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State v. Riley

Superior Court of Delaware

June 20, 2019

EUGENE RILEY, Defendant.

          Submitted: June 13, 2019

          Gregory R. Babowal, Esquire of the Department of Justice, Dover, Delaware; attorney for the State of Delaware.

          Alexander W. Funk, Esquire of Curley Dodge & Funk, LLC, Dover, Delaware; attorney for Defendant.

         Defendant's Motion to Suppress Evidence (DNA Search Warrant) Denied.



         Before the Court, is Defendant Eugene Riley (hereinafter "Defendant") and his Motion to Suppress DNA evidence pertaining to the seizure of his DNA after his arrest. The DNA was collected via buccal swab pursuit to a search warrant signed by Justice of the Peace Court #7 (hereinafter "JP Court").

         After considering Defendant's motion, the State's response in opposition, oral argument, and the record, it appears to the Court that:

         1. On May 13, 2018, Jameir Vann-Robinson (hereinafter "Victim") was shot and killed following a verbal altercation at 82 Mitscher Road in Dover, Delaware.

         2. Law enforcement officers responded to the scene of the shooting and located four (4) 9mm shell casings and six (6) .40 shell casings along the sidewalk and roadway in close vicinity to the scene at 106 Mitscher Road.[1]

         3. A subsequent investigation revealed that two suspects, Defendant and Ahmir Bailey (hereinafter "Defendant Bailey") had allegedly shot the victim at or near 82 Mitscher Road. The investigation also led law enforcement to discover one of the handguns used in the shooting, along with magazines and ammunition matching the handguns, during the execution of warrant at Defendant's residence.[2]

         4. On May 14, 2018, Defendant and Defendant Bailey were arrested.

         5. That same day, Detective Stephen Boone (hereinafter "Det. Boone"), Dover Police Department, applied for a Search Warrant from JP Court #7 that sought to collect Defendant's DNA and compare it to DNA recovered from weapons and ammunition found at Defendant's residence. The Affidavit stated, in pertinent part:

Affiant is requesting to secure a sample of [DNA] from [Defendant] for an analysis/comparison with a sample from the recovered .40 caliber M&P handgun, .40 caliber magazine..., box of 9mm ammunition, 9mm magazine..., and any other evidence seized relating to this incident that may contain [Defendant's] DNA.[3]

         6. Defendant's DNA was analyzed and determined to match DNA recovered from the weapons and ammunition found at Defendant's residence.

         7. On May 13, 2019, Defendant filed his suppression motion seeking to suppress the seized DNA. The State's response, in opposition, was filed on May 16, 2019. The Court heard oral arguments on May 30, 2019 and reserved its decision because of (1) a factual discrepancy regarding the method of DNA collection[4] and (2) the Court's granting both parties time to submit additional briefing on the issue of DNA collection being lawful pursuant to a valid search incident to arrest that was raised by the State in its reply.

         8. In his motion, Defendant asserts the search warrant was invalid as it did not establish probable cause because Det. Boone's affidavit was conclusory and insufficient to establish a proper foundation for obtaining his DNA.[5]

         9. The State counters Defendant's argument by contending law enforcement officers need not determine whether a known DNA sample has been recovered from a crime scene before establishing a logical nexus for a DNA search warrant.[6] Rather, the nexus required must be demonstrated by a fair probability that the seized DNA can be linked to the crime.[7] Alternatively, the State asserts the DNA seizure was permissible pursuant to a valid search incident to arrest.[8]

         10. On a motion to suppress challenging the validity of a search warrant, a defendant bears the burden of establishing that the challenged search or seizure was unlawful.[9]

         11. Section 2307 of Title 11 of the Delaware Code authorizes a judicial officer to issue a warrant if the facts recited in the complaint constitute probable cause for the search.[10] Unless there is a showing of a factual basis for probable cause within the "four corners" of the affidavit that was submitted to the judicial officer in support of the warrant, the warrant will not be issued.[11] The judicial officer issuing the warrant must make a practical, common-sense decision whether, given all the circumstances set forth in the accompanying affidavit, including the veracity and the 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.[12] In other words, a logical nexus must be established between the sought after items and the place in which law enforcement wishes to search.[13]

         12. This Court grants great deference to the judicial officer's determination of probable cause.[14] In determining whether probable cause exists to obtain a search warrant, Delaware courts apply a "totality of the circumstances" test.[15] In so keeping, this Court will review the judicial officer's determination for the substantial basis for concluding that probable cause existed.[16]

         13. Defendant argues that language found in Det. Boone's affidavit supporting a search warrant to collect his DNA was nothing more than a collection of conclusory statements that are insufficient to establish the required heightened nexus between his DNA and evidence of a crime. Defendant relies on State v. Campbell[17] and also cites to the recent bench decision in State v. Risper[18] in support of his position. This Court finds, however, that this case is distinguishable.

         14. In light of Defendant's reliance on Campbell, the Court feels a review of the case would be helpful.[19] In Campbell, law enforcement obtained a search warrant for the defendant's DNA.[20] In that affidavit, the only information regarding DNA was following statement:

[y]our affiant is aware that several casings from the firearm that was fired were located at the scene and collected as evidence, [and] [y]our affiant is aware that it is possible to collect DNA evidence of the suspect(s) from the casings. Your affiant is aware that DNA belonging to [defendant] 8/3/1988 can be compared to any DNA found on the casings.[21]

The Campbell court expressed concern that the affiant's statement was "not supported by the detective's personal knowledge gained from work experience or other investigations that may have occurred or [was] even ...

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