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State v. Waters

Superior Court of Delaware

June 13, 2019

STATE OF DELAWARE
v.
REGINALD WATERS, Defendant.

          Submitted: March 23, 2019

          Abby Adams (argued), Brian J. Robertson, and Cynthia Hurlock, Deputy Attorneys General, Department of Justice, State of Delaware, 820 N. French Street, 7th Floor, Wilmington, Delaware, Attorneys for the State.

          Patrick J. Collins, Esquire, Collins & Associates, 716 N. Tatnall Street, Suite 300, Wilmington, Delaware, Attorney for Defendant.

          OPINION

          HONORABLE ANDREA L. ROCANELLI, JUDGE

         INTRODUCTION

         Clifton Thompson was shot and killed on February 27, 2016. Defendant Reginald Waters was arrested on March 29, 2016 in connection with the homicide. The evidence presented by the State at the bench trial included historical Cell Site Location Information ("CSLI") which the State argued placed Defendant in the vicinity of the homicide. In addition to CSLI, the State presented direct evidence and indirect evidence which placed Defendant at the scene of the homicide. Defendant was convicted of the lesser-included offense of Manslaughter, as well as related charges. Before Defendant was sentenced, the Supreme Court of the United States issued its decision in Carpenter v. United States which requires a finding of probable cause for the issuance of a search warrant to obtain CSLI. The State did not obtain a search warrant based on probable cause to obtain CSLI for Defendant. Thus, Defendant has filed a motion for new trial, which is opposed by the State.

         PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         After Defendant's arrest, a grand jury issued an indictment on June 6, 2016 for Murder in the First Degree, Possession of a Firearm During the Commission of a Felony, Possession of a Firearm by a Person Prohibited, and Possession of Ammunition by a Person Prohibited. Defendant's trial was originally scheduled for September 2017, but was continued to January 2018 upon Defendant's motion.

         One week prior to the January 2018 trial date, Defendant's then-counsel filed a motion to withdraw at Defendant's request. Defendant waived his speedy trial rights and the Court granted the motion on January 9, 2018. Defendant's current counsel was appointed ("Defense Counsel") on January 12, 2018.

         Trial was scheduled to begin May 10, 2018. Defense Counsel requested that the State produce the subpoena used to obtain records and subscriber information for Defendant's cell phone. On May 7, 2018, Defense Counsel renewed his request. The State did not respond. On May 9, 2018, Defense Counsel requested another continuance of the trial which the Court denied.

         A jury was selected on May 10, 2018. Before the jury was sworn, Defendant requested a bench trial. Pursuant to Superior Court Criminal Rule 23(a), Defendant's request was submitted in writing and the State consented. The Court addressed Defendant personally regarding his constitutional right to a trial by jury. The Court was satisfied that Defendant's waiver was knowing, intelligent, and voluntary. Therefore, the Court approved Defendant's waiver and the case proceeded to a non-jury trial before this judicial officer from May 14, 2018 through May 23, 2018.

         At the conclusion of the evidence and after closing arguments, Defendant was found guilty by the Court of the lesser-included offense of Manslaughter, as well as guilty of Possession of a Firearm During the Commission of a Felony, Possession of a Firearm by a Person Prohibited, and Possession of Ammunition by a Person Prohibited. The Court ordered a pre-sentence investigation.

         On June 22, 2018, the United States Supreme Court issued Carpenter v. United States[1] The holding in that case prompted Defense Counsel to renew Defendant's pretrial request for the documents relied upon by the State in obtaining Defendant's cell phone records. Defense Counsel notified the Court that Carpenter may be applicable to Defendant's case. Sentencing was continued. Eventually, [2] all of the relevant applications, affidavits, and Court Orders used to obtain evidence for the Defendant's cell phone were unsealed and produced to Defense Counsel.

         On December 17, 2018, in light of the newly discovered evidence and the Carpenter decision, Defendant filed a motion for a new trial pursuant to Superior Court Criminal Rule 33. After briefing, the parties presented oral argument. The record was closed on March 23, 2019.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         A Motion for New Trial may be granted upon a motion by the Defendant "if required in the interest of justice."[3] If the trial was without a jury, the Court may "vacate the judgment if entered, take additional testimony and direct the entry of a new judgment."[4] A motion for a new trial is within the sound discretion of the trial court.[5] Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the State, [6] a motion for new trial will not be granted "if there was some probative evidence upon which a verdict of guilty could reasonably be based."[7] The Court must refrain from granting the motion unless the verdict "appears to be against the great weight of the evidence."[8]

         CARPENTER IS APPLICABLE

         In Carpenter v. United States, the United States Supreme Court addressed the question of "whether the Government conducts a search under the Fourth Amendment when it accesses historical cell phone records that provide a comprehensive chronicle of the user's past movements."[9] Given its "deeply revealing" and "retrospective" nature, the Supreme Court held that an individual maintains a legitimate expectation of privacy in the record of his physical movements as captured through historical cell phone location information and, therefore, Government acquisition of CSLI records constitutes a search within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment.[10] Accordingly, the Supreme Court declared that the Government must generally obtain a warrant supported by probable cause before acquiring CSLI records.[11]

         Of particular concern to the Carpenter Court was that the Government acquired the CSLI records pursuant to a court order issued under a federal statute that simply required the Government to show "reasonable grounds" for believing that the records sought "were relevant to an ongoing investigation."[12] The Supreme Court explained that the required assertion of relevance to an ongoing investigation "falls well short of the probable cause requirement for a warrant."[13] Rather, the Court required "some quantum of individualized suspicion" to justify a search under the Fourth Amendment.[14]

         "[A] decision of [the Supreme] Court construing the Fourth Amendment is to be applied retroactively to all convictions that were not yet final at the time the decision was rendered."[15] A criminal conviction in Delaware becomes final at the time of sentencing.[16]Carpenter, a decision of the Supreme Court construing the Fourth Amendment, was issued on June 22, 2018. Defendant's conviction has not become final because sentencing has not taken place. Accordingly, Carpenter retroactively applies to Defendant's case.[17] Moreover, Defendant has not waived his ...


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