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Palmer v. State

Supreme Court of Delaware

July 7, 2017

ISAIAH PALMER, Defendant Below, Appellant,
v.
STATE OF DELAWARE, Plaintiff Below, Appellee.

          Submitted: June 14, 2017

         Court Below: Superior Court of the State of Delaware ID. Nos. 1511007472A&B (N)

          Before STRINE, Chief Justice; VALIHURA and VAUGHN, Justices.

          ORDER

         On this 7th day of July 2017, upon consideration of the parties' briefs and the record on appeal, it appears that:

         (1) Appellant, Isaiah Palmer, appeals from Superior Court verdicts of guilty on one count each of Aggravated Possession, Possession of a Firearm During the Commission of a Felony, Possession of a Firearm by a Person Prohibited and Possession of Ammunition by a Person Prohibited. He makes two arguments on appeal. First, he contends that the trial court erred in denying his motion to suppress evidence because a search warrant for the search of his residence was not supported by probable cause. His second contention, as he frames it, is that a jury instruction on joint possession created an impermissible risk that the jury's verdict was grounded in a legal theory unsupported by the record.

         (2) In the second week of October 2015, Detective Matthew Rosaio and Detective Matthew Kucharski, both of the Wilmington Police Department, received information from a confidential informant ("CM") that 311 West 29th Street in Wilmington, Delaware was being used as a "stash house" for weapons. Based on the tip, the officers conducted surveillance of the residence in the last week of October. The officers "observed a high frequency of activity coming from the residence with multiple subjects responding and entering for short periods of time and then leaving."[1] To the officers, this observation was consistent with the allegation that the residence was a "stash house" for weapons and/or illegal drugs.

         (3) In November of 2015, the officers received another tip from a "past proven and reliable" confidential informant ("CI-2").[2] CI-2 told the officers that a black male named Isaiah Palmer lived at 311 West 29th Street, and that he was on probation. This informant also stated that the residence was being used as a "stash house" for other individuals' weapons, and that firearms were being stored in an exterior shed.

         (4) The officers were familiar with Palmer from prior contact with him, and they knew that he was on probation and a person prohibited from possessing firearms or ammunition because of prior convictions. The officers were also aware that on November 11, 2015, police received a call from an anonymous caller that shots had been fired in the area of West 29lh Street and North Jefferson Street. This intersection is approximately fifty feet from 311 West 29lh Street. Through a check of the Delaware Criminal Justice Information System ("DELJIS") and a Delaware automated corrections system check, the officers confirmed that Palmer*s residence of record was 311 West 29th Street.

         (5) On November 12, 2015, the officers applied for a search warrant to search Palmer's residence and any and all curtilages, and detailed the above information in their affidavit of probable cause. A magistrate found that probable cause existed, and issued a warrant for police to search 311 West 29th Street for firearms.

         (6) On November 12, 2015, at approximately 9:50 p.m., the Wilmington Police Department executed the search warrant. When the police arrived, there were four individuals, apparently relatives of Palmer, in the residence, but he was not there. Palmer arrived later during the execution of the search warrant. Palmer, along with the other family members, indicated that his bedroom was in the basement. A stairway led from the first floor to the basement. A separate stairway led from the basement to the outside of the residence. Inside the basement bedroom, police observed a bed, men's clothing, and a dresser, along with a box sitting on a table several feet past the foot of the bed. On top of the box, officers observed a Taurus PT .45 caliber handgun with eight rounds of ammunition. Police discovered additional ammunition in the shed in the backyard. A bag labeled "1-95 Enter" was found in a cubbyhole near the basement steps, and within it were nine bundles of heroin containing .117 grams. Additional bags of heroin were found outside of the residence in recycling bins. Those bags were stamped with the phrase "Nike" and weighed 20.91 grams.

         (7) Palmer was indicted on counts of Drug Dealing Tier 4, Aggravated Possession Tier 5, Possession of Ammunition by a Person Prohibited ("PABPP"), Possession of a Firearm by a Person Prohibited ("PFBPP"), and two counts of Possession of a Firearm During Commission of a Felony ("PFDCF").

         (8) Before trial, Palmer filed a motion to suppress the fruits of the search of his residence. The motion was denied.

         (9) The PFBPP and PABPP charges were severed from the others. The two drug charges and the two PFDCF charges were presented to a jury. The jury acquitted Palmer of the Drug Dealing charge and the PFDCF charge that went with the Drug Dealing count, but found him guilty of the Aggravated Possession charge and the PFDCF charge that went with it. A judge then found Palmer guilty of the PFBPP and PABPP charges at a bench trial.

          (10) Palmer's first claim is that the trial court erred in denying his motion to suppress evidence found during the search of his residence because there was insufficient probable cause to support the issuance of the search warrant. We review a trial court's denial of a motion to suppress for an abuse of discretion.[3] "The trial court's formulation and application of legal concepts are reviewed de ...


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