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State v. Blackshear

Superior Court of Delaware, New Castle

April 7, 2014




AND NOW, TO WIT, this 7th day of April, 2014, IT IS HEREBY ORDERED as follows:


Before the Court is Defendant Charles Blackshear's ("Defendant") motion to suppress, brought by counsel, for evidence seized and statements obtained as a result of an of an alleged unlawful arrest in violation rights guaranteed by the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and Article I, Section 6 of the Delaware Constitution. Defendant was arrested shortly after officers from the Wilmington Police Department ("WPD") were dispatched to a high crime area where a large fight and gunshots had been reported. The Court has reviewed the parties' submissions, including the parties' supplemental memoranda, and held a suppression hearing. For the reasons that follow, Defendant's motion is DENIED.

Findings of Fact

On the evening of September 10, 2013, Officer Daniel Humphrey ("Officer Humphrey") of the WPD was on K-9 patrol duty when he received a call over dispatch to respond to the intersection of 6th and Jefferson streets in Wilmington for a large fight. While Officer Humphrey was in route, dispatch reported that shots were fired. Once he arrived, he observed about 30-35 people arguing and yelling and other officers who were in the area. Officer Humphrey removed his K-9 from the vehicle and attempted to disperse the crowd.

As Officer Humphrey waited for the crowd to settle, a woman in the crowd came to him and informed him that a black male wearing a pink shirt was carrying a firearm in his waistband. The woman stated that the man was "right there." She did not point, but she nodded her head in the southbound direction of Jefferson Street. Officer Humphrey understood that the woman was signaling that the man was nearby. Officer Humphrey did not obtain her name and contact information because the woman did not want to give her name. Officer Humphrey has testified that he would be able to recognize the individual if he saw her again.

Officer Steven Cancila ("Officer Cancila") was also called to respond to the area. Officer Cancila was familiar with the area and knew it to be a high crime area that had at least two previous shootings. Thereafter, Officer Humphrey passed on the information that he obtained from the unidentified woman and directed Officer Cancila toward the 500 Block of Jefferson Street. Officer Cancila walked down the street while Officer Humphrey followed a short distance behind him. Outside of a residence located at 511 Jefferson, the officers observed a black male wearing a pink shirt, later identified as the defendant, sitting on the steps. There were one to two people who were also sitting on the steps, a man standing at the door, and several people standing and "hanging out" in the front yard. Neither officer observed any other black males wearing pink shirts.

The man standing at the door pulled several keys from his pocket and appeared as though he was trying to open the door. Officer Humphrey and his K-9 remained in the front yard as Officer Cancila approached the residence. As he approached, Defendant stood up, turned toward the front door and began whispering to the man standing at the door. Officer Cancila observed that the other individuals in the area appeared to be calm as they continued to look toward Officer Cancila; however, Defendant was fidgeting and stopped looking at Officer Cancila.

At that point, Officer Cancila ordered everyone on the steps to put their hands up, but Defendant did not comply. Officer Cancila repeated his order and the defendant rose only his right hand, put it back down, and hesitated in stepping toward Officer Cancila. Officer Cancila removed his firearm and Defendant ultimately complied. However, when Officer Cancila attempted to handcuff Defendant, Defendant pulled his hands apart. When Defendant tensed up and started looking around, Officer Humphrey believed that he was going to run. As a result, Officer Humphrey warned the defendant that, if the defendant was going to keep pulling his hands apart, the K-9 would bite him. Officer Cancila handcuffed the defendant, conducted a pat-down search, and discovered a black and silver firearm in the defendant's waistband.

Parties' Contentions

Defendant argues that, by ordering everyone to put their hands up, Officer Cancila seized Defendant without probable cause because he was not engaging in any criminal or otherwise suspicious activity. In the motion, defense counsel stated noted that "the only information that the police had at the time [Defendant] was arrested was from an anonymous source who never identified anyone by name or descriptions."[1] Defense counsel did not advance any further argument or present any case law on reliability of the unidentified woman's statement until the suppression hearing. At the hearing, defense counsel described the woman's statement as an anonymous tip and relied upon Florida v. J.L.[2] to argue that the State was required to show that the information that she provided was sufficiently reliable through police corroboration of a predictive future behavior.[3]

The State responded to Defendant's motion, arguing that Defendant was not placed under arrest until Officer Cancila discovered the firearm in his waistband. The State also argued that, during that time, Officer Cancila needed only reasonable suspicion to conduct an investigatory detention and pat-down for officer safety and that the officer's actions constituted a reasonable intrusion. The State contended that, when the Officer Cancila discovered the firearm, his reasonable suspicion was elevated to probable cause. In its supplemental memorandum, the State distinguished the information provided by the unidentified woman from information provided in cases involving anonymous tipsters. The State argued that the former was "inherently more reliable"[4] because the woman approached Officer Humphrey, in person, a short time after officers were called to the area while within a block's distance from Defendant and since many people were standing around. Thus, the woman could have subjected herself to retaliation from Defendant and criminal prosecution for providing false information. Further, the State argued that her identity was "easily obtainable" since Officer Humphrey also testified that he would be able to identify her again. [5]

Defendant rebutted the State's argument in a supplemental response by arguing that the face-to-face tip alone does not justify a seizure. Defendant argued that the woman's identity is not easily obtainable and that there is no evidence that the woman relayed ...

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