Julie A. Finocchiaro, Esq., Deputy Attorney General, Delaware Department of Justice, Wilmington, Delaware. Attorney for State of Delaware.
Kenneth L. Wan, Esq., Attorney for Defendant.
Calvin L. Scott Judge
On this 8th day of May, 2015, IT IS ORDERED as follows: Defendant's Motion to Suppress is DENIED IN PART and GRANTED IN PART.
Before the Court is Defendant Terquan Watson's ("Defendant") Motion to Suppress. Defendant challenges the validity of both the warrantless vehicle search and the administrative search. Defendant argues that the warrantless search of his vehicle violated his Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable searches because there was not probable cause for a warrantless vehicle search. Defendant argues that the administrative search violated his Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable searches because the probation officer did not substantially comply with Department of Corrections Procedure 7.19. The Court has reviewed the parties' submissions and held a suppression hearing. For the following reasons, the Defendant's Motion to Suppress is DENIED IN PART and GRANTED IN PART.
Findings of Fact
On September 10, 2014, at approximately 11:30 pm, Governor's Task Force ("GTF") members were conducting proactive patrols in the area of the Omega Shopping Center. Detective Dudzinski testified that Officer Gliem of the GTF was parked in front of the Wawa in the Omega Shopping Center parking lot, while he and the other GTF members were out of view and parked on nearby streets.
Officer Gliem observed Defendant approach the passenger of a Volkswagen Passat that was parked in the Omega Shopping Center parking lot, and engage in what appeared to him to be a hand-to-hand drug transaction. Immediately after this interaction with the passenger of the Volkswagen, Officer Gliem watched Defendant walk over and enter the front passenger seat of a Buick Regal, which was occupied by Sonia Dixon. Defendant remained in the Buick for approximately 30 seconds before exiting the vehicle. While Defendant was inside the vehicle, Officer Gliem saw what appeared to be a hand-to-hand drug transaction between Defendant and Dixon. After that brief interaction, Defendant then walked over to and entered the driver's seat of a Ford Focus. All three vehicles then drove away. Det. Dudzinski testified that Officer Gliem observed that neither Defendant, nor the occupants of the Volkswagen or Buick, patronized any of the stores in the Omega Shopping Center while parked in that lot. He also testified that, in Officer Gliem's training and experience, this behavior, together with the hand-to-hand interactions Officer Gliem observed, was indicative of criminal activity.
After the vehicles departed the Omega Shopping Center lot, GTF officers stopped and searched the Volkswagen and Buick. Det. Dudzinski was given Defendant's vehicle information, and proceeded to follow Defendant. The search of the Volkswagen did not yield any contraband. In searching the Buick, officers found a small amount of marijuana and money. Upon questioning the occupants of both vehicles, each initially denied having contact with Defendant in the Omega Shopping Center parking lot, but then said that they had brief contact with Defendant when asking him for a cigarette. Officer Tuohey of the GTF radioed Det. Dudzinski the results of the search of the Buick. Det. Dudzinski then stopped Defendant in a nearby 7-11 parking lot.
Det. Dudzinski was the only officer in his patrol vehicle and conducting the stop of Defendant. For officer safety, Det. Dudzinski immediately removed Defendant from the vehicle, placed him in handcuffs and in the back of his patrol vehicle. Defendant was cooperative and compliant at all times during the stop. Det. Dudzinski then searched Defendant's vehicle, where he found 38 bags of heroin in a zippered pouch in the glove compartment. Det. Dudzinski arrested Defendant, and a search of Defendant's person incident to arrest yielded keys and $350 cash in four bundles of small denominations. Det. Dudzinski testified that, in his training and experience, the bundles of money were packaged and in amounts that were indicative of the sale of heroin.
Upon learning that Defendant was on probation, Probation Officer Kelly of the GTF responded to the 7-11 parking lot, where Det. Dudzinski informed him that heroin was found in Defendant's vehicle. PO Kelly testified that he called Supervisor Willoughby, who verbally authorized an administrative search of Defendant's address of record, based on PO Kelly relaying to him that Defendant was on probation and that heroin was found in Defendant's vehicle.
Defendant informed the officers that the Ford Focus he was driving belonged to his girlfriend, Kayla Brister, and asked that they bring him to her house to drop off her car keys before taking him to his residence to conduct the administrative search. Det. Dudzinski testified that, because Brister's house was nearby, they agreed to take Defendant there first. Upon arriving at Brister's residence, PO Kelly observed Defendant's vehicle, a Ford Crown Victoria, parked in front of the house. Based on this observation, PO Kelly then suspected that Defendant in fact resided at Brister's residence instead of his address of record. PO Kelly knocked on the door of Brister's residence and spoke with Brister's stepfather, who told him that Defendant stayed there most nights.
Without contacting Supervisor Willoughby for separate approval, PO Kelly conducted the administrative search of Brister's residence, instead of Defendant's address of record. A search of Brister's bedroom yielded 7 grams of marijuana on the nightstand, and a handgun in a box under the ...