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Metelus v. State

Supreme Court of Delaware

December 10, 2018

ANGELINE M. METELUS, Defendant Below, Appellant,
v.
STATE OF DELAWARE, Plaintiff Below, Appellee.

          Submitted: October 10, 2018

          Court Below: Superior Court of the State of Delaware ID. No. 1611002981 (S)

          Before VALIHURA, VAUGHN, and SEITZ, Justices.

          ORDER

          James T. Vaughn, Jr. Justice.

         On this 10th day of December 2018, upon consideration of the parties' briefs and the record on appeal, it appears to the Court that:

         (1) Appellant, Angeline M. Metelus, appeals from a Superior Court jury verdict finding her guilty of Aggravated Possession of Heroin in a Tier 5 Quantity, Drug Dealing in a Tier 4 Quantity, and Conspiracy in the Second Degree. She makes four claims on appeal. First, she contends that the Superior Court erred by denying her motion for judgment of acquittal because the State failed to prove the predicate element of venue for any charge set forth in the indictment.[1] Second, she contends that the Superior Court abused its discretion by denying her motion to suppress all evidence derived from the State's use of a mobile tracking device ("MTD") because the warrant authorizing the use of the MTD provided for tracking the movements of Brandon Ways (her co-defendant), not her. Third, she contends that the Superior Court abused its discretion by denying her motion to suppress all evidence derived from the State's use of the MTD to track her operation of a blue Jeep Cherokee (the "jeep") in the State of New Jersey, because no federal or New Jersey judge or magistrate authorized the use of the MTD in that jurisdiction. Fourth, she contends that the Superior Court abused its discretion by denying her motion to suppress all evidence derived from the State's search of the jeep because the warrant authorizing that search was not supported by probable cause.

         (2) Metelus was arrested on November 5, 2016, and charged with the three crimes underlying this appeal. In the months prior to her arrest (since October 2015), the Delaware State Police and the Seaford Police Department were investigating a large-scale drug trafficking operation of Brandon Ways and his associate, Torontay Mann. As part of the investigation, on September 23, 2016, the police requested and obtained a Superior Court warrant authorizing the police to install and use an MTD on the jeep (the "MTD warrant"). The police were told by a confidential informant that Ways and Mann had obtained the jeep to transport large amounts of heroin and that the jeep had a large aftermarket hidden compartment for that purpose.

         (3) The MTD warrant provided that "[t]he vehicle is being operated by Brandon Ways" and "[t]he subject of the investigation and person whose movements are to be tracked is Brandon Ways."[2] It also noted, "Information likely to be obtained by the [MTD] will relate to violations of the Delaware Criminal Code, including but not limited to [drug] offenses . . . transpiring within Sussex, Delaware."[3] Although the MTD warrant did not contain a geographic limitation for tracking the device, it provided that the MTD "is to be installed within the State of Delaware."[4] The police installed the MTD on the jeep on October 14, 2016.

         (4) At approximately 4:20 p.m., on November 4, 2016, while visually surveilling the jeep, which was parked in the Seaford Food Lion parking lot (in Sussex County), the police observed an unknown female, subsequently identified as Metelus, get into the jeep and drive away. The police followed Metelus north through Delaware, over the Delaware Memorial Bridge into New Jersey, and up the New Jersey Turnpike to northern New Jersey, while the chief investigating officer tracked the MTD from Troop 4 in Georgetown, Delaware.

         (5) At approximately 7:40 p.m., Metelus exited the New Jersey Turnpike. Sometime before then, the MTD malfunctioned, but the police had maintained physical surveillance as they followed behind her. After she turned off the exit, however, the police lost visual surveillance of the jeep. About 20 minutes later, the MTD regained function, the chief investigating officer informed the officers of the jeep's location, and they were able to regain visual surveillance.

         (6) At about 8:26 p.m., Metelus stopped the jeep at a residence at 71 Mitchell Street. The jeep was parked at that location for approximately nine minutes. During this time, the police conducted drive-by surveillance and observed a man approach the jeep and interact with Metelus. After the jeep left the residence, it was driven around "aimlessly without a destination," repeating the same pattern three times.[5] Shortly thereafter, the jeep returned to the residence at 71 Mitchell Street at approximately 9:01 p.m. When the jeep, with Metelus driving, left the residence the second time, it got onto the Garden State Parkway and returned to Delaware.[6]

         (7) While this was happening, the police requested and were granted a warrant to search the jeep and Metelus (the "jeep search warrant") upon their expected return to Delaware. Pursuant to the warrant, the police stopped and searched Metelus and the jeep in Dover. In the jeep, the police found a concealed aftermarket compartment, which contained approximately 1, 300 grams of heroin. The police found no contraband on Metelus's person.

         (8) In pre-trial proceedings, Metelus joined an Omnibus Motion to Suppress that had been filed by co-defendant Ways. This motion was supplemented by various filings thereafter. Except for one motion not implicated in this appeal, the Superior Court denied all aspects of the motion to suppress.

         (9) The indictment alleged that all three of the charged offenses occurred in Sussex County. At the conclusion of the State's case at trial, Metelus moved for a judgment of acquittal on all counts, contending that the State had failed to prove venue for each count beyond a reasonable doubt. The Superior Court denied the motion, finding that any challenge to venue had been waived under Superior Court Criminal Rule 12, and even if there was no waiver, venue was proper under Superior Court Criminal Rule 18, which provides that venue is proper in the county in which any one of the charged offenses occurred. The court explained that the jury could conclude, from the evidence presented, that the conspiracy (Count 3) began in Sussex County, making Sussex County a proper venue under Rule 18. The court then permitted the State to amend the indictment to specify that Counts 1 and 2 took place in Kent County.

         (10) Metelus first argues on appeal that the Superior Court erred by denying her motion for judgment of acquittal. This Court reviews an appeal from the denial of a motion for judgment of acquittal de novo.[7] Specifically, this Court examines "whether any rational trier of fact, viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the State, could find a defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of all the elements of the crime."[8] "For the purposes of this inquiry, this Court does not distinguish between direct and circumstantial evidence."[9]

         (11) In addition to proving each element of an offense, "[f]acts establishing jurisdiction and venue . . . must also be proved as elements of the offense."[10] Venue "shall be had in the county in which the offense is alleged to have been committed."[11]But when two or more offenses are charged in the same indictment, "the prosecution may be had in any county in which one or more of the offenses is alleged to have been committed."[12] The situs of the crime "may be established by inference."[13]

         (12) Metelus argues that 11 Del. C. § 232 requires that venue be proved for each crime as a separate element of each crime. However, when § 232 is read together with Superior Court Criminal Rule 18, it is apparent that venue for the trial as a whole (rather than for each offense individually) must be proved as an element. That is, so long as the State proves beyond a reasonable doubt that at least one of the indicted crimes occurred in the county in which the trial court sits, venue is established as to all offenses in the indictment under Rule 18.

         (13) Here, venue was proved as to Counts 1 and 2 of the indictment under Rule 18 because Count 3, the conspiracy charge, made Sussex County a proper venue for the trial. The State presented evidence showing that Count 3 occurred (at least in part) in Sussex County. Metelus got into the jeep in Sussex County and began her journey to New Jersey where it is believed she ultimately received the heroin that was later found in the jeep, all of which constituted the underlying criminal activity for the conspiracy charge. Therefore, the Superior Court did not err in denying Metelus's motion for judgment of acquittal.

         (14) Metelus also argues that the Superior Court erred in allowing the State to amend the indictment to provide that Counts 1 and 2 occurred in Kent County. An indictment must be "a plain, concise and definite written statement of the essential facts constituting the offense charged."[14] "The court may permit an indictment . . . to be amended at any time before verdict or finding if no additional or different offense is charged and if substantial rights of the defendant are not prejudiced."[15] "Amendment is not permitted if it changes an essential element of the charged offense or prevents the defendant from pursuing his initial defense strategy."[16] "This Court reviews the Superior Court's decision on a motion to amend an indictment for abuse of discretion."[17]

         (15) Metelus argues that amending the indictment to change the location of Counts 1 and 2 constituted a substantive change and thus prejudiced her. Count 3 of the indictment, however, was never altered; it alleged that the conspiracy occurred in Sussex County in both the original and the amended indictment. Because Count 3 properly established venue for all charges under Rule 18, the situs of Counts 1 and 2 was not an "essential element" of either charge. Furthermore, Metelus does not argue that the amended indictment charged an additional or different offense or that her defense would have differed had the original indictment provided that Counts 1 and 2 occurred in Kent County. Accordingly, the Superior Court did not abuse its discretion in allowing the indictment to be amended.

         (16) Metelus next argues that the Superior Court erred by denying her motion to suppress because the MTD warrant was directed at the movements of Brandon Ways, not her. "We review the grant or denial of a motion to suppress for an abuse of discretion."[18] "[T]his Court will defer to the factual findings of a Superior Court judge unless those findings are clearly erroneous."[19] We review the trial judge's application of the law to his or her factual findings de novo.[20]

         (17) Metelus argues that because the MTD warrant did not name her (but rather named Ways) as the subject of the investigation, the warrant did not authorize the police to track her movements while she drove the jeep. The warrant provided, "The subject of the investigation and person whose movements are to be tracked is Brandon Ways."[21] By continuing to track the jeep while she was driving it, Metelus argues, the police violated her rights under the United States and Delaware Constitutions, and therefore, the Superior Court abused its discretion by denying her motion to suppress all evidence derived from the police's use of the MTD.

         (18) However, a warrant may authorize the search of any "conveyance, place or other things" for "[p]roperty obtained in the commission of a crime, whether the crime was committed by the owner or occupant of the . . . place or conveyance to be searched or by another."[22] "Probable cause is established when a nexus between the items to be sought and the place to be searched appears."[23] There is no requirement that the owner or user of the property to be searched be suspected of criminal activity.[24] Accordingly, there is no requirement that the user of the property be suspected of criminal activity-or even known-at the time the warrant is obtained in order for the warrant to be valid as to the property identified.[25]Therefore, ...


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