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State v. Patrick

Superior Court of Delaware, Kent

April 24, 2017

State
v.
Kelly L. Patrick

          Submitted: April 12, 2017

          Jeffrey J Clark Judge.

         Counsel:

         Defendant Kelly L. Patrick (hereinafter "Ms. Patrick") was arrested for Drug Dealing, three separate weapon offenses, and misdemeanor Possession of Drug Paraphernalia. Ms. Patrick argues that drug and weapons evidence seized from a search of an automobile on August 28, 2016 should be suppressed because the Dover Police effected a Terry stop without reasonable, articulable suspicion to justify the detention. Specifically, she argues that (1) under the circumstances of this case, a seizure took place at the time of first contact between the police and her; and (2) that under the totality of the circumstances, the limited seizure was not justified at that point. The State counters that there were sufficient facts available and known to the officers to justify the detention. Furthermore, the State argues that since Ms. Patrick had two outstanding capiases for missed Court appearances at the time of her arrest, the inevitable discovery doctrine makes harmless any allegedly premature seizure.

         EVIDENCE PRESENTED AT THE SUPPRESSION HEARING

         All evidence relevant to this decision was presented on April 12, 2017, at a suppression hearing by the State's sole witness, Dover Police Officer Barrett. Officer Barrett testified that while working in the area of 38 North Governor's Avenue in Dover on August 28, 2016, his attention was directed toward Ms. Patrick and her car. According to Officer Barrett, the area at issue was a high crime, open air drug market. He testified that Probation Officer Porter, who himself was in a separate vehicle, first saw Ms. Patrick's car in an alley. He then saw a male approach Ms. Patrick's car and then leave it quickly by cutting through an adjacent yard. Thereafter, when passing by, Officer Porter saw Ms. Patrick, in the car's driver's seat, duck down in an apparent effort to avoid being seen. At that point, Officer Porter contacted Officers Barrett and Cunningham from the Dover Police Department.

         Officer Barrett testified that when he arrived, the hood of the vehicle was raised, and it was parked in a position blocking a garage in an alley way in front of "no parking" signs. At that point, the marked police car and an unmarked police car pulled into the alley. It is at that point that Ms. Patrick alleges a Terry stop occurred, although there was no evidence that the marked patrol car's emergency equipment was activated. Next, Officer Barrett approached a man who was working on the vehicle, with the hood up, while Ms. Patrick remained in the driver's seat. The man indicated to Officer Barrett that he was a mechanic, who worked on houses. The man appeared nervous and was attempting to turn a phillips head screw in the vehicle with a pair of pliers.

         The only other facts relevant to this decision include that upon questioning and an identification check, Officer Cunningham learned that Ms. Patrick had two outstanding capiases. Also, in plain view on one of the seats in the vehicle were a digital scale, loose money, and numerous plastic baggies.

         APPLICABLE STANDARDS

         In a motion to suppress based on a warrantless search and seizure, the burden is on the State to justify that the search and seizure comply with the rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution, the Delaware Constitution, and Delaware statutory law.[1] At a suppression hearing, the presiding judge sits as the trier of fact and evaluates witness credibility.[2] Strict rules of evidence do not apply in a suppression hearing. In evaluating either reasonable, articulable suspicion, or probable cause, hearsay is admissible.[3]

         It is well settled that the benchmark, in Delaware, for determining whether there has been a seizure is more inclusive than that required by the United States Constitution alone. Namely, pursuant to Article 1, Section 6 of the Delaware Constitution, the standard is whether a reasonable person in a defendant's position would have believed that he or she was free to ignore the officer's instructions and walk away.[4] An initial contact with police, based on the surrounding circumstances, can potentially amount to a detention.[5] At the point of the detention, in determining the legality of a Terry stop, the Court must determine whether the totality of the circumstances provide a reasonable, articulable suspicion that Ms. Patrick was engaged in criminal activity.[6]

         DISCUSSION

         The key issue in this case is whether at the time the two police vehicles turned into the alley and then stopped, the officers had facts available to them that provided reasonable, articulable suspicion that criminal activity was afoot. The Court finds that the facts presented at the suppression hearing through the first hand observations of Officer Barrett established that the area at issue was a high crime area, and the parked vehicle occupied by Ms. Patrick blocked a garage door, and sat directly in front of "no parking" signs.

         Furthermore, through testimony referencing hearsay, another officer had observed an individual make a short stop at the car before quickly leaving, by cutting through a neighboring yard. In the testifying officer's training and experience, he believed such action to be consistent with a drug sale. Furthermore, through testimony constituting hearsay, the driver of the vehicle, Ms. Patrick, (before the involvement of Officer Barrett) was seen ducking to avoid detection. These facts combined, when evaluated under the totality of the circumstances, provided more than a ...


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