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Spencer v. State

Supreme Court of Delaware

June 25, 2018

TYRIK A. SPENCER, Defendant-Below, Appellant,
v.
STATE OF DELAWARE, Plaintiff-Below, Appellee.

          Submitted: June 13, 2018

          Court Below: Superior Court of the State of Delaware Cr. ID. No. N1609004631A

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

          ORDER

          Collins J. Seitz, Jr. Justice.

         This 25th day of June, 2018, having considered the briefs and the record below, it appears to the Court that:

         (1) A Superior Court grand jury indicted Tyrik Spencer for various crimes, including drug dealing and weapons-related offenses, arising out of a police stop while Spencer was riding a bicycle on the wrong side of the road while smoking what the arresting officer called a "marijuana cigar."[1] The State later dropped some of the charges, and on July 13, 2017, a jury found Spencer guilty of the remaining charges. The court declared Spencer an habitual offender and sentenced him to thirty-seven years at Level V, suspended after thirty-two years with decreasing levels of supervision. Spencer has appealed his convictions, focusing on the Superior Court's refusal to suppress evidence gathered by police incident to arrest. We agree with the Superior Court that the evidence leading to Spencer's convictions should not have been suppressed, and affirm Spencer's convictions.

         (2) On September 6, 2016, multiple police officers were patrolling in the Llangollen area, which includes a development known as Buena Vista. The New Castle County Police had received multiple complaints about street-level illegal drug dealing in the area. Around Noon, an undercover officer saw Tyrik Spencer on Buena Vista Drive riding a bicycle on the wrong side of the road while smoking what appeared to be a marijuana cigar. He radioed another officer, Andrew Rosaio, who saw Spencer stop alongside the driver-side window of a vehicle, speak with the driver, and hand the driver the marijuana cigar. Officer Rosaio approached Spencer and smelled the "odor of burnt marijuana."[2] He detained Spencer and the driver of the vehicle, placing them in handcuffs and putting them in the police car. The Officer later testified that "[it] was a drug investigation from that point forward."[3]

         (3) The Officer conducted a "probable cause search" and found a bundle of heroin in the driver's shoe. The Officer searched Spencer and found two cell phones and a key to a townhouse at 15 Vista Court in Buena Vista in his pockets.[4]The police read the driver his Miranda rights and then questioned him. The driver first stated that he already had the heroin when he came to speak with Spencer. Later, still during the stop, he admitted that he came to the neighborhood to purchase heroin from Spencer, which he then hid in his shoe.[5] Spencer told the Officer that he came from his girlfriend's house at 15 Vista Court.[6] The police contacted Spencer's girlfriend, who identified herself as Spencer's wife and stated that she saw Spencer leave 15 Vista Court on his bike around noon, which was around the time the police officers stopped Spencer.[7]

         (4) Officer Rosaio applied for a warrant to search 15 Vista Court, and supported the request with the following facts:

• Spencer contacted the driver through the driver side window, holding what appeared to be a marijuana cigar;
• When Officer Rosaio approached the car, he smelled burnt marijuana and saw Spencer discretely hand the marijuana cigar to the driver;
• The Officer located two cell phones, and he knew drug dealers often used multiple phones to conduct illegal drug transactions;
• He found a white substance that field-tested as positive heroin in the driver's shoe;
• The driver admitted to the Officer that he came to Buena Vista to buy heroin from Spencer for $35; and
• Spencer had just left 15 Vista Court, had a key to the townhouse in his pocket, and his wife confirmed he had left the townhouse on his bicycle just before being stopped by police.

         The court issued the search warrant for the townhouse, which the officers executed and found cash, guns, ammunition, drugs, and drug paraphernalia.[8]

         (5) A New Castle County grand jury indicted Spencer for drug dealing, aggravated possession, possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony, possession of a firearm by a person prohibited, illegal possession of a controlled substance, possession of drug paraphernalia, and endangering the welfare of a child. The Superior Court denied Spencer's motion to suppress the evidence seized. At trial, the State dismissed three charges-drug dealing, possession of a controlled substance, and endangering the welfare of a child. On July 13, 2017, a jury found Spencer guilty of the remaining charges. The court declared him an habitual offender and sentenced him to thirty-seven years at Level V, suspended after thirty-two years with decreasing levels of supervision.

         (6) On appeal, Spencer makes two arguments related to the denial of the motion to suppress: first, the duration and execution of the stop exceeded the initial purpose for the stop-wrong direction bike riding and marijuana use; and second, the search warrant for 15 Vista Court was not supported by probable cause and lacked a connection between the evidence sought and the place to be searched. The Superior Court found that the duration and execution of the stop did not extend past what is permissible, and that the warrant was supported by probable cause.[9] We review the denial of a motion to suppress for an abuse of discretion.[10]

         (7) The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution and Article I, § 6 of the Delaware Constitution protect an individual's right to be free from unlawful government searches and seizures.[11] Courts apply a two-step inquiry to determine the lawfulness of the stop-"[f]irst, the stop must be justified at its inception by reasonable suspicion of criminal activity as defined in Terry v. Ohio. Second, the stop and inquiry must be reasonably related in scope to the justification for their initiation."[12] Whether a detention is reasonably related to the purpose of the stop "necessarily involves a fact-intensive inquiry in each case."[13]

         (8) Spencer does not challenge the lawfulness of the original stop.[14] A person may be lawfully detained and questioned under 11 Del. C. § 1902 when an officer has "reasonable ground[s] to suspect [he] is committing, has committed or is about to commit a crime."[15] The Officer had reasonable suspicion[16] to stop and detain Spencer when he saw Spencer illegally riding his bike on the wrong side of the road while smoking a marijuana cigar, which he handed to the driver.[17] Where the parties diverge is whether the Officer could then search Spencer for additional evidence of a crime. Spencer argues that the search should have been limited to investigating the facts relating to riding his bicycle on the wrong side of the road or smoking marijuana, which did not require searching his person. The State responds that in addition to the marijuana and bicycle violations, the police had reasonable articulable suspicion that Spencer was engaged in drug dealing, because he stopped by the driver-side window of a parked vehicle in an area known for drug-dealing and handed the marijuana cigar to the driver.[18] The driver also admitted that he came to the area to purchase heroin from Spencer. Thus, further investigation was appropriate.

         (9) "[A]ny investigation of the vehicle or its occupants beyond that required to complete the purpose of the traffic stop constitutes a separate seizure that must be supported by independent facts sufficient to justify the additional intrusion."[19] The Officer testified that after he detained Spencer "[it] was a drug investigation from that point forward."[20] Thus, we must determine whether that the drug investigation was supported by independent facts. We agree with the Superior Court that it was. Spencer was smoking a marijuana cigar and rode up alongside the driver-side window of a parked car and handed it to the driver. In addition, the Officer smelled burnt marijuana when he arrived at the car and Spencer admitted that he had been smoking marijuana.[21] In addition, the driver admitted that he came to buy drugs from Spencer.[22]

         (10) Spencer also argues the search exceeded the scope of the reasonable suspicion justifying the stop because a suspect may only be searched if the Officer has "a reasonable belief that the detainee is presently armed and dangerous, "[23] and the Officer did not have that fear. The State responds that the police had probable cause to arrest Spencer "almost immediately," based on the traffic violation and the marijuana cigar.[24] According to the State, "the marijuana's strong odor was alone sufficient to establish probable cause that Spencer possessed the drug."[25] Thus, the State asserts, because the police had probable cause to arrest him, the search was lawful.[26]

         (11) "A warrantless search, to be valid, must fall within a recognized exception to the warrant requirement of the Fourth Amendment."[27] While Spencer is correct that police may search a suspect for weapons if the Officer reasonably believes the suspect is armed and dangerous, they may also search a suspect incident to a lawful arrest.[28] While a search typically occurs after an arrest, this Court has held that "where the arrest and search are nearly contemporaneous, the search may precede the arrest, so long as the police do not use the search to establish probable cause for the arrest."[29]

         (12) Spencer was not under arrest at the time of the search; however, he was arrested shortly afterwards.[30] The police did not use the evidence obtained in the search-the key and two phones-to establish probable cause to arrest him. Instead, the police had probable cause to arrest Spencer for the traffic violation and possession of marijuana alone, [31] and once the driver admitted that he bought drugs from Spencer, the ...


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