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State v. Rone

Superior Court of Delaware, Kent

September 17, 2018

CARL M. RONE, Defendant.

          Submitted: September 7, 2018

         Upon Defendant's Motion to Suppress GRANTED

          David Hume, IV, Esquire (argued), and Caroline C. Brittingham, Esquire, DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE, Georgetown, Delaware, for the State.

          Eugene J. Maurer, Jr., Esquire, Elise Kristin Wolpert, Esquire (argued), and Christina L. Ruggiero, Esquire, EUGENE J. MAURER, JR., P.A., Wilmington, Delaware, for Defendant.


          Noel Eason Primos, Judge.

         This matter is before the Court on the motion to suppress of Defendant Carl Rone (hereinafter "Defendant"). Defendant challenges the validity of a warrantless search of his cell site location information (hereinafter "CSLI"), which Delaware State Police sought and acquired pursuant to Delaware's wiretap statute, 11 Del. C. § 2401 et seq. (hereinafter the "Wiretap Statute"). Defendant seeks suppression of CSLI gained by the search of his cell phone records. The facts cited herein are as found by the Court by a preponderance of the evidence following consideration of the parties' written submissions and their arguments at the hearing on September 7, 2018.


         Defendant worked for many years as a firearms examiner for the Delaware State Police. Discrepancies between Defendant's submitted time sheets, his physical presence at the office, and other work documents were noted by one of his coworkers, who reported these facts to law enforcement. On January 31, 2018, the Delaware State Police, who suspected Defendant of submitting false time sheets, applied for an order from this Court to obtain the CSLI for a cell phone owned by Defendant (hereinafter the "Phone"). The application sought disclosure of records related to the use of the Phone, including historical call detail records with CSLI, for the timeframe of January 1, 2016, to January 18, 2018. To compel disclosure of cell phone records under the Wiretap Statute, law enforcement had to demonstrate that there was "reason to believe" that the records sought were "relevant to a legitimate law-enforcement inquiry."[1] This Court signed that order the same day, and copies of the relevant data were turned over to the Delaware State Police by the Phone's service provider.


         Defendant filed the instant motion to suppress on July 30, 2018, arguing that the compelled disclosure of his CSLI constituted a search and that the search was not made pursuant to warrant or a warrant exception, thus violating Defendant's rights under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution and Article I, § 6 of the Delaware Constitution.

         The State agrees that the compelled disclosure of the CSLI constituted a search but argues that the application, affidavit, and order (collectively the "Application"), although not styled as a warrant, comport with the requirements for a search warrant. Additionally, the State contends that the CSLI would have been inevitably discovered, and in fact will be discovered a second time through a search warrant obtained on August 20, 2018.[2]


         The burden is on the State to justify a warrantless search or seizure.[3] In a suppression hearing, the Court sits as the finder of fact and evaluates the credibility of the witnesses.[4] The party with whom the burden rests must persuade the Court by a preponderance of the evidence.[5]


         A. The Carpenter decision applies to this case.

         Under well-settled Fourth Amendment jurisprudence, government searches must generally be undertaken pursuant to warrants supported by probable cause or under circumstances falling within a specific exception to the warrant requirement.[6]The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution mandates that "no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause." Similarly, the Delaware Code permits a judicial officer to issue a warrant only if he or she finds "that the facts recited in the complaint constitute probable cause for the search."[7]

         The United States Supreme Court recently held in Carpenter v. United States that citizens have a legitimate expectation of privacy in the records of their physical movements as captured through CSLI.[8] In Carpenter, prosecutors applied for an order under the Stored Communications Act (hereinafter the "SCA") to acquire the defendant's cell phone records, including historical CSLI, for a seven-day period and a 127-day period."[9] The Carpenter court found that the compelled disclosure of the defendant's CSLI constituted "a search within the meaning of the ...

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