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State v. Bolden

Superior Court of Delaware, Kent

March 19, 2019


          Submitted: March 15, 2019

         Upon Defendant's Motion to Suppress



         Before the Court is the Motion to Suppress of Defendant Thomas Bolden (hereinafter "Mr. Bolden"). Mr. Bolden seeks to suppress all evidence resulting from an administrative search of room 110 at the Dover Inn in Dover, Delaware (hereinafter "the Hotel Room"). After considering the parties' written submissions, and the evidence and argument presented at the hearing on March 15, 2019, the Court has determined that the Motion to Suppress should be DENIED.

         Factual Background

         In September 2018, Senior Probation Officer Rick Porter (hereinafter "SPO Porter") conducted an investigation into the defendant, Mr. Bolden, after receiving information from a confidential source (hereinafter "CI") that Mr. Bolden was in possession of a silver and black handgun. The CI, a cooperating defendant, informed SPO Porter that Mr. Bolden was staying at the Dover Inn, located at 248 North DuPont Highway in Dover, Delaware, and that Mr. Bolden was keeping the gun in a black and red backpack. SPO Porter knew Mr. Bolden to be on Level 3 probation and to be a person prohibited from possessing firearms. SPO Porter also knew that Mr. Bolden had been claiming to be homeless for several weeks, and that he had not informed his probation officers that he was staying at the Dover Inn, in violation of his probation.

         SPO Porter spoke with U.S. Marshal's Task Force Officer Michael Willson, who advised SPO Porter that he had seen Mr. Bolden in the area of the Dover Inn the week prior. SPO Porter traveled to the Dover Inn and, upon arrival, observed Mr. Bolden leaving the hotel parking lot on a bicycle.

         SPO Porter then made contact with the manager of the Dover Inn, Ms. Edna Hayes. SPO Porter showed Ms. Hayes a photo of the defendant, which she was able to positively identify as Mr. Bolden, and she confirmed that he was, indeed, staying at the hotel in the Hotel Room. SPO Porter was advised that the Hotel Room was registered to co-defendant, Bobby Pitts. Ms. Hayes stated that Mr. Bolden had been staying in the Hotel Room for approximately two weeks and had paid for the room daily in cash. SPO Porter then reviewed the hotel surveillance video and positively identified Mr. Bolden departing the Hotel Room prior to leaving the hotel area on his bicycle.

         SPO Porter subsequently contacted Supervisor Willoughby of Dover Probation and Parole and reviewed the criteria for approval of an administrative search set forth in Probation and Parole Procedure 7.19. The information that SPO Porter reviewed with Supervisor Willoughby included the tip from the CI, the efforts to corroborate the tip, and Mr. Bolden's apparent violation of his probation by reporting himself homeless while residing in the Hotel Room. Supervisor Willoughby approved the administrative search.

         SPO Porter, along with officers from the Dover Police Department, subsequently contacted Mr. Bolden in the area of South New Street in downtown Dover. Mr. Bolden was taken into custody and transported to the Hotel Room, where the administrative search of the room proceeded.

          Upon entering the Hotel Room, SPO Porter and a Dover police officer, Detective Johnson, made contact with Derrick Wilcox. The officers smelled the odor of marijuana in the room and observed a marijuana blunt and packaging materials in plain view. SPO Porter began his administrative search and located a firearm in a desk drawer near where Mr. Wilcox had been seated. Mr. Wilcox advised that the gun was registered and belonged to Mr. Pitts.

         SPO Porter continued with the administrative search and located a red and black Phillies backpack, which matched the description of the bag given by the CI as belonging to Mr. Bolden. Inside the bag, SPO Porter discovered a silver and black handgun, also matching the description given by the CI, along with a rifle magazine containing 30 rounds of ammunition. Other contraband was found in the room as well.

         Legal Standard

         Probationers, as part of their criminal sanctions, do not share the same liberties as ordinary citizens.[1] Rather, probation is to serve as a criminal sanction, [2]and "[t]he special nature of probationary supervision justifies a departure from the usual warrant and probable cause requirements for searches...."[3] A warrantless search of a probationer's home, nevertheless, must be "reasonable, "[4] and it has been long settled in Delaware that "suspicionless" searches of probationers are unlawful.[5] As a result, Delaware follows the "reasonable suspicion" standard in justifying searches of probationers.[6] "Reasonable suspicion" exists when the "totality of the circumstances" indicate a "particularized and objective basis" for suspecting a probationer of wrongdoing.[7]

         Title 11, section 4321(d) of the Delaware Code grants probation and parole officers in Delaware with certain statutory authority to effectuate warrantless searches of probationers.[8] The regulations enacted pursuant to that statute provide that "absent exigent circumstances, a probation and parole officer must obtain the approval of a supervisor, manager or director before conducting a search."[9]Moreover, absent exigent circumstances, the officer and supervisor should generally hold a case conference using the search checklist as a ...

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