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Woody v. State

Supreme Court of Delaware

September 23, 2019

JOSIAH WOODY, Defendant Below, Appellant,
STATE OF DELAWARE, Plaintiff Below, Appellee. SHANTELL NEWMAN, Defendant Below, Appellant,
STATE OF DELAWARE, Plaintiff Below, Appellee.

          Submitted: September 11, 2019

          Court Below: Superior Court of the State of Delaware Cr. ID Nos. 1705021877(N), 1705021865(N)

          Before VALIHURA, VAUGHN, and SEITZ, Justices.



         This 23rd day of September, 2019, having considered the briefs and the record below, [1] it appears to the Court that:

         (1) In 2014, police investigated Shantell Newman for stalking her landlord, Thomas Howard, and the landlord's property manager, Phyllis Brown. The investigation continued through February 2017. On February 7, 2017, Detective Jennifer Escheman of the New Castle County Police Department applied for a warrant to search 430 West 29th Street and listed Josiah Woody and Newman as occupants. In the affidavit of probable cause supporting the warrant, Escheman stated the following:

• On August 22, 2014, Brown, the property manager of 205 Channing Drive in Bear, DE, reported to NCCPD that she had received a call from the property's tenant, Newman. A male on the phone threatened to "kill her, " and Newman followed with her own profanity-laced rant. Police confirmed that the number used to call Brown belonged to Newman.
• On September 7, 2014, Brown went to Delaware State Police Troop 2 after she received about fifty phone calls on her cell phone from a blocked number. At the police station, Brown answered a call from the blocked number and recognized Newman's voice, who said "How does it feel to know you and your kids will be dead by the close of business tomorrow."
• On September 7, 2014, while at Troop 2, Brown received phone calls from unknown men soliciting sex. Brown informed police that she suspected Newman. She also viewed Newman's Facebook page and saw a picture of herself (Brown) on the profile page. The photo provided a message that was sexually explicit, solicited sex acts, and advised interested persons to contact Brown by her phone number listed on the page.
• On September 28, 2014, Wilmington Police responded to 408 South Franklin Street for a terroristic threatening complaint made by Howard. Howard told police that Newman posted several messages on Facebook about taking Howard's life. Howard printed these posts from September 28, 2014, which include more profanity.
• On October 5, 2014, NCCPD officers responded to 205 Channing Drive for a complaint by Newman against Howard and Brown, who she said had come to her door to ask for rent money which turned into a profanity-laced exchange and inappropriate touching.
• On October 6, 2014, police interviewed Howard and Brown who said they were not at Newman's residence on October 5, 2014. Police then questioned Newman who said that neither Howard nor Brown were at her residence on October 5, 2014.
• On November 6, 2014, Brown reported to police that Newman knocked at her door and, when Brown opened it, began swinging a blade at Brown striking her. Brown reported that Newman also took Brown's purse.
• Newman was incarcerated in Maryland from November 2014 until April 11, 2016.
• On October 9, 2016, Brown and Howard reported to Wilmington Police a burglary that occurred that day at 408 South Franklin Street, a property owned by Howard and managed by Brown. Brown told police that when she unlocked the front door she heard what sounded like people talking inside and saw the living room furniture had been tossed around.
• On October 10, 2016, Brown reported to Wilmington Police a trespass complaint at 408 South Franklin Street. Brown reported that as she entered the property, three unknown suspects fled out of the rear kitchen door.
• On October 17, 2016, Brown reported to police that she was sexually assaulted by three masked individuals while she was checking on the property at 408 South Franklin Street. Brown told officers that the men told her that Newman sent them to kill her and Newman said that "you didn't get it the first time to keep your mouth shut." Brown told officers that one of the men put a handgun to her head and pulled the trigger, but the weapon malfunctioned to the suspect's surprise.
• On January 9, 2017, Escheman learned that Newman was pregnant and provided the Division of Family Services with an address of 430 West 29th Street.
• On February 7, 2017, Escheman learned that Newman had been transported by ambulance to St. Francis Hospital for labor and delivery and that she provided 430 West 29th Street as her home address.[2]

         (2) On February 7, 2017, a magistrate authorized the search of 430 West 29th Street. The search warrant sought any documentation and electronic devices, particularly those that can connect to WiFi or access Facebook, used or intended to be used for stalking. Escheman searched the residence on February 8, 2017. During the search, they found recent mail addressed to both Woody and Newman. In the basement of the residence, police found a loaded handgun on top of an air duct that had a filed-off serial number, six rounds of ammunition, and one spent casing. While the serial number was later recovered, due to the age of the gun, database searches did not yield any information about the firearm. Woody's and Newman's DNA matched DNA found on the handgun. Police then arrested Woody and Newman for weapons charges.

         (3) On January 10, 2018, Woody filed a motion to suppress the gun and ammunition for lack of probable cause. The Superior Court denied the motion. At trial during Newman's cross-examination of the State's forensics expert, the expert testified that she could not say how the DNA got on the firearm, whether by direct touching or secondary transfer. [3] On redirect, the Superior Court overruled Newman's objection and allowed testimony from the expert that the DNA on the firearm was unlikely the result of secondary transfer.

         (4) At the close of trial, Woody and Newman requested a jury instruction to treat a statutory exemption from prohibiting possession of weapons with obliterated serial numbers as an essential element of the crime rather than an affirmative defense. The Superior Court declined and instructed the jury that the exemption was an affirmative defense. The jury convicted Woody and Newman of all charges. Newman then filed a motion for judgment of acquittal based on several arguments, all of which the Superior Court denied.

         (5) On appeal, Woody argues the Superior Court erred in denying the motion to suppress, both Woody and Newman argue the Superior Court erred when it decided that the manufacturing date exemption was an affirmative defense and not an element of the crime, and Newman argues the Superior Court erred in allowing certain expert testimony and denying the motion for judgment of acquittal.

         (6) Woody first argues that the Superior Court erred in denying his motion to suppress because the search warrant lacked probable cause. He argues that the police obtained the search warrant too long after the 2014 incidents to rely on them to support probable cause, and there was no probable cause to believe that a crime was committed based solely on the 2016 incidents.

         (7) This Court reviews the denial of a motion to suppress for an abuse of discretion.[4] To the extent we examine the trial judge's formulation and application of law, we review de novo.[5] To the extent the judge's decision is based on factual findings, we review for whether the trial judge abused their discretion in determining whether there was sufficient evidence to support the findings.[6] "Where the facts are not disputed and only a constitutional claim of probable cause is at issue, we will review the Superior Court's application of the law of probable cause de novo."[7]

         (8) "Under the United States and Delaware Constitutions, 'a search warrant may be issued only upon a showing of probable cause.'"[8] Under the state statutes dictating warrant requirements-11 Del. C. §§ 2306-07-we have "consistently held that Sections 2306 and 2307 contemplate a 'four-corners' test for probable cause."[9]The four-corners' test requires that the affidavit supporting a search warrant contain facts adequate for a neutral judicial officer to form a reasonable belief that an offense has been committed and that seizable property would be found in a particular place or on a particular person. [10] Whether there are adequate facts in the warrant application requires a logical nexus between the items being sought and the location to be searched.[11]

         (9) To decide whether probable cause exists, the court applies a totality of the circumstances test, favoring a commonsense interpretation over a hyper technical one.[12] "Thus, a magistrate may find probable cause when, considering the totality of the circumstances, 'there is a fair probability that contraband or evidence of a crime will be found in a particular place.'"[13] Additionally, a magistrate may draw "reasonable inferences from the factual allegations in the affidavit."[14]

         (10) Here, the crime contemplated by the search warrant is stalking. Under 11 Del. C. § 1312, "[a] person is guilty of stalking when the person knowingly engages in a course of conduct directed at a specific person." The statute defines "course of conduct" to mean "3 or more separate incidents . . . in which the person directly, indirectly, or through third parties . . . follows, monitors, observes, surveys, threatens, or communicates to or about another."[15] Stalking is a felony of either class G, F, or C dependent on the particular facts.[16] The applicable statute of limitations requires the prosecution to commence within 5 years after it is committed.[17]

         (11) Woody argues that the 2014 incidents are too remote to qualify as an incident under the definition of "course of conduct." But, the Superior Court concluded correctly that there is no law besides the statute of limitations that limits the timeframe on the course of conduct within which stalking can be committed. Thus, because five years had not passed since the 2014 incidents, the 2014 incidents were properly included in the course of conduct necessary for a stalking offense.

         (12) Woody does not dispute Newman's involvement in the 2014 incidents, and they alone are likely to give rise to a stalking allegation. Also, at least one of the 2016 incidents may be reasonably inferred to be attributed to Newman because of the masked man's reference to her. The delay between events can be reasonably attributed to Newman's incarceration.[18] Such ...

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