CRA#S18-09-0121 - 0127
Stephanie A. Tsantes, Esquire Office of Defense Services
G. Gay, Esquire Department of Justice
A. KARSNITZ, JUDGE.
before the Court is Defendant's Motion to Suppress. For
the following reasons, the Motion is GRANTED.
Robin Stephens has been charged by the State of Delaware
("State") in a seven count indictment with,
inter alia, criminal impersonation and drug dealing.
The charges originated from a traffic stop by Delaware State
Police officers who are a part of the Governor's Task
Force. The stop occurred in the early morning hours of August
14, 2018, on a country road outside of Millsboro, Delaware.
was riding in a vehicle operated by Francisco Sandoval. While
patrolling in an unmarked police vehicle Corporal Leonard
DeMato of the Delaware State Police observed Mr. Sandoval
fail to stop at a stop sign as he traveled westbound on Mount
Joy Road, through its intersection, and turned south on to
Hollyville Road. Corporal DeMato followed Mr. Sandoval and,
shortly after leaving the intersection, activated his lights
to signal Mr. Sandoval to stop. Mr. Sandoval complied.
Corporal DeMato first notified fellow officers Detective
Wallace and Detection Ralston of the stop, then approached
Mr. Sandoval's vehicle on the passenger side. Corporal
DeMato asked Mr. Sandoval for his license, registration and
insurance card and, while Mr. Sandoval was retrieving his
papers, Corporal DeMato asked the occupants of the vehicle,
which included Defendant and a rearseated female occupant,
what their business abroad was that morning. Defendant
responded they were traveling to aid a friend who was
stranded. According to Corporal DeMato, Defendant appeared
"incredibly nervous", as evidenced by
Defendant's rapid breathing and repeated attempts to show
the officer his cell phone text messages while also talking
to someone on the phone. It appeared that Defendant was
trying to substantiate his claim that a friend was stranded
by showing Corporal DeMato text messages. Corporal DeMato
also testified Defendant had a "...complete
unwillingness to make eye contact...".
DeMato then asked both passengers for identification and each
responded that they had none. He asked Defendant his name
and, according to Corporal DeMato, Defendant's level of
nervousness "visibly escalated", but he identified
himself as Dion Stephens. Corporal DeMato then asked
Defendant his birth date. After a pause, Defendant answered,
"1978", then paused again before adding
"12-16". Corporal DeMato thought and testified at
the suppression hearing that the way Defendant answered the
question about his birth date was unusual and suspicious.
Corporal DeMato then asked Defendant his Social Security
number and Defendant said he did not know it. Corporal DeMato
asked him for the last four digits of his Social Security
number and Defendant repeated the same answer.
Corporal DeMato did not know it at the time, Defendant gave a
false name and date of birth.
Defendant failed to provide his Social Security number,
Corporal DeMato asked Defendant to step out of the vehicle.
Defendant complied. Corporal DeMato made the decision to
handcuff Defendant and, after a short period in which
Defendant had difficulty understanding what Corporal DeMato
wanted him to do, Defendant turned away from Corporal DeMato
who then applied the handcuffs. Corporal DeMato took this
step because of the "...unusually high level of nervous
behavior", and because DeMato suspected Defendant had
fabricated answers to his questions.
things got really interesting. Corporal DeMato walked
Defendant towards his police vehicle, intending to search him
prior to placing hin inside the vehicle, "...for an
arrest for criminal impersonation...". In the process,
he saw Defendant clutching something in his right hand.
Corporal DeMato tried to pry Defendant's fingers apart
and, while doing so, Defendant broke loose from control and
ran to a nearby field. Corporal DeMato took up the chase,
tackled Defendant in short order, and took him back to his
Wallace searched in the field and located a ball cap which
had fallen from Defendant's head. Near the cap Detective
Wallace found two plastic baggies which, it was ultimately
determined, contained cocaine.
events of the evening were not yet finished. While Corporal
DeMato and Detective Wallace were occupied by the Defendant,
Detective Ralston approached the operator of the vehicle Mr.
Sandoval, and told Mr. Sandoval he was being detained for
investigation. Detective Ralston asked Mr. Sandoval if he was
in possession of anything illegal. Mr. Sandoval eventually
admitted he had two baggies of heroin. Detective Ralston
found three bags of what was determined to be heroin in Mr.
Sandoval's pants pocket. A search of the vehicle produced
a glass smoking pipe found in the trunk, and another plastic
bag with white powder found on the floor in the front passenger
area where Defendant had been sitting.
filed a Motion to Suppress the evidence found in the field as
being the end result of an unlawful detention. An evidentiary
hearing was held on February 19, 2019, at which Corporal
DeMato was the only witness. The facts as I described them
come from his testimony which was succinct and credible or
his affidavit of probable cause.
counsel conceded at the hearing that the only evidence for
which suppression was sought was the drugs found in the
field. For the reasons expressed in this letter, I am of the
opinion that Corporal DeMato did not have a reasonable
suspicion to detain Defendant when he handcuffed him, and he
did not at that time have probable cause to arrest him for
criminal impersonation or any other charge. As a result I am
granting the Motion to Suppress solely as to the drugs found
in the field.
Burden of Proof
Motion to Suppress the Defendant bears the burden to prove by
a preponderance of evidence that the challenged search or
seizure violated Fourth Amendment principles. However, once the
Defendant has established a basis for his motion, i.e., the
search or seizure was conducted without a warrant, the burden
shifts to the State to show by a preponderance of evidence
the search or seizure was reasonable.