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Ways v. State

Supreme Court of Delaware

December 10, 2018

BRANDON WAYS, 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. 1611002979 (S)

         Upon appeal from the Superior Court. AFFIRMED.

          Jerome M. Capone, Esquire, Assistant Public Defender, Georgetown, Delaware, for Appellant, Brandon Ways.

          Abby Adams, Esquire, Deputy Attorney General, Georgetown, Delaware, for Appellee, State of Delaware.

          Before VALIHURA, VAUGHN, and SEITZ, Justices.

          VAUGHN, Justice.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Appellant, Brandon Ways, appeals from a Superior Court jury verdict finding him guilty of Aggravated Possession of Heroin in a Tier 5 Quantity, Drug Dealing in a Tier 4 Quantity, and Conspiracy in the Second Degree. These charges were the result of a year-long investigation by the Delaware State Police and the Seaford Police Department into a large-scale drug trafficking operation of Ways and his associate, Torontay Mann. Ways's co-defendant, Angeline Metelus, was also charged with these same crimes as a result of the investigation. She was driving Ways's blue Jeep Cherokee (the "jeep") when the police followed it to an area in New Jersey. Through their investigation, the police had been informed that Ways bought a large amount of cocaine and heroin every two weeks from sources in New Jersey. They also knew from experience that New Jersey was a source for drugs transported into Delaware. Upon the jeep's return to Delaware, Metelus was stopped and the jeep was searched pursuant to a search warrant. Approximately 1, 300 grams of heroin were found in a hidden compartment.

         Ways makes two claims on appeal. First, he contends that the Superior Court abused its discretion by denying his motion to suppress all evidence derived from the State's use of a mobile tracking device ("MTD") to track the jeep in the State of New Jersey. Ways argues that the out-of-state tracking violated his rights under the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, Article I, § 6 of the Delaware Constitution, and 11 Del. C. § 2304 because (1) those provisions do not permit a Delaware judge to issue a warrant to track a vehicle after it leaves the state and (2) no New Jersey judge authorized the use of the MTD in New Jersey. Second, Ways contends that the Superior Court erred by denying his motion for judgment of acquittal, arguing that the State failed to prove the predicate element of venue for any charge in the indictment.[1]

         We find that the Superior Court should be affirmed on both claims. First, we conclude that even if the out-of-state tracking did violate either of the constitutional provisions or the statute, the heroin the police found when they searched the jeep inevitably would have been discovered, and therefore suppression was not required, because the search was conducted pursuant to a valid search warrant that did not depend upon any evidence derived from the out-of-state tracking. Second, we conclude that the State presented sufficient evidence for a rational fact finder to conclude that at least one count in the indictment, the conspiracy charge, occurred in Sussex County, and therefore, venue was properly proved as to all counts under Superior Court Rule of Criminal Procedure 18.

         II. FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Ways was arrested on November 5, 2016, and was charged with the three crimes underlying this appeal. In the months prior to his arrest (since October 2015), the police were investigating Ways and Mann's large-scale drug trafficking operation. As part of the investigation, on or about September 23, 2016, they requested and obtained a Superior Court warrant authorizing the police to install and use an MTD on the jeep. 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.

         Although the search warrant authorizing the police to install and use the MTD on the jeep (the "MTD warrant") did not contain an express geographic limitation for tracking, it provided that the MTD "is to be installed within the State of Delaware."[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] The police installed the MTD on the jeep in Delaware on October 14, 2016.

         On November 4, 2016, the police were alerted by the MTD that the jeep had moved to the Walmart parking lot in Seaford, Delaware (in Sussex County). They responded by sending officers to conduct physical surveillance of the jeep at that location. The officers arrived at approximately 11:00 a.m. While surveilling the jeep, the police observed Ways arrive in a green Dodge Ram, which was associated with Mann. Ways exited the passenger side of the Dodge Ram and entered and exited the jeep multiple times, moving from the rear seat to the driver's seat and reaching deep into the cargo area. At one point, they observed Ways transfer a large item (possibly a duffel bag) from the Dodge Ram to deep inside the cargo area of the jeep. This behavior, the police believed, based upon their training and experience, was consistent with storing drugs and currency inside a hidden compartment. The police then observed Ways drive the jeep a short distance to the Seaford Food Lion parking lot. The Dodge Ram followed. The police then saw Ways toss an unknown object into the back of the Dodge Ram and walk away. The Dodge Ram then departed.

         At approximately 4:20 p.m. on that same day, while visually surveilling the jeep in the Food Lion parking lot, the police observed an unknown female, subsequently identified as co-defendant Metelus, get into the jeep and drive away. They 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.

         At approximately 7:40 p.m., Metelus took an exit off the New Jersey Turnpike. Sometime before then, the police lost MTD functionality but continued to maintain physical surveillance as they followed behind her. After she turned off the exit, however, they also lost physical surveillance in the high-density area off the Turnpike. About 20 minutes later, MTD functionality was restored, which enabled the police to reestablish physical surveillance. The police continued to follow her through the streets of the high-density area.

         Eventually, at about 8:26 p.m., she stopped at a residence at 71 Mitchell Street. The police conducted drive-by surveillance and observed an unknown man speaking with Metelus as she was seated in the jeep. After about nine minutes, Metelus drove off. After the jeep left the residence, it was driven around "aimlessly without a destination," repeating the same pattern three times.[4] After stopping briefly at a location known as Pilot Place, where the police observed nothing unusual, the jeep returned to 71 Mitchell Street at approximately 9:01 p.m. The jeep was there for about 51 minutes. The police again conducted "drive by" surveillance rather than stationary surveillance and observed nothing of significance. The jeep then departed and was later seen to stop in a parking lot on Central Street, where it remained for several minutes. Nothing of significance was seen while the jeep was stopped there.

         The jeep then left that location and began its return to Delaware. The police continued to follow the jeep. In argument before the trial court, the State also indicated that the police had approximately three units stationed near the Delaware Memorial Bridge awaiting the jeep's return to Delaware and that they could have set up a "geo fence" to alert them when ...


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