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State v. Robinson

Superior Court of Delaware, New Castle

April 11, 2017

State of Delaware
v.
Jacquez Robinson

          Natalie S. Woloshin, Esquire Woloshin Lynch & Natalie, P.A.

          Cleon L. Cauley, Sr., Esquire The Cauley Firm.

         Dear Counsel:

         The oft-delayed trial in this murder case is scheduled to begin on July 11, 2017. On April 3, Defendant moved to suppress (a) a drawing he made which was seized from his prison cell and (b) his statement made during a prison-intake interview. The State has not had an opportunity to respond to this recently filed motion. Because the trial date is rapidly approaching, the court has taken it upon itself to research the issues presented in these motions with the goal of perhaps reducing the time needed to resolve them. It finds that the motion to exclude the drawing is frivolous and that motion will be denied without requiring a response from the State. It further finds that the motion to exclude the defendant's statement presents narrow issues which require additional development.

         (a) The drawing seized from Defendant's cell

         Prison officials seized a drawing from Defendant's cell which appears to be gang-related symbols and mottos. Defendant's motion to suppress that drawing is without merit because Defendant had no reasonable expectation of privacy in his cell.

         It goes without saying that not all seizures of a person's property implicate the Fourth Amendment. Rather the "capacity to claim the protection of the Fourth Amendment depends . . . upon whether the person who claims the protection of the Amendment has a legitimate expectation of privacy in the invaded place."[1] The United States Supreme Court has held that, for purposes of the Fourth Amendment, a prisoner has no expectation of privacy in his cell. In Hudson v. Palmer it wrote:

Notwithstanding our caution in approaching claims that the Fourth Amendment is inapplicable in a given context, we hold that society is not prepared to recognize as legitimate any subjective expectation of privacy that a prisoner might have in his prison cell and that, accordingly, the Fourth Amendment proscription against unreasonable searches does not apply within the confines of the prison cell. The recognition of privacy rights for prisoners in their individual cells simply cannot be reconciled with the concept of incarceration and the needs and objectives of penal institutions.[2]

         Defendant cites this court's opinion in State v. Ashley[3] for the proposition that this court "insinuated" that warrantless searches of a cell must be routine or required by some exigency. It is true that this court expressly found that Ashley had "standing" to assert a Fourth Amendment claim. More than thirty years ago the United States Supreme Court expressly abandoned "standing" terminology in its Fourth Amendment vocabulary, holding that the determination of whether a defendant is asserting his own Fourth Amendment right (as opposed to one belonging to another person) is "more properly placed within the purview of substantive Fourth Amendment law than within that of standing."[4] The appropriate inquiry is whether the defendant "personally has an expectation of privacy in the place searched, and that his expectation is reasonable."[5] This court's finding in Ashley that the defendant had standing therefore suggests that it found the defendant had some expectation of privacy in his cell. However, this court did not cite Hudson v. Palmer and gave no indication it was even made aware of that opinion by the litigants. Importantly, none of the cases cited in Ashley post-dated Hudson v. Palmer. To the extent, therefore, that Ashley may be read as suggesting a prisoner may have a constitutional expectation of privacy in his cell, that holding is no longer good law and the court will not follow it. Defendant's motion to suppress the drawing seized from his cell is therefore DENIED.

         (b) Defendant's statements during his admission interview

         Defendant told a Department of Correction employee that he was a member of the TMG gang and had been since its inception. The record is undeveloped, but for the purpose of context the court notes that the information is contained in a form entitled "Security Threat Group/Offender Screening Work Sheet." That sheet is a pre-printed form with questions such as:

• Are you a member of a gang?
• Do you anticipate having any problems at this institution with any member or suspected member of a gang?
• Have you ever been involved in a disturbance with a large group of inmates at ...

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