Jenna R. Milecki, Esq., and Joseph Grubb, Esq., Deputy Attorney Generals, Delaware Department of Justice, Wilmington, Delaware. Attorneys for State of Delaware.
Andrew G. Ahern, III, Esq., Attorney for Defendant.
Calvin L. Scott, Judge.
Before the Court is Defendant Russell Monroe's ("Defendant") Motion to Suppress, brought by counsel. Defendant argues that there the probation officers did not have reasonable grounds to conduct the administrative search. Defendant also argues that the nighttime search warrant was defective because of its timing and it was not supported by probable cause. The Court has reviewed the parties' submissions and held a suppression hearing. For the following reasons, the Defendant's Motion to Suppress is DENIED.
Findings of Fact
On April 28, 2014, Probation Officers Scaramazza and White went to Defendant's residence at 319 Cobble Creek Curve in Newark, Delaware, to conduct a home visit. The purpose for the home visit on that occasion was to do a walk-through of the residence to determine where Defendant was sleeping, in addition to checking his GPS equipment. While Officer Scaramazza was knocking on the front door of the residence, Officer White observed movement in the front bedroom located on the second floor of the residence, and subsequently observed a light go off in that room. There was approximately a five minute delay between when the probation officers began knocking until Defendant answered the door.
Once Defendant answered the door and the officers entered the residence, the officers questioned Defendant about his delay in answering. Defendant initially indicated that he had been asleep on the couch in the living room. When the officers confronted Defendant regarding the movement Officer White had observed on the second floor while they were knocking, Defendant then indicated he was actually using the upstairs bathroom instead of sleeping on the couch. Upon inspecting the living room, the officers observed piles of clothes, children's toys and what appeared to be garbage on the couch that Defendant said he was sleeping on. The officers concluded that Defendant was not sleeping on that couch or in that room, for purposes of the home visit. The officers were suspicious as to whether Defendant had been in the room upstairs or if there was another person in the residence. To resolve this conflict, the officers went upstairs to do a protective sweep for officer safety.
When the officers went upstairs, they found the door to the room in which they had previously seen movement and the light on, closed and locked. Defendant denied having been in the room prior to their arrival and indicated there were no other persons in the home. Further, Defendant indicated that he did not have a key to access the room. At this time, Defendant became aggressive and combative with the officers so the officers placed Defendant in handcuffs an escorted him downstairs.
Officer White went back upstairs to complete the protective sweep for officer safety and determine if any other individuals were in the residence. In checking the second floor, Officer White pushed open the unsecured door to a second bedroom, and was "hit in the face" by the odor of burnt marijuana. While clearing that room, Officer White observed a bong located on a dresser next to the television, partially concealed by a gray bag.
Furthermore, Defendant would not allow his probation officer to access Defendant's phone, which was a violation of his probation conditions that state that Defendant is subject to a search of his living quarters and person at any time without a warrant. In refusing to allow access to his phone, Defendant stated "that's a violation of probation, take me now." This statement further raised both officers' suspicions because, based on their training and experience, they believed Defendant wanted them out of the residence. At this time, Officer Scaramazza contacted the Governor's Task Force ("GTF") to provide security and assist in the home visit, relaying all of the officers' observations and statements made by Defendant to Probation Officer David Tuohey.
While en route to the residence, Officer Tuohey contacted his supervisor, Robert Willoughby, relaying the information learned from Officer Scaramazza, including the observations of second floor before the officers entered the residence, Defendant's inconsistent statements, the locked bedroom, and the odor of marijuana and observation of drug paraphernalia within the residence. Based on that information, Officer Willoughby authorized the probation officers to conduct an administrative search of Defendant's residence. That information was also the basis for Officer Willoughby authorizing entry into the locked bedroom on the second floor.
Authorization to conduct an administrative search of the residence and to access the locked second floor bedroom had been acquired upon GTF arrival. Probation officers, along with Corporal Dudzinski of the Delaware State Police, went upstairs to the locked bedroom, where Cpl. Dudzinski defeated the lock on the door and entered the room along with Officer Tuohey to do a protective sweep for officer safety. Upon entering the locked bedroom, officers observed in plain view Defendant's identification and social security cards, photographs of Defendant, a letter written by Defendant for a modification of sentence, and a letter addressed to "Mr. Bun, " which is a nickname of Defendant.
During the administrative search of the locked bedroom small rubber bands located under a mattress and several hundred dollars of United States currency were found. A subsequent K-9 "sniff" of the currency alerted for the presence of drugs. In the common areas of the residence, the following items were found: a Lexus car key and parking ticket for a Lexus, which matched the white 2002 Lexus 300 located outside the residence. While conducting an exterior inspection of the vehicle, the probation officers observed an open trap secret ...