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Cannon v. State

Supreme Court of Delaware

December 12, 2018

JAMARR CANNON, Defendant Below, Appellant,
STATE OF DELAWARE, Plaintiff Below, Appellee.

          Submitted: October 24, 2018

          Court Below: Superior Court of the State of Delaware ID. No. 1706001541 (K)

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


          James T. Vaughn, Jr. Justice.

         On this 12th day of December 2018, upon consideration of the parties' briefs and the record on appeal, it appears to the Court that:

         (1) Appellant, Jamarr Cannon, appeals from a Superior Court jury verdict finding him guilty of Tier 5 Possession of Cocaine, Drug Dealing Tier 4 Cocaine, Resisting Arrest, Possession of Drug Paraphernalia, and Failure to Have Insurance Card. Cannon's sole claim on appeal is that the Superior Court erred in denying his motion to suppress all evidence derived from a traffic stop for a suspected window tint violation. Cannon contends that the Superior Court erred for three reasons. First, he argues there was no reasonable, articulable suspicion for the stop in the first place. Second, he argues there was no reasonable suspicion[1] for his continued detention beyond the scope of the initial stop. Finally, he argues that the search of his person exceeded the scope of a Terry[2] frisk.

         (2) Cannon was arrested and charged with the crimes underlying this appeal on June 2, 2017, following a traffic stop. Trooper Macauley stopped Cannon's vehicle for a suspected violation of Delaware's window tint law "[d]ue to the window tint on the front windshield."[3] Trooper Macauley looked up the registration to determine whether the vehicle had a tint waiver. It did not.

         (3) When Trooper Macauley approached the vehicle after stopping it, Cannon appeared extremely nervous: his carotid artery was pulsating, his hands were shaking, and he failed to make eye contact. Moreover, Trooper Macauley observed that the vehicle's windows were very clean and smelled an overwhelming odor of air fresheners. Because of this, Trooper Macauley suspected that Cannon was a drug trafficker.

         (4) After speaking with Cannon, Trooper Macauley returned to his patrol vehicle to process an e-warning for the tint violation and run routine checks on Cannon's license and registration and do a criminal history check. The criminal history check revealed that Cannon was on federal and state probation and had a history of violent felonies including resisting arrest and vehicle pursuits. While conducting the routine checks, he contacted a nearby canine unit to request a sniff test of Cannon's vehicle, but that unit was not immediately available.

         (5) Because of Cannon's extensive criminal history and federal probation status, these routine checks took longer than usual. Trooper Macauley did not prolong the stop to allow for the canine unit to arrive. The whole time he was in his patrol vehicle, he was processing the e-warning for the tint violation and checking Cannon's criminal history. The entire traffic stop lasted 14 minutes.

         (6) When the process for printing the warning and checking Cannon's criminal history concluded, Trooper Macauley exited his vehicle to deliver the warning to Cannon. He instructed Cannon to exit his vehicle and meet him at the back of the vehicle, so he could explain the warning. Trooper Macauley testified that it was unsafe to explain the warning to Cannon from the driver's window because he would have had to stand in the roadway given how close to the roadway Cannon's vehicle was parked.

         (7) As Cannon exited the vehicle, Trooper Macauley noticed a bulge in his waistband that, according to Macauley, was consistent with the size and shape of a handgun. Consequently, Trooper Macauley conducted a pat-down search, which revealed that the bulge was "a vacuum-sized, tightly-packaged, small brick of cocaine."[4] Trooper Macauley then took Cannon into custody. The canine unit arrived later. Cannon was thereafter charged with the five crimes mentioned above as well as operating a vehicle with illegal window tint.

         (8) Prior to trial, Cannon filed a motion to suppress all evidence acquired from the traffic stop. After a hearing, the Superior Court denied Cannon's motion. It made three findings. First, the court found that the initial stop was lawful "because Mr. Cannon's vehicle had an improper window tint" and "the trooper discovered Mr. Cannon's vehicle did not have a [tint] waiver."[5] Second, the court reasoned that the purpose of Trooper Macauley's initial stop had expired when he requested that Cannon exit the vehicle, and therefore asking Cannon to exit the vehicle was a second seizure; but there was reasonable suspicion to justify the continued seizure for three reasons: (1) Cannon's nervousness, including trembling hands, rapidly pulsating carotid artery, and confusion in responding to questions; (2) Cannon's extensive criminal background, which included drug dealing and firearms charges; and (3) the overwhelming odor of a masking agent (air fresheners) emanating from the vehicle and the vehicle's extreme cleanliness. Finally, the court found, "Trooper Macauley was permitted to pat down Mr. Cannon for weapons because Mr. Macauley noticed the bulge between his waistband," which was "the size of a handgun."[6] (9) Following a bench trial, Cannon was found guilty of all charges except the illegal window tint.

         (10) "We review the grant or denial of a motion to suppress for an abuse of discretion."[7] "[T]his Court will defer to the factual findings of a Superior Court judge unless those findings are clearly erroneous."[8] When "reviewing the denial of a motion to suppress evidence based on an allegedly illegal stop and seizure, we conduct a de novo review to determine whether the totality of the circumstances, in light of the trial ...

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