Maryland High Court Holds Police May Not Tase Suspects Without Probable Cause to Arrest

In 2012, the Maryland Court of Appeals issued an opinion in the case of Reid v. State (2012) 428 Md. 289, discussing what measures law enforcement officers are permitted to use to detain a suspect without converting an encounter into an arrest. In Reid, the defendant, David Reid, was convicted on an agreed statement of facts of wearing, carrying, or transporting a handgun, and of being in possession of a handgun after conviction of a disqualifying offense. The statement of facts alleged that Baltimore City police received an anonymous phone call that a tall, black man was armed, and was selling drugs at a particular location.

Upon responding to the reported location, police officers observed and approached Reid, who turned away from the officers. As the officers approached Reid, he fled. The officers yelled for Reid to stop and, when he did not, the officers fired a taser into his back. During a subsequent search, the officers discovered a firearm in Reid’s pocket.

Prior to trial, Reid filed a motion to suppress the firearm. The trial court denied Reid’s motion, holding that the officers had reasonable articulable suspicion to effectuate a “Terry stop” on Reid, and the use of the taser did not convert the stop into an arrest.

A “Terry stop” is a brief detention of a person by police officers based on a reasonable suspicion that the individual is engaged in criminal activity. The authority for a Terry stop derives from the United States Supreme Court case Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968), in which the Court held that police may briefly detain a person whom they reasonably suspect is involved in criminal activity, and may also conduct limited search of the suspect’s outer garments for weapons, if they have a reasonable and articulable suspicion that the person detained may be “armed and dangerous.”

On appeal, the Maryland Court of Appeals recognized that, although “the use of drawn weapons or handcuffs does not per se convert a Terry stop into an arrest…a person shot in the back with two metal darts…would reasonably believe that he or she was not free to leave the encounter.”

The Court held that the degree of force used to detain Reid elevated the detention to a de facto arrest, requiring a finding of probable cause. Probable cause has been commonly defined as “a reasonable amount of suspicion, supported by circumstances sufficiently strong to justify a prudent and cautious person’s belief that certain facts are probably true.” Essentially, this means that a police officer has to have information sufficient to support a prudent person’s belief that an individual has committed a crime. The Court concluded that, because the officers lacked probable cause to arrest Reid at the time they tased him, the handgun found on him should have been suppressed.

The criminal defense attorneys of Brassel, Alexander & Rice, LLC have extensive experience defending the Constitutional rights of individuals that have been charged with a crime. If you or someone you know has been charged with a crime in Maryland, contact the attorneys of Brassel, Alexander & Rice, LLC today.