Submitted: December 21, 2018
For Kent County
Eason Primos Judge.
Defendant's Motion to Suppress
the 2nd day of January, 2019, having considered Defendant
Pamela Dunning's (hereinafter "Ms. Dunning")
Motion to Suppress and the State's response, as well as
the arguments presented at the hearing held on December 21,
2018, the Court finds that there was a substantial basis for
the magistrate to determine that the warrant issued in this
case was supported by probable cause to search Room 103 of
the Best Western Hotel located at 190 Stadium Street in
Smyrna, Delaware (hereinafter the "Hotel Room"),
and the motion to suppress is DENIED.
allegations of the affidavit of probable cause attached to
the search warrant (hereinafter the "Affidavit")
are, in summary, as follows:
4, 2018, Detective William Davis of the Smyrna Police
Department (hereinafter the "Affiant") was
contacted by Sergeant Dill of the Delaware State Police Kent
County Drug Unit regarding a tip he had received about a
large quantity of heroin within the Town of Smyrna city
limits. Sergeant Dill then referred the Affiant to Trooper
Hamilton of the Delaware State Police.
Hamilton informed the Affiant that he had a subject in
custody for traffic charges along with an outstanding capias
(hereinafter the "Informant"). Trooper Hamilton had
contacted the Informant as he was placing an order for heroin
on his cell phone. Trooper Hamilton advised the Affiant that
a female subject had been texting the Informant regarding the
sale of heroin. The Informant had told Trooper Hamilton that
the female was Pamela Dunning and that Ms. Dunning was
staying in Room 103 at the Best Western in Smyrna, Delaware
(hereinafter the "Hotel Room"). The phone number
that was the source of the texting was confirmed, through the
Law Enforcement Database, to be that of Ms. Dunning.
Informant had disclosed to Trooper Hamilton that he had
purchased heroin from Ms. Dunning at 11:00 p.m. the night
before in the Hotel Room and that Ms. Dunning had just
"re-up'ed her supply." Moreover, the Informant
had stated that the heroin was kept in a box under Ms.
Dunning's bed in the Hotel Room.
Smyrna detectives responded to the Best Western hotel and
confirmed that Ms. Dunning was, indeed, staying in the Hotel
Room through June 5, 2018. They also observed Ms. Dunning
outside the Hotel Room, sitting in a vehicle registered to
her, smoking a cigarette.
upon the above information, the Affiant applied for a search
warrant of the Hotel Room. A search warrant was issued and illegal
contraband was obtained from the Hotel Room by law
enforcement, including heroin and drug paraphernalia. Ms.
Dunning also gave a statement to law enforcement after the
contraband was discovered.
Dunning now seeks suppression of all items that were seized
from the Hotel Room, as well as her statement, arguing that
the search warrant fails to show that an independent police
investigation had corroborated the Informant's tip. Ms.
Dunning argues that the contraband found, as well as her
statement to the police, must be suppressed as fruit of the
State responds that the warrant was supported by probable
cause to believe that evidence of illegal activity would be
found in the Hotel Room. The State argues that the warrant
establishes not only the identity and location of Ms. Dunning
and the contraband, but also that Ms. Dunning was involved in
suppression hearing, the Court sits as the finder of fact and
evaluates the credibility of the witnesses. The party with
whom the burden rests must persuade the Court by a
preponderance of the evidence. Because this was a search and
seizure pursuant to warrant, the defense bears the
warrants may only be issued upon a showing of probable
cause.When considering the affidavit, the
magistrate is to make a "practical, common-sense
decision whether, given all the circumstances set forth in
the affidavit before him, including the 'veracity'
and 'basis of knowledge' of persons supplying hearsay
information, there is a fair probability that contraband or
evidence of a crime will be found in a particular
place." A magistrate's determination of
probable cause "should be paid great deference by
reviewing courts" and should not "take the form of
a de novo review." Moreover, in considering
"whether the warrant application presented the issuing
magistrate with a 'substantial basis' to conclude
that probable cause existed," this Court "eschews
'a hypertechnical approach to the evaluation of the
search warrant affidavit in favor of a common-sense
warrant contexts, probable cause may be "founded on
hearsay information provided to the affiant by other officers
.... [A]n officer-informant relaying the information to the
affiant will be considered a reliable source for the
information needed to determine probable
cause." The Supreme Court of Delaware indicated in
State v. Cooley that when officers have been in
communication with one another, "the collective
knowledge of an entire organization may be imputed to an
individual officer." Similarly, the United States
Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, along with other
jurisdictions, has indicated that probable cause is to be
evaluated on the basis of the collective information of the
police. Thus, as a preliminary matter, it is
worth noting that the knowledge of the other investigating
officers, including Trooper Hamilton and Sergeant Dill, is
imputed to the Affiant.
Dunning's main contention surrounds the legal sufficiency
of the Informant's tip to support the issuance of a
search warrant in this case. Ms. Dunning argues that the
Affidavit only sets forth facts that tend to corroborate
identity and location and that are lacking in specificity.
Moreover, Ms. Dunning argues that the search warrant fails to
show that an independent police investigation corroborated
the Informant's tip regarding the alleged illegal
support of this argument, Ms. Dunning cites to LeGrande
v. State, where the Delaware Supreme Court held
that a search warrant failed to establish probable cause
because the affidavit merely set forth facts that tended to
corroborate identity and location. In LeGrande, the
Court held that".. .the police only corroborated the
accused's identity, the location of his locked apartment,
his probationary status, and that his neighbor was wanted.
Confirmations of these facts, which could be used to identify
LeGrande, '[did] not show that the tipster [had]
knowledge of concealed criminal
activity.'" The Court went on to state that because
there was no independent corroboration by the police about
the anonymous tip, the totality of the circumstances did not
provide a substantial basis for the warrant.
Court deems the LeGrande decision distinguishable
from the case at hand. Unlike the tip in LeGrande,
the Informant's tip in this case involved detailed
evidence of drug activity, and demonstrated that the
Informant had particularized knowledge about concealed
criminal activity on the part of Ms. Dunning and of the
specific location where the alleged illegal activity was
taking place. This weighs in favor of his reliability.
More importantly, the Court holds that an independent police
investigation ~ including contacting the Informant while he
was placing an order with Ms. Dunning for heroin, confirming
that Ms. Dunning was the source of the communication, and
observing Ms. Dunning outside of her hotel room ~
sufficiently corroborated the Informant's tip. Thus, the
totality of the circumstances contained ...