Submitted: January 28, 2014
Nicholas R. Wynn, Esq., Attorney for the State of Delaware.
Sean A. Motoyoshi, Esq., Attorney for the Defendant.
Jan R. Jurden, Judge
Before the Court is Defendant Omar Scott's Motion to Suppress a prescription bottle containing 36 oxycodone pills that was removed from his cargo shorts pocket by the police. As explained below, although the Court finds the police had reasonable articulable suspicion to detain Scott pursuant to 11 Del. C. § 1902, they violated his Fourth Amendment rights when they conducted a pat down without a reasonable articulable suspicion that Scott was armed and dangerous. Consequently, the motion to suppress is GRANTED.
On May 31, 2013, at approximately 2:20 p.m., Officer Fox ("Fox") of the City of Wilmington Police Department ("WPD"), while viewing Downtown Visions cameras, observed a black male wearing a white tank top, yellow shorts, and a pink baseball cap, loitering and engaging in what he believed to be hand-to-hand drug transactions in the vicinity of 10th and Pine Streets. Fox contacted WPD Master Corporal Press ("Press") by radio and relayed what he had observed via the Downtown Visions cameras. Press and his partner, who were in the area on another matter,  responded to 10th and Pine within minutes, exited their marked patrol car, and observed an individual fitting the perpetrator's description. Press and his partner approached Scott and asked if they could speak to him; Scott agreed. Press then directed Scott to "get on the wall, " began patting Scott down, and then asked whether Scott had anything on him that "could possibly be illegal." Scott replied, "No, nothing illegal, but I have prescription medications."During the pat down, Press felt what he believed to be a medicine bottle in Defendant's cargo shorts pocket and removed it. The bottle was prescribed to Chenelle Exxom and contained 36 oxycodone pills. The police took Scott into custody because the pills were not prescribed to him.
"An individual's right to be free from unlawful searches and seizures in Delaware is secured by two independent, though correlative sources." The Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution protects against unreasonable searches and seizures. Article I, § 6 of the Delaware Constitution further secures its citizens' rights, providing that "[t]he people shall be secure in their persons, houses, papers and possessions from unreasonable searches and seizures [….]"Therefore, in order for an officer to stop or detain an individual for investigatory purposes, the officer must possess "reasonable articulable suspicion to believe the individual detained is committing, has committed, or is about to commit a crime." While such a stop constitutes a seizure, it is more limited in scope and duration than an arrest and is, therefore, a reasonable intrusion under the Fourth Amendment.
On a motion to suppress, the State bears the burden of establishing that the challenged search or seizure comported with the rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution, the Delaware Constitution, and Delaware statutory law. The burden of proof is by a preponderance of the evidence. Here, Scott argues that the WPD lacked reasonable articulable suspicion to stop him and failed to establish the reasonable basis necessary to justify a Terry pat down.
Pursuant to 11 Del. C. § 1902, police officers may forcibly stop and detain a person if they have reasonable suspicion of criminal activity on the part of that person. A determination of reasonable suspicion is "evaluated in the context of the totality of circumstances to assess whether the detaining officer had a particularized and objective basis to suspect criminal activity." The totality of the circumstances of the surrounding situation is "viewed through the eyes of a reasonable, trained police officer in the same or similar circumstances, combining objectives facts with such an officer's subjective interpretation of those facts."Thus, when determining whether reasonable suspicion exists to justify a detention, the court "defers to the experience and training of law enforcement officers."
Press was told by a fellow police officer, Detective Fox that he observed the Defendant engage in what he thought were hand-to-hand drug transactions. Fox immediately radioed Press, described what he saw and provided Defendant's exact location with a detailed description of Defendant's clothing. Within minutes, Press located Defendant where Fox had observed ...