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Davis v. State

Supreme Court of Delaware

August 28, 2013

DARREN DAVIS, Defendant Below-Appellant
v.
STATE OF DELAWARE, Plaintiff Below-Appellee

Submitted: July 10, 2013

Court Below: Family Court of the State of Delaware in and for New Castle County Case No. 1212012517

Before BERGER, JACOBS, and RIDGELY, Justices.

ORDER

Henry duPont Ridgely Justice

On this 28th day of August, 2013, it appears to the Court that:

(1) Defendant-below/Appellant Darren Davis[1] ("Davis") appeals from a Family Court finding of delinquency as charged of Possession of a Firearm by a Person Prohibited (Juvenile) and Possession of a Deadly Weapon with an Obliterated Serial Number. Davis makes two claims on appeal: first, that the Family Court erred in admitting a firearm into evidence; second, that no rational trier of fact could have convicted Davis even if the firearm was properly admitted. We find no merit to Davis's appeal and affirm the decision of the Family Court.

(2) In December, 2012, Corporal Smith and Officer McAndrew were watching a group of men, including 17-year-old Davis, walk down the street together. Smith and McAndrew saw Davis duck down and momentarily pass out of their view. While Davis was out of sight, the officers heard a heavy object hit the ground. The officers investigated the general area around where Davis had been and recovered the firearm that would become the basis for this case.

(3) Master Corporal Shawn Gordon arrived after Smith and McAndrew discovered the weapon to process it as evidence. The officers discovered the weapon had an obliterated serial number. Gordon placed the firearm inside the ballistic evidence officer's safe, which was then sealed and signed by both Gordon and the ballistic evidence officer.

(4) Davis's trial was held before the Family Court. Master Corporal Gordon testified at trial that the firearm being offered as evidence was the same firearm that he had placed into the evidence locker. He also identified the ballistic officer's notes on the evidence bag. Master Corporal Gordon also identified that the bag was sealed by the ballistics officer. The firearm was admitted into evidence over the defense's objection. The trial court found that firearm shared the same unique rust marking that was seen on the firearm in a picture taken at the crime scene, and that the chain of custody over the firearm was unbroken. Davis was found delinquent. This appeal followed.

(5) Davis first claims that the trial court erred in allowing the State to introduce the firearm into evidence. We review a trial judge's evidentiary rulings for abuse of discretion.[2] "An abuse of discretion occurs when a court has exceeded the bounds of reason in view of the circumstances or so ignored recognized rules of law or practice to produce injustice."[3]

(6) The trial court compared the firearm the State put into evidence with a photo of the firearm found at the crime scene and concluded that they were the same firearm. Under Delaware Rule of Evidence 901, authentication is satisfied when:

The requirement of authentication or identification as a condition precedent to admissibility is satisfied by evidence sufficient to support a finding that the matter in question is what its proponent claims… [T]he following are examples of authentication or identification conforming with the requirements of this rule… (3) Comparison by Trier or Expert Witness. Comparison by the trier of fact or by expert witnesses with specimens which have been authenticated.[4]

Here, the trial court found that the rust stain on the firearm in the photograph matched the rust stain on the firearm being moved into evidence.

(7) Rule 901 "does not eliminate the 'necessity of showing the chain of custody of exhibits in criminal proceedings, ' which 'indirectly establishes the identity and integrity of the evidence by tracing its continuous whereabouts.'" [5] To properly establish a chain of custody, the State must: (1) "eliminate possibilities of misidentification and adulteration, not absolutely, but as a matter of reasonable probability;[6] (2) present a foundation witness who states that the instrumentality is at least like the one associated with the crime; ...


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