Submitted: November 17, 2017
JEFFREV J. CLARK JUDGE.
30th day of November, 2017, having considered
Defendant Darrell Faulkner's (hereinafter "Mr.
Faulkner's") motion to suppress, and the State's
response, it appears that:
State charges Defendant Darrell Faulkner (hereinafter
"Mr. Faulkner") with Drug Dealing, Possession of
Drug Paraphernalia, and Failure to Wear a Seatbelt. Here, Mr.
Faulkner moves to suppress alleged crack cocaine seized from
his vehicle on June 30, 2017, and his subsequent statements
to the police. The Court finds after a November 17, 2017
suppression hearing and review of two body camera videos,
that Sergeant Helton of the Smyrna Police Department observed
Mr. Faulkner driving without a seat belt and stopped his
vehicle. Shortly prior to the stop for the seat belt
violation, another Smyrna officer observed Mr. Faulkner in a
high crime area that he described as an open air drug market.
That officer observed Mr. Faulkner approach and leave the
trunk of the vehicle multiple times, with different
individuals, while in that high drug crime area. He then
relayed that information to the officers involved in the
stop, which included Sergeant Helton and a canine officer.
Sergeant Helton and the canine officer were already on site
at the time of the stop. After Sergeant Helton told Mr.
Faulkner and his passenger to exit their vehicle, they were
directed to stand approximately 25 yards from their vehicle
during a canine sweep. After the canine sweep began, Mr.
Faulkner told the police that he did not object to the
additional search that was already in progress. The canine
officer's body camera recording showed that after the dog
signaled for suspected drugs at the rear of the car, the
canine officer located hidden, suspected drugs in a magnetic
key holder on the underside of the trunk. The two officers
then placed Mr. Faulkner and his passenger under arrest.
Faulkner argues that the Smyrna Police did not have an
independent justification to extend his detention beyond the
time necessary to process a seat belt violation. Namely, he
alleges that there was neither additional reasonable
suspicion, or alternatively additional probable cause to
extend the traffic stop to permit a dog sniff of his vehicle.
In response, the State argues that extending the stop to
conduct a canine drug sweep was justified because Sergeant
Helton detected a marijuana odor from inside the vehicle.
reasonable, articulable suspicion, and probable cause are
evaluated based on the totality of the
circumstances. The burden is on the State to justify a
warrantless search or seizure. In a suppression hearing, the
Court sits as the finder of fact and evaluates the
credibility of the witnesses. The party with whom the burden
rests must persuade the Court by a preponderance of the
officer performing a lawful traffic stop may not deviate into
the investigation of other offenses unless the officer
observes independent facts sufficient to justify an
additional intrusion. When an officer detects an odor of
contraband coming from a vehicle, an officer has probable
cause to believe that the vehicle contains evidence of
criminal activity, and a warrantless search is
proper.The odor of "marijuana alone, if
articulable and particularized, may establish . . . probable
cause for officers to believe that contraband is present in
the area from which the scent emanates." Pursuant to the
vehicle exception to the warrant requirement, such probable
cause "justifies the search of every part of the vehicle
and its contents that may conceal the object of the
There is no dispute that Sergeant Helton lawfully stopped Mr.
Faulkner for a seat belt violation. Here, the search
challenged is the elongated stop enabling the canine sweep.
The State primarily relies upon Sergeant Helton's
testimony that he smelled marijuana in the passenger
compartment when approaching the vehicle. The State argues
that this justified extending the time of the detention
beyond the time necessary to conclude the seat belt
stop. According to the State, the smell of
marijuana in the car provided probable cause to arrest Mr.
Faulkner. However, Mr. Faulkner contends that Sergeant Helton
did not smell marijuana in the car because he did not relay
information about the alleged smell to the canine officer at
any time before the canine sweep. All Sergeant Helton and the
canine officer discussed was removing the occupants from the
car, patting them down, and conducting a canine sweep because
the passenger recently possessed heroin in a hotel. The Court
agrees with Mr. Faulkner's argument that Sergeant
Helton's failure to relay to his fellow officer that he
smelled marijuana in the car should be evaluated when
assessing Sergeant Helton's credibility. Otherwise, it is
immaterial that two arresting officers on the scene did not
share separately possessed information relevant to reasonable
suspicion or probable cause. Moreover, as the Delaware
Supreme Court has recognized, "[t]he content of the
arresting officer's thoughts do not determine his power
to arrest [or search]."
After observing Sergeant Helton's demeanor on the witness
stand, the Court finds credible his testimony that he smelled
marijuana upon his initial approach of the vehicle. His
testimony is also corroborated in two ways, even though the
body camera video confirms that Sergeant Helton did not relay
that information to the canine officer. First, after the
arrest, body camera footage shows that the canine
officer separately verbalized that he smelled the strong odor
of marijuana emanating from the passenger. In addition, the
passenger later admitted that he had been smoking marijuana
shortly prior to the arrest.
its analysis, the Court next finds that the police extended
the stop beyond the length necessary to deal with a seat belt
violation. If the matter remained on the Terry
detention level of the spectrum (as opposed to an arrest)
during the canine sweep dog sniff, then additional facts
rising to the level of reasonable, articulable suspicion
would be necessary. On the other hand, if Mr. Faulkner was
deemed arrested prior to the dog sniff, then probable cause
of criminal activity other than a seat belt violation would
Here, after considering the testimony at the hearing and
carefully reviewing the videos, the Court finds that Mr.
Faulkner was not placed under arrest until after the canine
officer completed the sweep, which lasted only several
minutes after he and the passenger stepped out of the
vehicle. Namely, he was not placed under arrest until the
time he was handcuffed. The Court bases its finding that the
level of restraint was no more than a detention on the
following facts: Mr. Faulkner's liberty was not directly
restrained before that point; he smoked during that time; and
his demeanor supports this finding since he sat on the curb
and talked freely regarding unrelated matters with the canine
officer. Finally, his surprised reaction when later told
immediately before he was placed in handcuffs that he would
be "detained" is also a circumstance which supports
this conclusion. Under the totality of the circumstances,
which include evaluating the actions of the officers, Mr.
Faulkner's action during the dog sweep, and Mr.
Faulkner's reaction to his arrest, the Court finds he was
not placed under arrest until handcuffed. That occurred after
the dog alerted to the presence of drugs, and after the
canine officer located the suspected cocaine.
Faulkner correctly argues that the pat down of Mr.
Faulkner's passenger was very unusual. In fact, it
clearly exceeded the scope of a pat down search for weapons
as characterized in the officer's testimony. Namely,
Sergeant Helton meticulously searched the passenger's
pockets, examining money and other packaging, and searched
his shoes for "contraband." Mr. Faulkner, however,
has no standing to challenge an impermissible search of his
passenger. In one sense, the treatment of the passenger could
be a factor supporting a finding that that Mr. Faulkner was
also under arrest at the same time. Here, however, as
evidenced in the videos, Mr. Faulkner's lack of concern
or reaction at that point does not support the fact that a
reasonable person would feel under arrest at that point.
Namely, Mr. Faulkner smoked, joked with the officers, and sat
carefree on the curb during that exchange. The stop did not
rise to the level of an arrest as far as Mr. Faulkner was
concerned until he was told he would be detained and was
placed in handcuffs.
Accordingly, in order to justify the prolonged detention for
the drug sweep, the police needed reasonable, articulable
suspicion that there was additional related criminal
activity, above the seat belt violation. Here, the
combination of the smell of marijuana from within the
passenger compartment, and the relayed circumstances
regarding Mr. Faulkner's suspicious activity at ...