Jones v. State

Decision Date16 December 1999
Docket NumberNo. 115, 1998.,115, 1998.
Citation745 A.2d 856
PartiesJoseph JONES, Defendant Below, Appellant, v. STATE of Delaware, Plaintiff Below, Appellee.
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Delaware

745 A.2d 856

Joseph JONES, Defendant Below, Appellant,
v.
STATE of Delaware, Plaintiff Below, Appellee

No. 115, 1998.

Supreme Court of Delaware.

Submitted: June 22, 1999.

Decided: December 16, 1999.


John S. Malik, Wilmington, Delaware, for Appellant.

Timothy J. Donovan, Jr., Deputy Attorney General, Department of Justice, Wilmington, Delaware, for Appellee.

Before VEASEY, C.J., WALSH, HOLLAND and HARTNETT, JJ., JACOBS, Vice Chancellor,1 constituting the Court en Banc.

745 A.2d 858
VEASEY, Chief Justice

In this criminal appeal, we reverse the judgment and sentence of the Superior Court because evidence was invalidly seized from the defendant. The seizure resulted from an encounter with a police officer in which the officer, based only on an anonymous 911 call that there was a "suspicious black male wearing a blue coat" in a particular vicinity, ordered the defendant to stop and remove his hands from his pockets. As a result of this stop, cocaine was seized. To stop and detain an individual pursuant to the Delaware detention statute and the Delaware Constitution, a peace officer must have a reasonable and articulable suspicion of criminal activity. The information possessed by the officer in this case did not rise to that level. As a consequence, the search was invalid and the evidence inadmissible.

Facts

Shortly before 10:00 p.m. on February 11, 1997, the New Castle County Police Department received a 911 call reporting that a "suspicious black male wearing a blue coat" had been standing for some time in front of 98 Karlyn Drive in the Garfield Park area of New Castle County. The caller provided no other information, and the 911 operator failed to record the name of the caller. At approximately 9:53 p.m., Patrolman Clay Echevarria of the New Castle County Police Department was in uniform on routine car patrol of the Garfield Park area with his partner when he received a radio dispatch relaying the 911 complaint and no other information. Within three minutes of receiving the dispatch, Patrolman Echevarria and his partner arrived in the vicinity of the address referred to in the 911 call. The officers did not notice anyone in front of, or near, 98 Karlyn Drive. After circling the block, the officers drove past the area again. This time they noticed two black males standing on the sidewalk in front of 85 Karlyn Drive, approximately four houses from 98 Karlyn Drive. One of them (the defendant Joseph Jones) was wearing a blue coat and had his hands in his coat pockets.

Patrolman Echevarria testified that he did not see either individual engaging in suspicious activity. He also testified that he was very familiar with Garfield Park and its reputation as a high crime, high

745 A.2d 859
drug area. Although he knew many of the "regular" drug-dealers in the area, he testified that he did not recognize Jones as a person known to be involved in illegal activity

Patrolman Echevarria parked his patrol car, exited the vehicle and approached Jones. He did not first ask Jones to state his name, address, business abroad or destination as required by the detention statute, 11 Del. C. § 1902.2 As we interpret the record developed at the suppression hearing in the Superior Court, the officer ordered Jones to stop and remove his hands from his coat pockets.3 Jones did not comply with the order. He turned and began walking away from the officers.4 After ordering Jones three times, without effect, to remove his hands from his coat pockets,5 Patrolman Echevarria grabbed Jones' hands in an attempt to remove them from the coat pockets, at which time Jones threw an object over the officer's head. A struggle then ensued. After subduing and handcuffing Jones, the officers recovered the thrown object, a small bag containing a substance later determined to be cocaine. A further search of Jones' person and the vicinity of 85 Karlyn Drive resulted in the seizure of more cocaine and paraphernalia (a scale) commonly used in illicit drug transactions.6

Proceedings in Superior Court

Jones was indicted on one count of Trafficking in Cocaine in violation of 16 Del. C. § 4753A(a)(2)(a), one count of Possession with Intent to Deliver Cocaine in violation of 16 Del. C. § 4751, one count of Possession of Drug Paraphernalia in violation of 16 Del.C. § 4771, and one count of Resisting Arrest in violation of 11 Del. C. § 1257.

In the Superior Court, Jones moved to suppress all evidence seized during the February 11, 1997, encounter. The hearing on the motion included live testimony from Jones and Patrolman Echevarria. The State contended that, even if the officers lacked reasonable suspicion, the police conduct was proper on the following theory:

745 A.2d 860
By ordering Jones to remove his hands from his coat, Patrolman Echevarria was attempting to ensure the safety of himself and his partner. In fact, the State emphasized that it was not arguing that Patrolman Echevarria possessed reasonable and articulable suspicion before stopping Jones.7

The Superior Court denied Jones' motion to suppress. In doing so, the Court specifically rejected both parties' interpretations of the facts, finding instead that Patrolman Echevarria possessed sufficient reasonable suspicion of Jones' criminal activity to stop and detain Jones.8

Based on the Superior Court's denial of his motion to suppress, Jones entered into a stipulated trial agreement with the State whereby he waived his trial rights and admitted guilt while nevertheless preserving his right to appeal all aspects of the Superior Court's decision. Jones filed a timely appeal in this Court, and we now consider his arguments, both factual and legal, on the validity of the search and the admission into evidence of the fruits of that search.

The Analytical Framework

A trial court's determination whether a peace officer possessed reasonable and articulable suspicion to detain an individual is an issue of law and fact.9 Here, there are no disputed issues of fact. Therefore, this Court reviews de novo the Superior Court's alleged errors in formulating and applying the law.10

An individual's right to be free of unlawful searches and seizures in Delaware is secured by two independent, though correlative sources. The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees to individuals the right to be "secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures."11 In similar language,12 Article I, § 6 of the Delaware Constitution guarantees that the people of the State of Delaware "shall be secure in their persons, houses, papers and possessions, from unreasonable searches and seizures."13 This

745 A.2d 861
Court has never decided whether, and in what situations, Article I, § 6 of the Delaware Constitution should be interpreted to provide protections that are greater than the rights accorded citizens by the Fourteenth Amendment as it has been interpreted by the United States Supreme Court.14 The defendant here contends that federal and state constitutional guarantees as well as the officer's failure to comply with 11 Del. C. § 1902 constitute separate and independent grounds supporting reversal of his conviction

In Terry v. Ohio,15 the United States Supreme Court held that a police officer may detain an individual for investigatory purposes for a limited scope and duration, but only if such detention is supported by a reasonable and articulable suspicion of criminal activity.16 We have defined reasonable and articulable suspicion as an "officer's ability to `point to specific and articulable facts which, taken together with rational inferences from those facts, reasonably warrant th[e] intrusion.'"17 A determination of reasonable suspicion must be evaluated in the context of the totality of the circumstances as viewed through the eyes of a reasonable, trained police officer in the same or similar circumstances, combining objective facts with such an officer's subjective interpretation of those facts.18 Delaware has codified this standard for investigatory stops and detentions in 11 Del. C. § 1902. For the purpose of this analysis, "reasonable ground" as used in Section 1902(a) has the same meaning as reasonable and articulable suspicion.

When the Stop Occurred

The question of when a seizure has occurred is perhaps the most critical issue. The State contends that Jones' failure to stop and remove his hands from his coat is an independent factor supporting the seizure, based on the fact that Jones started walking away and ignored the Officer's orders before he was seized. We assume arguendo, but need not decide, that if a person attempts to flee before being seized, the court may consider the attempt to flee, and any information derived therefrom, as one factor in deciding whether a police officer had an articulable basis for effecting the seizure.19 But, in our view, if

745 A.2d 862
the seizure preceded the attempt to flee, that attempt or any information derived therefrom, is not a proper factor in assessing the validity of a seizure.

In Terry, the United States Supreme Court held that a seizure occurs "when the officer, by means of physical force or show of authority, has in some way restrained the liberty" of the individual.20 In INS v. Delgado,21 the Court refined this standard to mean that a seizure has occurred only "`if, in view of all the circumstances surrounding the incident, a reasonable person would have believed that he was not free to leave.'"22 The Court further refined this standard in Michigan v. Chesternut23 by focusing not on whether a reasonable person would feel free to leave but on whether the officer's conduct would "have communicated to a reasonable person that he was not at liberty to ignore the police presence and go about his business."24

In 1991, however, the United States Supreme Court carved out a controversial exception to the Chesternut standard in its interpretation of the rights guaranteed by the Fourth...

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