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State v. Bordley

Superior Court of Delaware, Kent

July 11, 2017

ERICK G. BORDLEY, Defendant.

          Submitted: July 10, 2017


          Noel Eason Prims Judge.

         On this 11 day of July 2017, having considered Defendant Erick Bordley's ("Mr. Bordley") Motion to Suppress and the State's response, it appears that:

         1. Mr. Bordley challenges the validity of his detention and the subsequent search of his vehicle performed by Officer Macauley on January 29, 2017. The facts cited herein are as they appear to the Court following consideration of the parties' submissions and argument at the hearing on July 10, 2017.

         2. In early January, a cooperating defendant informed Officer Macauley that Mr. Bordley was dealing large quantities of heroin, drove a black BMW, and lived in the Canterbury Crossing neighborhood. Officer Macauley also learned that Mr. Bordley had a criminal history. A subsequent computer inquiry revealed that Mr. Bordley had recently been in a motor vehicle collision while driving a black BMW and that the BMW had been disabled and towed. Officer Macauley also learned that Mr. Bordley was now driving a 2016 gray Jeep Grand Cherokee.

         3. Officer Macauley was on patrol on the date in question when he saw Mr. Bordley operating a 2016 gray Jeep Cherokee without wearing a seatbelt. Officer Macauley followed the vehicle until it entered a McDonald's parking lot. Officer Macauley activated his emergency lights and initiated a traffic stop. He approached Mr. Bordley's vehicle on foot. Mr. Bordley handed the officer the relevant documentation and informed the officer that he had been in an accident recently and was driving a rental. Officer Macauley asked where Mr. Bordley was going, and Mr. Bordley stated he lived in Maryland but went back and forth between Maryland and Delaware and had stopped at the McDonald's for breakfast.

         4. During the above exchange, Officer Macauley noticed that Mr. Bordley was nervous: he was "visibly shaking, " failed to make eye contact, and his voice was shaky. The officer saw no luggage in the car and noticed what appeared to be recently purchased food in the back seat. Officer Macauley instructed Mr. Bordley to remain in his vehicle while Officer Macauley returned to his patrol vehicle. At that time, Officer Macauley radioed for a K-9 unit to respond to assist with a search of the vehicle.

         5. Officer Macauley returned to Mr. Bordley's vehicle and ordered him to exit his vehicle. As Mr. Bordley exited, a large amount of United States currency fell out of his pocket. Officer Macauley patted down the outer layer of Mr. Bordley's clothing, but no weapons were detected.

         6. Thereafter, the K-9 unit arrived and performed an exterior sniff of the vehicle. This K-9 search indicated that narcotics were detected in the vehicle. When Officer Macauley searched the vehicle, he discovered drug contraband. Mr. Bordley was then arrested.

         7. In his motion to suppress, Mr. Bordley argues that (1) pursuant to State v. Heath, [1] the stop was an illegal pretextual stop; (2) Officer Macauley lacked reasonable suspicion to initiate the traffic stop; (3) Officer Macauley lacked probable cause to search the vehicle; and (4) the extended questioning of Mr. Bordley and the canine sniff of the car, absent reasonable suspicion or probable cause, exceeded the proper scope of the traffic stop. For these reasons, Mr. Bordley argues the evidence should be suppressed.

         8. The State responds that the traffic stop was validly initiated and that Officer Macauley had reasonable suspicion to further detain Mr. Bordley until a K-9 unit could arrive and perform a dog sniff on the vehicle. The State bases this finding of reasonable suspicion on (1) nervousness, (2) use of a rental vehicle, (3) criminal history, (4) presence in a high-crime area, (5) unsatisfactory answers to the officer's questions, and (6) driving in a circuitous fashion.

         9. The burden is on the State to justify a warrantless search or seizure.[2] In a suppression hearing, the Court sits as the finder of fact and evaluates the credibility of the witnesses.[3] The party with whom the burden rests must persuade the Court by a preponderance of the evidence.[4]

         10. Police are authorized to rely on an informant's tip[5] as a basis for probable cause or reasonable suspicion, when shown to be reliable or trustworthy through the tip's specificity, corroboration by other facts within the officer's knowledge, and ability to predict the future behavior of the suspect.[6]

         11. A police officer who observes a traffic violation has probable cause to stop the vehicle and its driver.[7] An officer's subjective intentions play no role in the Court's finding of probable cause.[8] The scope and duration of a traffic stop must be reasonably related to its initial justification, [9] namely, addressing the traffic infraction.[10] The stop should last "no longer than is necessary[;]"[11] an officer performing a lawful traffic stop may not deviate into investigation of other offenses, unless the officer observes independent facts sufficient to justify such additional intrusion.[12] A "seizure that is justified solely by the interest in issuing a warning ticket to the driver can become unlawful if it is prolonged beyond the time reasonably required to complete that mission."[13] Naturally, this rule applies when a stop is prolonged for the purpose of employing a drug sniffing dog: dog sniffs conducted in relation to traffic stops are unlawful when they prolong the stop.[14]

         12. Despite the above, a traffic stop may be lawfully prolonged when an officer has reasonable suspicion that would warrant further investigation. [15]Reasonable suspicion is determined based on the "totality of the circumstances as viewed through the eyes of a reasonable, trained police officer in the same or similar circumstances, combining objective facts with such an officer's subjective interpretation of those facts."[16]

         13. Here, the Court finds by a preponderance of the proof that Officer Macauley observed Mr. Bordley commit a traffic infraction: failing to wear his seatbelt. Thus, the initial traffic stop was validly supported by probable cause. The Court declines Mr. Bordley's invitation to analyze the officer's subjective intent by following Heath.[17]

         14. When Officer Macauley continued to hold Mr. Bordley, despite having performed all required actions associated with a traffic stop, this further detention was invalid unless independently supported by reasonable suspicion.[18] The Court must therefore turn to consider whether Officer Macauley had reasonable suspicion warranting the continued detention of Mr. Bordley.

         15. As an initial matter, the cooperating defendant's tip is not supportive of a finding of reasonable suspicion. No information has been presented to the Court that the informant has proven to be trustworthy or reliable. Nor was the information tendered to the police specific: the informant generically advised that Mr. Bordley was "dealing large quantities of heroin" while saying nothing as to the particulars of this alleged enterprise. No evidence has been offered showing that the tip was corroborated by facts within the officer's knowledge. The tip also had no meaningful predictive value; although the cooperating defendant identified Mr. Bordley's vehicle as a black BMW, and indicated he had some connection to Canterbury Crossing, this was discernible to any member of the public who had seen Mr. Bordley driving his car in the area.[19]

         16. With regard to other actions observed by Officer Macauley, Delaware Courts have held that nervousness, criminal history, and use of a rental vehicle are not supportive of reasonable suspicion unless used in conjunction with "more tangible, objectively articulable indicators of criminality."[20] This Court's decision in State v. Chandler[21] is apposite. In Chandler, the State argued that reasonable suspicion may validly be based on an officer's observation of "nervous demeanor, prior use of an alias in 1998, use of a rental vehicle, and prior criminal history."[22] The Chandler court determined that even ...

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