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Carello v. State

Supreme Court of Delaware

February 8, 2017

MICHAEL CARELLO Defendant-Below, Appellant,
v.
STATE OF DELAWARE, Plaintiff-Below, Appellee.

          Submitted: January 25, 2017

         Court Below: Superior Court of the State of Delaware Cr. ID. No. 1511011583

          Before HOLLAND, VAUGHN, and SEITZ, Justices.

          ORDER

          Collins J. Seitz, Jr. Justice.

         This 8th day of February, 2017, having considered the briefs and the record below, it appears to the Court that:

         (1) Delaware State Police officers stopped Frank Prentice for failing to signal while making a left turn. When they approached Prentice's car, they saw two hypodermic needles in the driver's side door. Police arrested him and the passenger, Thomas McIlvane, for possession of drug paraphernalia. McIlvane told the police officers that he was on probation, and that he was staying at the Motel 6 in Newark. Because McIlvane was on probation, police decided to do an administrative search of his hotel room. When Detective Mark Hogate of the Delaware State Police arrived at the hotel to search the room, he discovered that the room was rented to Michael Carello, and decided to notify him of the search.

         (2) Carello was standing by a car near the room, loading his trunk. As the officer approached Carello, he started reaching behind the small of his back, backed up behind the car, threw a gun in the trunk, and took off running. Detective Hogate arrested him, and saw the gun in plain view in his trunk. He also searched the car and found two digital scales in the center console, and marijuana in the floorboard of the front passenger seat. Police then searched the hotel room and found a gun in a cardboard box between the two beds.

         (3) Carello moved to suppress all the evidence found as a result of the search. The Superior Court granted the motion as to all of the evidence except the gun found in the open trunk of the car. The Superior Court ruled that the gun in the trunk would not be suppressed because the officers were simply attempting to notify Carello that they were going to search his room. Thus, the encounter in the parking lot was consensual, and not a seizure under the Fourth Amendment. Carello was subsequently convicted of various weapons offenses in a stipulated bench trial.

         (4) On appeal, Carello argues that the Superior Court abused its discretion by refusing to suppress the gun found in the trunk, arguing that its discovery resulted from an unconstitutional seizure. The Superior Court correctly held that the encounter in the parking lot-though escalated by Carello-did not amount to a seizure for Fourth Amendment purposes. Therefore, we affirm the judgment of the Superior Court.

         (5) On November 18, 2015, Detective Hogate and several other Delaware State Police officer members of the Governor's Task Force were conducting surveillance of a Motel 6 in Newark. Around 9:00 PM, they saw Prentice make a left turn out of the hotel parking lot without using his signal, and stopped his car. When one of the officers approached the car, he saw two hypodermic needles in plain view in the driver's side door. They arrested Prentice and the passenger, McIlvane. McIlvane was on probation at the time.

         (6) McIlvane told the officers that he was staying in a room in the Motel 6 in Newark. When police searched him, they found a key card to the room. The officers then decided to do an administrative search of the hotel room. But when the officers went to the hotel, they found that the room was rented in Michael Carello's name.

         (7) Detective Hogate saw Carello in the hotel parking lot, loading the trunk of his car. He approached Carello to notify him that the officers were going to perform an administrative search of his hotel room. He did not suspect Carello had committed any crimes. Detective Hogate called out to Carello and said, "Hey, Michael, I need to talk to you."[1] Carello looked at Detective Hogate and reached behind the small of his back with his left hand. The detective said "don't do that, " and pointed his gun at Carello. Carello continued staring at the detective and walked back towards the open trunk of the vehicle. The detective saw him toss something in the trunk of his car, and heard a "metallic thud." Carello then ran away. Detective Hogate chased after Carello and used his taser to stop him. He then arrested Carello.

         (8) Detective Hogate saw a gun in the open trunk of the car. Police then conducted an inventory search of the car because "there was no one operating the vehicle on private property."[2] They found two digital scales in the center console of the car and two grams of marijuana under the front passenger floorboard. The police also searched the hotel room and found another gun in a cardboard box between the two hotel beds.

         (9) A grand jury indicted Carello on charges of carrying a concealed deadly weapon, two counts of possession of a firearm by a person prohibited, possession of ammunition by a person prohibited, possession of marijuana, and resisting arrest. Carello moved to suppress all the evidence obtained as a result of the search. The court held that the search of the hotel room and the interior of the car violated Carello's constitutional right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures, and suppressed the evidence police obtained from those searches. As to the hotel room, the court held that Carello's constitutional rights took precedence over the officers' desire to conduct an administrative search of the probationer's hotel room. Thus, the officers needed to obtain a search warrant. Further, the State stipulated that the marijuana police found in Carello's car was not seized as the result of a proper inventory ...


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