Submitted: October 11, 2019
Below-Superior Court of the State of Delaware Cr. ID No.
VALIHURA, VAUGHN, and TRAYNOR, Justices.
L. Valihura Justice.
careful consideration of the parties' briefs and the
record below, it appears to the Court that:
2018, a Superior Court jury found the appellant, Robert
Potts, guilty of possession of a firearm by a person
prohibited ("PFBPP"), possession of ammunition by a
person prohibited ("PABPP"), carrying a concealed
deadly weapon ("CCDW"), drug dealing, and
possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony
("PFDCF"). On appeal, Potts claims that the
Superior Court erroneously denied his suppression motion. We
find no error and affirm.
approximately 10:30 p.m. on September 16, 2017, Wilmington
Police Detective Matthew Rosaio was on routine patrol in an
unmarked police vehicle in the City of Wilmington. As he
waited at the red light controlling the intersection of
Seventh and Washington Streets, Detective Rosaio observed a
black Chrysler cross his line of sight, heading southbound on
Washington Street. Detective Rosaio noted that the
vehicle's registration plate did not appear to be
illuminated as required by Delaware law. Detective Rosaio
made a right-hand turn onto Washington Street and began
following the Chrysler. After Detective Rosaio confirmed that
the Chrysler's tail lamp was not illuminated, he stopped
Detective Rosaio approached the stopped car, the driver-
later identified as Potts-thrust his head out of the
driver's side window and shouted something to the effect
of, "Why are you pulling me over?" Detective Rosaio
advised Potts that he had stopped Potts for an equipment
violation. Potts responded that he could not be detained
"for that." After Detective Rosaio asked Potts for
his license, registration, and proof of insurance, Potts
stated he "had all that" and reached into the back
seat area toward a duffle bag that lay on the floorboard.
Potts pulled the opaque bag into his lap and opened it. As
Potts reached into the bag-and before he handed Detective
Rosaio any identifying documentation-Detective Rosaio asked
if Potts had a weapon on him. Potts answered in the
affirmative and stated that he was going to hand the weapon
to Detective Rosaio. Detective Rosaio ultimately seized
Potts' weapon as well as a large quantity of heroin from
Potts was thereafter indicted by a Superior Court grand jury
for PFBPP, PABPP, CCDW, drug dealing, PFDCF, illegal
possession of a controlled substance, and resisting arrest.
Potts moved to suppress the evidence seized from his vehicle
on the grounds that Detective Rosaio's inquiry regarding
the presence of weapons in the vehicle improperly exceeded
the scope of the traffic stop.
a suppression hearing held on February 2, 2018, the Superior
Court heard testimony from Detective Rosaio and Potts. At the
conclusion of the hearing, the Superior Court issued an oral
ruling denying Potts' motion. Although Potts had
presented some evidence that the vehicle's tail lamp had
been functioning three weeks earlier when it was inspected at
the Division of Motor Vehicles, the trial judge found
Detective Rosaio's testimony that the vehicle's
registration plate was not illuminated to be credible. The
trial judge noted that Detective Rosaio had later inspected
the Chrysler and found that the tail lamp was damaged, and
documented this damage in a supplemental police report.
Accordingly, the trial judge found that the officer had
articulated probable cause for stopping the vehicle because
the vehicle's registration plate was not
illuminated. The trial judge next found that, whether
Detective Rosaio's question about Potts' possession
of a weapon constituted routine questioning or not, the
question was justified by the totality of the circumstances.
case proceeded to a jury trial. Prior to trial, the State
dismissed the charge of illegal possession of a controlled
substance and, during the trial, the Superior Court granted
Potts' motion to dismiss the resisting arrest charge. The
jury found Potts guilty of the remaining charges and he was
sentenced to an aggregate of twelve years of Level V
incarceration, followed by decreasing levels of supervision.
This appeal followed.
appeal, Potts claims the Superior Court erroneously denied
his suppression motion for a number of reasons. First, Potts
claims that the Superior Court abused its discretion in
denying the motion to suppress because: (i) the traffic stop
was pretextual; (ii) the evidence seized from the search
incident to his arrest for resisting arrest should have been
suppressed because the Superior Court ultimately dismissed
the resisting arrest charge; and (iii) Detective Rosaio's
questioning exceeded the scope of routine questioning and was
not justified by the circumstances. Second, Potts argues the
Superior Court abused its discretion by ignoring the
ambiguous language of 21 Del. C. § 4334 and
because the uncontradicted evidence presented below
established that Potts' vehicle's tail lamp was
functional on September 16, 2017. Third, Potts contends that
the Superior Court erred in ignoring the definition of
"routine questioning" in 11 Del. C. §
This Court generally reviews a trial court's denial of a
motion to suppress evidence for abuse of
discretion. To the extent that the claim of error is
for an alleged violation of a constitutional right, we
conduct a de novo review. We will not, however,
disturb a trial court's factual findings absent clear
Potts' arguments are unavailing. We will not review
Potts' claim that the language of 21 Del. C.
§ 4334 is ambiguous or his claim that the Superior Court
ignored 11 Del. C. § 1902 when considering ...