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Maryland Court of Appeals: ‘No Objection’ to Introduction of Evidence at Trial That Was the Subject of Denied Motion to Suppress Does Not Waive Right to Appellate Review of Denial

by Harold Hempstead

The Court of Appeals of Maryland held that defense counsel did not waive Luis F. Huggins’ right to appeal the denial of his motion to suppress the warrantless search of his hotel room, by affirmatively stating “no objection,” when the State moved to introduce the evidence from that search into the trial.

A warrantless search of Huggins’ hotel room by the police led to the seizure of a gun and loaded magazine inside an overnight bag. He was indicted in February 2019 on, among other charges, possessing a regulated firearm after having been convicted of a crime of violence.

Huggins filed a motion to suppress the items recovered from that search, and Judge Timothy McCrone denied the motion after an evidentiary hearing.

A superseding indictment was filed against Huggins under a new case number with additional charges, and he moved to renew his motion to suppress. Defense counsel advised Judge Richard Bernhardt at the hearing on the motion that the motion had been previously argued and denied under the original indictment and that Huggins renewed the motion only to ensure that it was preserved for appeal.

Judge Bernhardt said that unless there was “a unique reason,” he would not rehear the motion and suggested that defense counsel incorporate the motion, transcripts, and exhibits that were presented at the suppression hearing into the record. Defense counsel agreed and emphasized Huggins’ desire to preserve his objection to the denial of his original motion. Judge Bernhardt stated that the denial of Huggins’ motion to suppress would be preserved for appeal.

During Huggins’ subsequent trial, defense counsel affirmatively stated “no objection” as the items of evidence and photographs thereof Huggins sought to have suppressed via his suppression motion were admitted into evidence. He was convicted on the possession of a regulated firearm after having been convicted of a crime of violence and other related charges, and he appealed.

The Court of Special Appeals sua sponte held that Huggins waived his right to appeal his motion to suppress by not remaining silent when the State moved to introduce the challenged evidence at trial but instead affirmatively stating that he had “no objection.”

The Maryland Court of Appeals accepted Huggins’ petition to invoke certiorari jurisdiction and held that he did not waive his right to appeal the denial of his motion to suppress.

The Court framed the determinative question before it as follows: “If a pretrial motion to suppress is heard and denied and at trial when the evidence is offered by the State defense counsel says ‘no objection,’ does counsel’s statement constitute a waiver, so that the issue is not preserved for review?”

The Court started its analysis by explaining the relevant distinctions between Maryland Rule 4-252, which governs motions that must be filed prior to trial, and Maryland Rule 4-323, which governs objections to evidence and rulings at trial.

The Court explained that Rule 4-252 states that a motion to suppress must be filed and adjudicated prior to trial and that a ruling denying the motion “is binding at the trial” and “reviewable on a motion for a new trial or appeal of a conviction.” Rule 4-252(a)(3), (b)(g)(i), and (h)(2)(c).

On the other hand, Rule 4-323 governs objections to the introduction of evidence and rulings at trial for any reason other than what is listed under Rule 4-252. It requires that “[a]n objection to the admission of evidence ... be made at the time the evidence is offered or as soon thereafter as the grounds for objection become apparent.” Rule 4-323(a).

The Court pointed out that judges are presumed to “know and properly apply the law,” and they correctly assume lawyers also know the law. Christian v. Maternal-Fetal Med. Assoc. of Md., LLC, 183 A.3d 762 (Md. 2018); State v. Chaney, 825 A.2d 452 (Md. 2003).

Turning to the instant case, the Court explained that the trial judge was aware of Rule 4-252 and Rule 4-323 and the distinctions between them and that the trial court would correctly assume that defense counsel was also aware of the foregoing. Additionally, the Court reasoned that the trial court and defense counsel knew that the single word “objection” would be sufficient in most cases to preserve for appeal those issues that are relevant under Rule 4-323 and that defense counsel would have had to say a lot more if he wanted the trial court to initially consider or revisit a motion to suppress. Rule 4-252(a),(h)(2)(c).

Moreover, the trial court and defense knew that the word “objection” at trial communicates a defendant’s request to have evidence excluded was not based on a warrantless search and seizure, but rather on some other ground, and that “the inverse is likewise true: if at the time the evidence is offered at trial defense counsel responds with ‘no objection,’ the court would understand that the defendant is merely not asking to exclude the evidence on some other ground,” the Court stated.

The Court concluded that its examination of the record in the appropriate context supports that “defense counsel’s response of ‘no objection’ referred only to the objections … contemplated by Rule 4-323” and that there was no basis to conclude he was voluntarily relinquishing Huggins’ right to appeal the denial of his motion to suppress the evidence that the State’s case depended upon. Thus, Huggins is “entitled to the full benefit of the preservation under Rule 4-252,” according to the Court.

The State relied upon Erman v. State, 49 Md. App. 605 (1981), and Jackson v. State,52 Md. App. 327 (1982), in its argument before the Court. In those cases, the defendants moved to suppress evidence during pretrial proceedings, but their motions were denied. At trial, when the State sought to introduce the disputed evidence, defense counsel for each defendant said, “no objection.” On appeal, the Erman Court ruled that the defendant told the trial court that he had no objection to the admission of the evidence at trial, which constituted a waiver. The Jackson Court reached the same conclusion based entirely on Erman, stating “if a pretrial motion is denied and at trial appellant says he has no objection to the objection to the admission of the contested evidence, his statement effects a waiver.”

Turning to the present case, the Court announced: “To the extent that the holdings in Erman and Jackson, concerning preservation for appellate review of a motion under Rule 4-252 are contrary to our holding here, the holdings in those cases are overruled.”

Accordingly, the Court vacated the judgment of the Court of Special Appeals and remanded the case to that court to consider Huggins’ appeal on the denial of his motion to suppress. See: Huggins v. State, 278 A.3d 747 (Md. 2022).

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