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Brown v. State

Supreme Court of Delaware

July 22, 2019

Roderick BROWN, Petitioner Below, Appellant,
v.
STATE of Delaware, Respondent Below, Appellee.

         Submitted: April 26, 2019

Page 923

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 924

          Court Below: Superior Court of the State of Delaware, C.A. Nos. S16M-11-001 & S16M-12-002

          Roderick Brown, pro se.

         Kathryn J. Garrison, Esquire, Department of Justice, Dover, Delaware for Appellee State of Delaware.

         Before STRINE, Chief Justice; SEITZ and TRAYNOR, Justices.

         OPINION

         TRAYNOR, Justice:

         When police arrested appellant Roderick Brown[1] for drug dealing and money laundering, they also seized several cars and tens of thousands of dollars. Brown filed petitions for the return of that property, but after an evidentiary hearing, the Superior Court denied the bulk of Brown’s claims. Brown then filed this appeal. Because we conclude that the State failed to meet its burden for the seizure of two of Brown’s cars, we reverse in part. We affirm the remainder of the Superior Court’s decision.

          I. BACKGROUND

          A. The seizures

          After an investigation, Delaware State Police arrested Brown on August 26, 2016, while he was sitting outside of 206 Houston Circle in Millsboro, Delaware in a 2003 Honda Accord. The police seized the Honda, which was registered to Brown, as well as a set of keys from Brown’s person. The police also executed a search warrant for an apartment at 206 Houston Circle. In the apartment, police found cocaine, marijuana, heroin, and $1,644 in cash. The police also found a computer with the name "Brown" on the login screen, a doctor’s appointment card for Brown, photos of Brown, and unsigned mortgage papers bearing Brown’s name.

Page 925

          The police also searched two garages in the Houston Circle complex and seized a 2002 Mercedes-Benz, which is not at issue in this appeal, and a 1972 Cadillac, which was registered to Brown. The police searched the garage in which the Cadillac was stored because the owner of that garage told police that Brown paid her $50 per month to keep a car in the garage. The police found no drugs or other contraband in the Cadillac or in the garage. The police seized the Cadillac because they believed that Brown had purchased it with the proceeds of drug sales.

          The police also executed a search warrant for a property on Berry Road in Frankford and seized a 1968 Oldsmobile registered to Brown parked behind the property. As with the Cadillac, the police seized the Oldsmobile because they believed that it had been purchased with drug proceeds. The police found no drugs or other contraband in the Oldsmobile or at the Berry Road property.

         During their investigation, the police learned that Brown stored drugs and drug proceeds at a property on El Coleman Drive in Millsboro. The police searched the El Coleman property and found cocaine, heroin, drug packaging materials, digital scales, guns, ammunition, $3,813 in cash, and two keys.[2]

          The keys from the El Coleman property were for two safe deposit boxes at PNC Bank branches in Millsboro and Selbyville, but only the contents of the Millsboro safe deposit box are at issue in this appeal. The police obtained and executed search warrants for the safe deposit boxes. In the Millsboro safe deposit box (owned by Brown and a woman named Shawanda Knox), the police found $73,000 separated into $1,000 stacks. Brown and Knox also had two bank accounts at PNC Bank. One account contained $2,513 and the other account contained $2,022.52. The police seized the cash in the safe deposit boxes and the funds in the bank accounts because they believed that the money constituted proceeds from the sale of drugs. Brown originally denied ownership of the money in the Millsboro safe deposit box and bank accounts. Police sent the cash to the Delaware National Guard for forensic testing.

          B. ...


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