faith belief that the search warrant was valid. The New Jersey Constitution, as interpreted by that state’s top court, does not recognize the good-faith exception to a defective warrant.

The Court of Special Appeals said the New Jersey Superior Court judge should not have issued the search warrant for the Trenton residence because the affidavit in support of its issuance contained no information establishing why Carroll was a suspect in the killing of Earl and Mary Ann Loomis, grandparents of Carroll’s ex-wife.

However, the appellate court called the search valid under Maryland law because the warrant was “not so obviously deficient that (it) could not have been reasonably relied upon by the officers in good faith,” wrote Kenney, a retired jurist sitting by special assignment.

A Cecil County Circuit Court jury found Carroll guilty of both first-degree murder charges and he was sentenced to life in prison, prompting him to seek review by the Court of Special Appeals.

Kenney was joined in the opinion by Chief Judge Matthew J. Fader and Judge Stuart R. Berger.

The Court of Special Appeals rendered its decision in Derrick L. Carroll v. State of Maryland, No. 510 September Term 2017.

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