IN THE COURT OF SPECIAL APPEALS
September Term, 2015
LEONARD LEE SIMMS
STATE OF MARYLAND
Eyler, James R.
(Senior Judge, Specially Assigned)
Opinion by Nazarian, J.
Filed: March 3, 2017
exam question. Leonard Lee Simms was charged in the Circuit Court for Anne Arundel
County with theft of services from a hotel and with possession with intent to distribute
heroin, possession of heroin, possession with intent to distribute ethylone,
later amended to conspiracy to distribute methylenedioxymethamphetamine (“MDMA”)).
After an unsuccessful suppression hearing, Mr. Simms proceeded to trial on an agreed
statement of facts on one count of conspiracy to distribute MDMA. The court found Mr.
Simms guilty on that one count and the State entered a nolle prosequi (“nol pros”) on the
Mr. Simms appealed, challenging the court’s decision not to suppress the evidence
collected from him and his colleague and arguing that the evidence was insufficient as a
matter of law to convict him. While the appeal was pending, the State entered a new nol
pros on the count for which Mr. Simms had been convicted, i.e., conspiracy to distribute
MDMA. Mr. Simms was released from custody, and the State filed a Motion to Dismiss
the appeal on the grounds that the nol pros rendered it moot. On the merits, the State argues
that Mr. Simms lacks standing to challenge the search of his colleague’s bag, which
contained heroin and cocaine, and that the trial court correctly denied the motion to
Ethylone is one of a group of synthetic cathinones, “emerging drugs of abuse with
methylenedixmymethamphetamine (MDMA) and other conventional amphetamines
(1,2).” Dayong Lee et al., Ethylone-Related Deaths: Toxicological Findings, 39 J.
567, 567 (2015).
suppress. And although the State agrees with Mr. Simms that the evidence was insufficient
should simply be vacated. We hold that the appeal is not moot and that the insufficiency
of the evidence supporting Mr. Simms’s conviction for conspiracy to distribute MDMA
requires that we reverse it.
On February 9, 2015, around 4:00 PM, Corporal Chris Rajcsok of the Anne Arundel
County Police Department responded to a call regarding a theft of services from the
Sheraton Hotel in Annapolis. When he arrived, he met with two hotel employees who told
him that guests had complained about people going in and out of one of the rooms. After
investigating, the employees discovered that the room was one out of which guests had
been ejected a few days earlier. The hotel employees went upstairs and saw four African-
American males leaving the room and fleeing the hotel toward The Mall in Annapolis. The
employees identified the men as the same individuals they had ejected from the hotel
previously, and they gave the Corporal descriptions of two of the suspects: both were
African-American men, one wore a black hoodie with gray accents, and the other was
shorter and had face tattoos.
Corporal Rajcsok drove to the mall, parked, and went into the food court, where he
Corporal approached the two men, they were seated facing each other at two small
adjoining tables, eating food from Chick-fil-A. Corporal Rajcsok asked to see
identification. One of the men, Tahzay Brown, gave the Corporal his driver’s license; the
other, later identified as Mr. Simms, explained that he did not have ID. Mr. Simms
While the Corporal was attempting to get Mr. Simms’s information, Mr. Brown ran
Brown just outside. Backup officers arrived shortly thereafter, and Corporal Rajcsok went
back inside to see if Mr. Simms was still there.
In fact, Mr. Simms was seated exactly where he had been when the Corporal left,
Mr. Brown was being detained and guarded. He then went back to the table where the two
men had been and searched the area. On the table, in front of the chair where Mr. Simms
had been sitting, he found a Chick-fil-A bag that had been folded flat, with waffle fries on
top. In the middle of the other table where Mr. Brown had been sitting, he found another
Chick-fil-A bag, that one standing up with the waffle fries inside. He searched both bags
and found no contraband in the first, but found in the second a clear plastic bag that held
eleven smaller bags containing a brown powder substance that resembled heroin and
another plastic bag that contained a white powder (later determined to be cocaine).
After searching the area, Corporal Rajcsok asked several people in the vicinity if
Simms had shoved his hands down his pants. The Corporal recovered the evidence and
went outside to where Mr. Simms and Mr. Brown were being detained. By then, an
employee from the hotel had arrived and identified both men as the ones who had
previously been kicked out of the hotel room and who had fled the room that day.
Mr. Simms was seen putting his hands down his pants, Corporal Rajcsok conducted a strip
search and recovered several bags from Mr. Simms’s inner gluteal cleft: one clear bag that
contained seven smaller plastic bags holding an opaque off-white rock-like substance (later
identified as ethylone); one small clear bag containing white powder (later found to be
innocuous); and one small bag containing green plant material (believed to be marijuana,
but never tested). The State charged Mr. Simms with theft, possession with intent to
distribute heroin, possession of heroin, possession with intent to distribute ethylone,
possession of ethylone, possession of cocaine, and conspiracy to distribute heroin.
Mr. Simms filed a motion to suppress all of the drug evidence, and his motion was
listed in count seven of the indictment, conspiracy to distribute a narcotic, from heroin to
MDMA. Mr. Simms went to trial on an agreed statement of facts on one count of
conspiracy to distribute MDMA, and at the conclusion of the trial the court found Mr.
Simms guilty. On November 9, 2015, the court imposed the agreed-upon sentence of four
years in prison, and the State then entered a nol pros for the remaining charges.
Mr. Simms filed a timely notice of appeal and filed his brief in this Court. While
Mr. Simms had been convicted, and Mr. Simms was released from prison. The State filed
a Motion to Dismiss the appeal that Mr. Simms opposed in his Reply Brief.
Mr. Simms raises two issues in his brief, which he filed before the State nol prossed
the conspiracy to distribute MDMA charge (and conviction).
First, he contends that the
supported by probable cause and because the warrantless arrest violated Section 2-203 of
the Maryland Criminal Procedure Article (“CP”). Second, he argues that the evidence was
insufficient to sustain the conviction. The State responds that the case is moot because the
Simms’s challenges to the suppression decisions. The State agrees that the evidence was
insufficient to sustain the conviction, but asks us to vacate the conviction rather than
We need to take the issues in a different order—first, to determine whether the
Before we can consider Mr. Simm’s challenges to his conviction, we must address
moot because, while it was pending, the State nol prossed the one count on which Mr.
Simms had been convicted. Because jeopardy had attached for all charges in the
underlying indictment, the State argues, the post hoc nol pros eliminates the possibility that
we could provide Mr. Simms an effective remedy. Mr. Simms characterizes the nol pros
In his brief Mr. Simms phrased the Questions Presented as follows:
here as a “legal nullity,” and argues that we could provide an effective remedy by deciding
insulate his conviction from review, although we then have to decide what, if any, charges
could survive after the series of the post-jeopardy nol prosses the State entered in this case.
“A question is moot if, at the time it is before the court, there is no longer an existing
court can provide.” Attorney Gen. v. Anne Arundel Cty. Sch. Bus Contractors Ass’n., 286
Md. 324, 327 (1979) (citations omitted). “It is well settled that appellate courts do not sit
to give opinions on abstract propositions or moot questions, and appeals which present
nothing else for decision are dismissed as a matter of course.” Cottman v. State, 395 Md.
729, 744 (2006) (internal citations and quotations omitted).
The potential remedies here flow from what a nol pros is and isn’t, which in turn
abandonment of the prosecution or a discontinuance of a prosecution by the authorized
attorney for the state.” Ward v. State, 290 Md. 76, 83 (1981) (internal citations and
quotations omitted). Maryland Rule 4-247(a) provides that the State’s Attorney may
terminate a prosecution on a charge and dismiss the charge by entering a nol pros on the
record in open court. But although “[t]he entry of a nolle prosequi is generally within the
sole discretion of the prosecuting attorney, free from judicial control and not dependent
upon the defendant’s consent,” Ward, 290 Md. at 83, “[t]he prosecutor’s power is not
absolute.” Hook v. State, 315 Md. 25, 36 (1989) (internal citations omitted) (the State
denied the defendant fundamental fairness by nol prossing the second-degree murder count
and leaving the jury no choice but to convict of first-degree murder or acquit); see also
the entire nature of the offense charged.”) (citation omitted); Simmons v. State, 165 Md.
155, 165 (1933) (indicating that the trial court may or may not permit the entry of a nol
pros in order to prevent injustice).
And a nol pros is not, as the State contends, the equivalent of an acquittal. A nol
particular charge, but not as to other charges that otherwise wouldn’t be precluded by
double jeopardy principles. Hooper v. State, 293 Md. 162, 163–70 (1982) (nol pros entered
during appeal from dismissed indictments because State was proceeding to trial on new
information alleging the same crimes); Ward, 290 Md. at 94–100; cf. Bravo-Fernandez v.
United States, 580 U.S. ___, No. 15-537, slip op. at 12–19 (Nov. 29, 2016) (acquittal on
companion charge doesn’t preclude retrial after judgment of guilt is vacated on procedural
grounds). Because the other charges in Mr. Simms’s indictment were nol prossed after he
was tried and convicted only for conspiracy to distribute MDMA,
and after the court
resurrected. But the flagship charge has an added wrinkle that none of the cases on which
the State relies shares: the nol pros for conspiracy to distribute MDMA was entered not
These were, again: theft, possession with intent to distribute heroin, possession of
possession of cocaine.
merely after jeopardy attached, but after conviction. Compare State v. Martin, 367 Md.
(nol pros entered at the close of the State’s case); Bynum v. State, 277 Md. 703, 704–05
(1976) (nol pros entered at the conclusion of all testimony); Blondes v. State, 273 Md. 435,
446 (1975) (nol pros entered after trial had begun and jeopardy had attached).
No Maryland case has addressed this particular question,
but we hold that a post-
a mechanism to insulate a defective conviction, and the errors rendering it defective, from
appellate review. The State’s motion doesn’t say directly why it nol prossed the case at
this stage. But there is an obvious coincidence in timing between the nol pros and the
State’s concession here that the evidence was insufficient to sustain the conviction for
conspiracy to distribute MDMA, which raises the question, unanswered in its brief, why
the State proceeded in this fashion. If we were to find the case moot, could the State re-
indict Mr. Simms on a new set of charges arising from the same facts—for example, a
conspiracy to distribute ethylone, which has never been charged, or charges relating to the
marijuana found during the strip search? The answer to that question could depend on our
answers to the other issues on appeal: for example, we were to find that the evidence
obtained in the search should have been suppressed, or that the evidence was insufficient
Some out-of-state cases have held that post-conviction or post-sentencing nol prosses
Tenn. 152, 154 (1846), but the situation doesn’t appear to arise very often at the appellate
to sustain the conviction, those rulings could shape the opportunity, if any, for the State to
We assume that the State had appropriate reasons for proceeding as it did and don’t
terminated or that there is no remedy we could provide to Mr. Simms were he to prevail.
The appeal is not moot, and we proceed to the merits.
This brings us to the charge on which Mr. Simms was convicted, conspiracy to
distribute MDMA. Mr. Simms argues, and the State concedes, that the evidence in support
of his conviction was insufficient as a matter of law—the agreed Statement of Facts on
which the conviction was based contained no evidence relating to MDMA, the drug he
allegedly conspired to distribute, only evidence relating to an altogether different drug
(ethylone). The parties differ, though, on what we should do in response. The State
contends that the conviction should be vacated, and Mr. Simms says we should reverse it.
We agree with Mr. Simms. The State charged Mr. Simms with conspiracy to
distribute MDMA (after amending the indictment, which originally charged a conspiracy
to distribute heroin), and the parties agreed to a Statement of Facts that was, by all accounts,
legally insufficient. The shortfall is not procedural, but substantive, and Mr. Simms should
not be subject to the possibility of re-trial on that charge. See Titus v. State, 423 Md. 548,
573 (2011) (reversing conviction when evidence was insufficient to establish conviction
beyond a reasonable doubt). And because that was the only charge for which he was