Submitted: November 1, 2017
Below-Superior Court of the State of Delaware Cr. ID No.
VAUGHN, SEITZ, and TRAYNOR, Justices.
F. Traynor Justice.
14th day of November, 2017, having considered the
briefs and the record below, it appears to the Court that:
August 16, 2015, while on patrol, a Wilmington police officer
observed a maroon Kia Forte traveling westbound in the
fourteen-hundred block of West 4th Street in
Wilmington. After noticing the vehicle's registration
sticker was "partially obscured by a frame,
" the officer conducted a traffic
stop. The officer approached the driver, Coty
Edgar, and requested his license, registration, and proof of
insurance. Edgar in turn provided the Officer with a State of
Delaware identification card. Noticing "nervous"
behavior, the Officer then asked Edgar for his permission to
search the vehicle. Edgar consented.
Upon searching the vehicle, the officer discovered a plastic
shopping bag in the trunk. The officer opened the bag and
found a black case, "consistent with a case that a gun
would be stored in." The Officer opened the case and
discovered thirty-two rounds of ammunition and a handgun.
Edgar asserted that the weapon belonged to his girlfriend. At
the police station, however, Edgar stated, "I was the
one that took the gun from the apartment, placed it in the
trunk of our vehicle."
Prior to trial, Edgar filed a motion to suppress, asserting
that the police had no legal basis to stop his vehicle as no
information on the license plate was obscured or concealed
within the meaning of 21 Del C. § 2126. Edgar,
therefore, requested that the Superior Court suppress the
handgun and ammunition as fruit of the poisonous tree. The
Superior Court denied the motion.
Following a two-day jury trial, Edgar was convicted of (i)
Possession of a Firearm by a Person Prohibited; and (ii)
Possession of Ammunition by a Person Prohibited. As to the
former conviction, the court sentenced Edgar to ten
years' imprisonment, suspended after five years, followed
by probation. As to the latter, the court sentenced Edgar to
five years' imprisonment, suspended for one year at
supervision Level III.
Edgar asks this Court to reverse his convictions and remand
this case for a new trial, contending that the Superior Court
erred in its construction of 21 Del C. §
2126(c)(1), a statute prohibiting, among other things, the
placement of material around license plates that conceals or
obscures any information on the plate, including the
Superior Court's determination that the arresting officer
possessed a reasonable and articulable suspicion to stop
Edgar's vehicle presents issues of law and
fact. We review the trial judge's legal
conclusions de novo for errors in formulating or
applying legal precepts. We review the trial judge's factual
findings under an abuse-of-discretion standard. As a general
matter, we will not disturb a trial judge's factual
findings if they are supported by competent evidence,
especially when they are based on the credibility of a
Del C. § 2126(c)(1) provides:
No number plate, or any portion thereof, shall be covered
with any tinted material, nor shall any other material be
placed on or around a number plate which would conceal and/or
obscure any information contained thereon, including the
registration expiration sticker. Plate frames that do not
conceal and/or obscure any information contained on the
plate, including the registration expiration sticker, are not
prohibited by this section.
Although Edgar has chosen to focus his argument on appeal on
the definition of "obscure" applied by the Superior
Court, the resolution of his motion and this appeal turns on
two facts. First, it is undisputed that there was a
decorative frame on top of the license plate in question and
that the frame covered at least a portion of the registration
sticker. Second, the trial judge found the arresting
officer's testimony "wholly credible"-that,
because of the frame, she ...