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State v. Roundtree

Superior Court of Delaware, Kent

October 4, 2017

State
v.
Huey Roundtree

          Submitted: September 27, 2017

          Gregory Babowal, DAG Department of Justice

          Suzanne MacPherson-Johnson, Esq. Office of the Public Defender

          Jeffrey J Clark, Judge

         Counsel:

         This is the Court's decision regarding Defendant Huey Roundtree's (hereinafter "Mr. Roundtree's") motion to suppress. The State seeks to justify a warrantless seizure of a firearm and drug related evidence based on the alleged need for a "security sweep" of the mobile home where it recovered this evidence. For the reasons discussed below, the authority cited by the State does not justify such a search. Furthermore, the facts presented at the hearing do not separately justify a protective sweep, as recognized by the United States Supreme Court in Maryland v. Buie[1].

         Facts and Background

         The facts cited herein are those found by the Court after the suppression hearing regarding this matter. This matter arises from a January 17, 2017 warrantless search of Defendant Huey Roundtree's residence. The Dover Police Department was searching for Andre Brown for questioning in connection with a homicide and robbery that occurred on January 10, 2017. The location of the search was Mr. Roundtree's residence, a single-wide mobile home located at the Kings Cliffe Mobile Home Park in Dover, Delaware.

         Mr. Roundtree's residence was also the address listed as one of Andre Brown's potential residences in a database used by the Dover Police Department. As a result, on January 16, 2017, the Dover Police surveilled Mr. Roundtree's home for the entire day. On that day, they did not observe Andre Brown at the residence. The next day, at approximately 3:00 p.m. the Dover Police arrived again at the home. Before knocking on the door, they established a perimeter area around the mobile home so that no one could enter or leave unobserved. After Mr. Roundtree opened his door, Officer Martinek detected the odor of burnt marijuana. At the suppression hearing, Officer Martinek also testified that it was dark in the home, but he could observe another man sitting on a couch. Officer Martinek then asked Mr. Roundtree if anyone else was home, and Mr. Roundtree responded that there was not. Almost immediately thereafter, another person appeared from a bedroom. Officer Martinek testified that the perimeter team reported hearing noises from that room earlier. At that point, the officer suspected that Mr. Roundtree was lying to him.

         The officers then immediately entered Mr. Roundtree's residence and began a protective sweep. During the search, the police observed several items of contraband: a marijuana crusher, a green bullet-proof vest, and the pistol grip of a shotgun on a shelf inside a closet. Officer Martinek testified that the closet was searched because someone could have been hiding in it. After observing these items, the police applied for a search warrant of the residence. After executing the search warrant, the police discovered that the grip was attached to a Remington 870 tactical shotgun. The State then charged Mr. Roundtree with Possession of a Firearm by Person Prohibited, Drug Dealing, Conspiracy in the Second Degree, Possession of Marijuana, Illegal Possession of a Controlled Substance, and Endangering the Welfare of a Child.

         Mr. Roundtree filed this motion to suppress, seeking to exclude all evidence seized from Mr. Roundtree's residence on January 17, 2017. He alleges that the police conducted a warrantless search of his residence in violation of the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution and Article 1, Section 6 of the Delaware Constitution. Mr. Roundtree argues that the officers' "security sweep" exceeded its permissible bounds and constituted a warrantless search of the residence. The State responds that that its initial search was justified pursuant to Guererri v. State.[2] The State cites no other authority.

         Standard

         In a motion to suppress evidence seized during a warrantless search, the State bears the burden of establishing that the challenged seizure comported with the rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution, the Delaware Constitution, and relevant statutes.[3] In a suppression hearing, the Court serves as the finder of fact.[4]The State's burden is to establish the search's legality be a preponderance of the evidence.[5]

         Discussion

         A warrantless search and seizure is presumptively unreasonable, subject to certain exceptions.[6] The United States Supreme Court has noted that "physical entry of the home is the chief evil against which the wording of the Fourth Amendment is directed."[7] Nevertheless, it has recognized certain limited exceptions to the prohibition against warrantless searches of a person's home.[8] One of these exceptions is the "emergency doctrine", which allows an otherwise illegal entry if there is an immediate need for the assistance of police to protect life or property.[9] Delaware Courts have long recognized the emergency exception to the Fourth Amendment's prohibition against warrantless searches and seizures.[10] In Guererri, the Delaware Supreme Court articulated the three prong test to determine the legality of a search under the emergency doctrine. There, the State must show, by a preponderance of the evidence, that:

(1) The police have reasonable grounds to believe that there is an emergency at hand and an immediate need for their assistance for the protection of life or property. (2) The search must not be primarily motivated by the intent to arrest and seize evidence. (3) There must be some reasonable basis, approximating probable cause, to associate the emergency with the area or place being searched.[11]

         A warrantless entry and subsequent search of a person's home do not violate the Fourth Amendment if this three-pronged test is satisfied.[12] If the entry is valid, the search must have a direct relationship between the area searched and the emergency.[13] The search of the premises permits a limited protective sweep to ensure that no further danger is present.[14] In the instant matter, the primary issue is whether the initial warrantless entry into Mr. Roundtree's residence was proper and legal. If the entry by the police officers was legal, then if follows that items observed in plain view while making a protective sweep would serve as a basis for a search warrant.

         The State relies solely on Guererri[15] for its argument that the warrantless entry and protective sweep was valid. The State incorrectly conflates the concept of a protective sweep, which is in essence an expanded search incident to arrest made in a premises, with the separate emergency doctrine relied upon in Guererri. In Guererri, police responded to a 911 call that someone fired gunshots in the area.[16]Upon arrival, police observed an SUV hit by shotgun fire, shell casings on the street, and evidence that pellets had struck a house.[17] Neighbors told police they believed people were inside the residence because the SUV was on the lawn.[18] The police called the home and knocked on the doors and windows, but received no answer.[19]Worried that someone in the house may have been injured by shotgun fire, the police kicked open the front door.[20] Upon entry, they encountered Guererri.[21] He informed the officers that he was awakened by gunshot fire and that his roommate, Raymond White, was in the basement.[22] Police called down to the basement but White initially did not respond.[23] White then ...


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