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State v. Rhoades

Superior Court of Delaware, Kent

November 26, 2014

STATE OF DELAWARE,
v.
FAMOUS B. RHOADES, Defendant.

Submitted: November 14, 2014

Upon Consideration of Defendant's Motion to Suppress GRANTED

Gregory R. Babowal, Esquire, Deputy Attorney General, Department of Justice, Dover, Delaware for the State of Delaware.

Patrick J. Collins, Esquire, Patrick Collins & Assoc., LLC, Wilmington, Delaware for Defendant. Young, J.

ORDER

Robert B. Young J.

SUMMARY

In this case, Famous Rhoades ("Defendant") was the passenger in a vehicle, detained by officers of the Governor's Task Force, resulting in what is known as a "Terry stop." One of his fellow passengers was found to have evaded two capiases, as well as to have been in the possession of drug paraphernalia. Following this discovery, the officers proceeded to search the Defendant, finding cocaine and other contraband. Defendant argues that the officers violated his Fourth Amendment rights, as they did not have a reasonable, articulable suspicion for conducting this search. By his Motion to Suppress, Defendant seeks to exclude the items confiscated during this search. By his motion to suppress, Defendant seeks to exclude the items confiscated during this search.

The U.S. Supreme Court and the Delaware Supreme Court have both strongly stated that the search of an individual's outer clothing, known colloquially as a "pat-down", is justified only in the event there is a reasonably perceived threat to officer safety. In reviewing the circumstances surrounding this search, the Court is not persuaded that a reasonable officer would have believed that the Defendant was armed or dangerous. As such, the pat-down was unlawful. Therefore, Defendant's Motion to Suppress is GRANTED.

FACTS AND PROCEDURES

On May 27, 2014, Corporal Ballinger of the Governor's Task Force, stopped a dark green Grand Prix that was driving down South State Street in Dover, DE, after noticing that one of its headlights was broken. The vehicle was occupied by three persons: Kendall Evans, the driver, and two passengers, Defendant, who was in the front passenger seat, and David Heath, who was the rear passenger. Corporal Ballinger ran background searches on all of the occupants, determining that Heath had two outstanding capiases. Ballinger was joined by at least three other officers[1], who proceeded to search Heath, finding two crack cocaine pipes. Evans gave the officers permission to search the car, where they found a billy club, located in the pocket at the rear of the driver's seat. Defendant was asked to exit the car, and the officers conducted a "pat-down" search of his person. The officers recovered powder cocaine, crack cocaine, marijuana, money and a cell phone from Defendant. During his direct testimony, Corporal Ballinger revealed that the motivation behind this search resulted from routine protocol. Following this Court's hearing, the Defendant moved to suppress these found items from entering into evidence.

DISCUSSION

The facts underlying Defendant's Motion to Suppress require this Court to strike a delicate balance between the interests of law enforcement and the rights afforded citizens of Delaware by the U.S. Constitution. Specific to this situation, this Court must weigh the interest of furthering the work of the Governor's Task Force, which seeks, among other things, to root out probation violations, against the Constitutional protection from unlawful search and seizure, in the case of a "pat-down" search.

__Although the parties cite to only Delaware case law, this Court recognizes that the protection from unreasonable search and seizure, deriving from the Fourth Amendment, was first extended to "pat-down" searches by the U.S. Supreme Court in Terry v. Ohio.[2] Indeed, the factual circumstances that underlie the Defendant's motion are today referred to as a "Terry stop."[3] The issue faced by the Terry Court was the permissibility of a stop and a search, where a police officer lacks probable cause for an arrest. The Court determined that the answer to this question required a two step analysis: "whether the officer's action was justified at its inception, and whether it was reasonably related in scope to the circumstances which justified the inference in the first place."[4] In answering these two points, the U.S. Supreme Court announced the "reasonable, articulable suspicion" standard, requiring that an officer's motivation leading to the pat-down search be based on specific facts, rather than a mere "hunch." [5]

Specific to both the Terry circumstances and the ones at the case at bar, prior to conducting a search of the stopped person's outer garments, the officer must, based upon articulable facts, be reasonably suspicious that this person is armed and dangerous.[6] There must be a justifiable concern that the individual will cause harm to the officers or others in the vicinity.[7] Absent these factors, such a search is ...


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