In the court of special appeals of maryland

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No. 1942 


September Term, 2015 



















Eyler, James R. 


          (Senior Judge, Specially Assigned) 







Opinion by Nazarian, J. 





Filed:  March 3, 2017 





This seemingly straightforward drug case has morphed into a criminal procedure 

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,


 possession of 

ethylone, possession of cocaine, and conspiracy to distribute heroin (this last charge was 

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 

central nervous system-stimulant properties similar to cocaine, 3,4-

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 

to sustain the conviction for conspiracy to distribute MDMA, it argues that the conviction 

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 

saw two African-American men  who fit the descriptions of the suspects.  When the 

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 

continued to eat and spoke quietly in response to the Corporal’s questions.  


While the Corporal was attempting to get Mr. Simms’s information, Mr. Brown ran 

out of the mall.  The Corporal gave chase  and eventually detained and handcuffed Mr. 

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, 

still eating.  The Corporal placed Mr. Simms in handcuffs and brought him outside, where 

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 

they had seen Mr. Simms go anywhere or put anything anywhere, and was told that Mr. 

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.   





Officers took Mr. Simms to the Southern District station for processing.  Because 

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 

heard and denied on May 27, 2015.  On November 5, 2015, the State amended the drug 

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 

this appeal was pending, though, the State entered a nol pros as to the one count for which 

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 

trial court erred in denying his motion to suppress evidence because his arrest was not 

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 

nol pros eliminated any remedy we could provide to Mr. Simms.  The State disputes Mr. 

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 

reverse it.   


We need to take the issues in a different order—first, to determine whether the 

appeal is moot and then, if not, what is left to decide.  



 This Appeal Is Not Moot. 


Before we can consider Mr. Simm’s challenges to his conviction, we must address 

the State’s motion to dismiss this appeal, and specifically its contention that the appeal is 

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:   



Did the lower court err in denying the motion to suppress?   



Was the evidence insufficient to sustain the conviction?   






here as a “legal nullity,” and argues that we could provide an effective remedy by deciding 

the suppression issue.  We agree with Mr. Simms that the nol pros after conviction doesn’t 

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 

controversy between the parties, so that there is no longer any effective remedy which the 

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 

depends on when it was entered.  A  nol  pros  is  an act of prosecutorial discretion—“an 

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 

Ward, 290 Md. at 83 (“[T]he prosecution cannot, by a nolle pros of part of a count, change 

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 

pros  entered after jeopardy has attached precludes a later indictment and trial on that 

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 

received the agreed statement of facts, see State v. Taylor, 371 Md. 617, 644 (2002), State 

v. Shaw, 282 Md. 231, 237 (1978), we agree with the State that those charges could not be 

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 

heroin, possession with intent to distribute ethylone, possession of ethylone, and 

possession of cocaine. 





merely after jeopardy attached, but after conviction.  Compare State v. Martin, 367 Md. 

53, 56 (2001) (nol pros entered at the conclusion of the State’s case); Ward, 290 Md. at 76 

(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-

conviction nol pros is ineffective because if this maneuver worked, it could give the State 

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 

were ineffective, see, e.g., Louisiana v. Moise, 18 So. 943, 955-56 (La. 1895); 

Massachusetts v. Dascalakis, 140 N.E. 470, 473 (Mass. 1923); Tennessee v. Fleming, 26 

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 

prosecute Mr. Simms anew.   


We assume that the State had appropriate reasons for proceeding as it did and don’t 

ascribe any nefarious motives.  Even  so,  we are not persuaded  that the controversy has 

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. 



The Conviction For Conspiracy To Distribute MDMA Must Be  




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 

convicted, that ends our inquiry.   










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