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Maryland v. Pringle

December 15, 2003

MARYLAND, PETITIONER
v.
JOSEPH JERMAINE PRINGLE



Court Below: 370 Md. 525, 805 A. 2d 1016 On Writ Of Certiorari To The Court Of Appeals Of Maryland

SYLLABUS BY THE COURT

OCTOBER TERM, 2003

Argued November 3, 2003

Decided December 15, 2003

A police officer stopped a car for speeding at 3:16 a.m.; searched the car, seizing $763 from the glove compartment and cocaine from behind the back-seat armrest; and arrested the car's three occupants after they denied ownership of the drugs and money. Respondent Pringle, the front-seat passenger, was convicted of possession with intent to distribute cocaine and possession of cocaine, and was sentenced to 10 years' incarceration without the possibility of parole. The Maryland Court of Special Appeals affirmed, but the State Court of Appeals reversed, holding that, absent specific facts tending to show Pringle's knowledge and dominion or control over the drugs, the mere finding of cocaine in the back armrest when Pringle was a front-seat passenger in a car being driven by its owner was insufficient to establish probable cause for an arrest for possession.

Held: Because the officer had probable cause to arrest Pringle, the arrest did not contravene the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments. Maryland law authorizes police officers to execute warrantless arrests, inter alia, where the officer has probable cause to believe that a felony has been committed or is being committed in the officer's presence. Here, it is uncontested that the officer, upon recovering the suspected cocaine, had probable cause to believe a felony had been committed; the question is whether he had probable cause to believe Pringle committed that crime. The "substance of all the definitions of probable cause is a reasonable ground for belief of guilt," Brinegar v. United States, 338 U. S. 160, 175, and that belief must be particularized with respect to the person to be searched or seized, Ybarra v. Illinois, 444 U. S. 85, 91. To determine whether an officer had probable cause to make an arrest, a court must examine the events leading up to the arrest, and then decide "whether these historical facts, viewed from the standpoint of an objectively reasonable police officer, amount to" probable cause. Ornelas v. United States, The opinion of the court was delivered by: Chief Justice Rehnquist

In the early morning hours a passenger car occupied by three men was stopped for speeding by a police officer. The officer, upon searching the car, seized $763 of rolled-up cash from the glove compartment and five glassine baggies of cocaine from between the back-seat armrest and the back seat. After all three men denied ownership of the cocaine and money, the officer arrested each of them. We hold that the officer had probable cause to arrest Pringle -- one of the three men.

At 3:16 a.m. on August 7, 1999, a Baltimore County Police officer stopped a Nissan Maxima for speeding. There were three occupants in the car: Donte Partlow, the driver and owner, respondent Pringle, the front-seat passenger, and Otis Smith, the back-seat passenger. The officer asked Partlow for his license and registration. When Partlow opened the glove compartment to retrieve the vehicle registration, the officer observed a large amount of rolled-up money in the glove compartment. The officer returned to his patrol car with Partlow's license and registration to check the computer system for outstanding violations. The computer check did not reveal any violations. The officer returned to the stopped car, had Partlow get out, and issued him an oral warning.

After a second patrol car arrived, the officer asked Partlow if he had any weapons or narcotics in the vehicle. Partlow indicated that he did not. Partlow then consented to a search of the vehicle. The search yielded $763 from the glove compartment and five plastic glassine baggies containing cocaine from behind the back-seat armrest. When the officer began the search the armrest was in the upright position flat against the rear seat. The officer pulled down the armrest and found the drugs, which had been placed between the armrest and the back seat of the car.

The officer questioned all three men about the ownership of the drugs and money, and told them that if no one admitted to ownership of the drugs he was going to arrest them all. The men offered no information regarding the ownership of the drugs or money. All three were placed under arrest and transported to the police station.

Later that morning, Pringle waived his rights under Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U. S. 436 (1966), and gave an oral and written confession in which he acknowledged that the cocaine belonged to him, that he and his friends were going to a party, and that he intended to sell the cocaine or "[u]se it for sex." App. 26. Pringle maintained that the other occupants of the car did not know about the drugs, and they were released.

The trial court denied Pringle's motion to suppress his confession as the fruit of an illegal arrest, holding that the officer had probable cause to arrest Pringle. A jury convicted Pringle of possession with intent to distribute cocaine and possession of cocaine. He was sentenced to 10 years' incarceration without the possibility of parole. The Court of Special Appeals of Maryland affirmed. 141 Md. App. 292, 785 A. 2d 790 (2001).

The Court of Appeals of Maryland, by divided vote, reversed, holding that, absent specific facts tending to show Pringle's knowledge and dominion or control over the drugs, "the mere finding of cocaine in the back armrest when [Pringle] was a front seat passenger in a car being driven by its owner is insufficient to establish probable cause for an arrest for possession." 370 Md. 525, 545, 805 A. 2d 1016, 1027 (2002). We granted certiorari, 538 U. S. 921 (2003), and now reverse.

Under the Fourth Amendment, made applicable to the States by the Fourteenth Amendment, Mapp v. Ohio, 367 U. S. 643 (1961), the people are "to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, ... and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause ... ." U. S. Const., Amdt. 4. Maryland law authorizes police officers to execute warrantless arrests, inter alia, for felonies committed in an officer's presence or where an officer has probable cause to believe that a felony has been committed or is being committed in the officer's presence. Md. Ann. Code, Art. 27, §594B (1996) (repealed 2001). A warrantless arrest of an individual in a public place for a felony, or a misdemeanor committed in the officer's presence, is consistent with the Fourth Amendment if the arrest is supported by probable cause. United States v. Watson, 423 U. S. 411, 424 (1976); see Atwater v. Lago Vista, 532 ...


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