Submitted: June 9, 2014
Upon Consideration of Defendant's Motion to Suppress – Motion GRANTED.
Sarita R. Wright, Esquire, Deputy Attorney General, Delaware Department of Justice, Wilmington, Delaware, Attorney for the State of Delaware.
Patrick J. Collins, Esquire, Wilmington, Delaware, Attorney for the Defendant.
DIANE CLARKE STREETT JUDGE
Defendant Dilip S. Niyala ("Defendant") has filed a Motion to Suppress all of the evidence obtained as a result of warrantless searches that were conducted on October 1, 2013 of his apartment, an apartment belonging to a third party, and the vehicle that he was operating when he was stopped and seized by police. He argues that the evidence was obtained in violation of the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution and Article I, § 6 of the Delaware Constitution.
Defendant also sought to suppress his statement to the police while in custody. However, the State conceded that Miranda warnings were not given to the Defendant prior to the custodial interrogation that elicited his statement, and as a result, the State will not offer Defendant's statements into evidence in its case in chief.
A suppression hearing was held on April 25, 2014. Following the hearing, the parties, pursuant to their joint request, submitted supplemental memoranda on the validity of the stop, seizure, and Defendant's consent to search.
For the reasons set forth below, Defendant's Motion to Suppress is granted.
Factual & Procedural Background
On December 9, 2013, Defendant was indicted on the charges of Aggravated Possession of Heroin (5 or more grams), Drug Dealing (3 counts), Aggravated Possession of Cocaine (25 or more grams), Possession of a Firearm by a Person Prohibited, Possession of Ammunition by a Person Prohibited, and Possession of Drug Paraphernalia.
On March 4, 2014, Defendant filed a Motion to Suppress Evidence.
On April 1, 2014, the State filed its response to Defendant's Motion to Suppress.
On April 25, 2014, a hearing on the Motion to Suppress was held. The Court heard testimony from Wilmington Police Department ("WPD") Detective Randolph Pfaff and Drug Enforcement Agency ("DEA") Special Agent Seamus Toolan.
Det. Pfaff was the Chief Investigating Officer of an investigation that took place on October 1, 2013. Det. Pfaff testified that on that date (October 1, 2013), he received information from a past proven and reliable confidential informant (the "CI"). At the time that the information was proffered, the CI was in criminal trouble and had "legal matters" pending. One prior tip from the CI had led to an arrest.
The CI told Det. Pfaff that a person known as "Chin" (last name Nyala) was in possession of a semi-automatic firearm, a revolver, and had recently received "a large quantity of heroin." The CI described "Chin's" physical appearance, connected "Chin" to Building D at 2702 Manchester Arms Apartments in Elsmere, and said that "Chin" distributed heroin by driving a silver Nissan Altima to meet buyers. The CI also told Det. Pfaff that "Chin" "uses" his girlfriend's second floor apartment in the 2700 block of West Fifth Street, Wilmington. Prior to the CI's tip, Defendant had not been the target of an investigation.
Det. Pfaff testified that he "immediately responded" to Manchester Arms Apartments and observed a 2012 Nissan Altima parked in front of Building D. He ascertained that the vehicle was registered to Defendant and Defendant's mother. Det. Pfaff then showed Defendant's driver's license photograph to the CI who positively identified the Defendant as "Chin."
At that time, Det. Pfaff had Agent Toolan and several members of the WPD Drug Unit establish surveillance on the Altima. Another member of the WPD Drug Unit went to the Manchester Arms Apartments' Leasing Office, obtained a master list of lessees, and ascertained that Defendant was the lessee of Apartment 301 in Building D. Once surveillance was established, Det. Pfaff went to the police station to draft a search warrant for Defendant, Defendant's apartment, and the Nissan Altima. Det. Pfaff intended to present his draft to a Magistrate at J.P. Court #20, but was unable to find an available Magistrate.
Det. Pfaff testified that there were four units and five officers conducting surveillance on the vehicle at the apartment complex. At some point, the officers observed Defendant exit the building, drive off in the Nissan Altima, return a "short time later, " enter the building, and "a short time later, " exit the building and again drive away. There was no testimony concerning the length of time that the Nissan Altima was under surveillance and the officers did not observe any illegal drug activity occurring while Defendant was in his vehicle.
Det. Pfaff instructed one of the officers to remain at the apartment complex while the other officers followed Defendant in his vehicle. Det. Pfaff testified that the officers' sole objective was to get Defendant into custody. Agent Toolan testified that Det. Pfaff had instructed Agent Toolan and the other surveillance units "to follow the vehicle . . . to further his case."
Both Agent Toolan and Det. Pfaff testified as to the basis for the stop. According to Agent Toolan, mobile surveillance would have continued "until we could get the vehicle stopped . . . . [W]e were looking for a traffic violation to initiate a stop." Det. Pfaff confirmed that he instructed the surveillance units to stop and detain Defendant if they observed a traffic violation. Det. Pfaff's prior testimony at the Preliminary Hearing, that he had officers following and waiting for Defendant ...