State v. Prouse

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Delaware
Writing for the CourtBefore HERRMANN; McNEILLY; It would be intolerable and unreasonable if a prohibition agent were authorized to stop every automobile on the chance of finding liquor, and thus subject all persons lawfully using the highways to the inconvenience and ind
Citation382 A.2d 1359
PartiesSTATE of Delaware, Plaintiff below, Appellant, v. William J. PROUSE, III, Defendant below, Appellee.
Decision Date30 January 1978

Page 1359

382 A.2d 1359
STATE of Delaware, Plaintiff below, Appellant,
v.
William J. PROUSE, III, Defendant below, Appellee.
Supreme Court of Delaware.
Submitted Dec. 13, 1977.
Decided Jan. 30, 1978.

Page 1361

Upon appeal from Superior Court. Affirmed.

Gregg E. Wilson, Deputy Atty. Gen., Wilmington, for plaintiff below, appellant.

David M. Lukoff, Asst. Public Defender, Wilmington, for defendant below, appellee.

Before HERRMANN, C. J., and DUFFY and McNEILLY, JJ.

McNEILLY, Justice.

The State of Delaware appeals, pursuant to 10 Del.C. § 9902(b) and (c), 1 a Superior Court order which granted defendant's motion to suppress evidence. The challenged evidence was obtained by police during a random stop of defendant's automobile, and the issue raised is whether the police may arbitrarily stop and detain persons operating motor vehicles when the officers involved have no reasonable suspicion that the occupants of the stopped vehicle have or will violate the law. Because we are of the opinion that non-systematic stops by police, who have no reasonable suspicion that a legal violation has occurred, violate Federal and State constitutional guarantees, we affirm the Superior Court order and dismiss this appeal.

I

While on routine patrol Officer Anthony Avena of the New Castle County Police stopped an automobile operated by defendant-Prouse to conduct a driver's license and vehicle registration check. Prior to the stop the officer observed no traffic or equipment violations, and had no indication that any criminal activity had been or would be perpetrated by defendant or the other occupants of his car. Officer Avena candidly testified that defendant's car was randomly chosen from other vehicles on the road to be the subject of a license and registration check, and that he regularly made similar routine stops of motor vehicles when not answering complaints. As the officer approached defendant's automobile he smelled the aroma of marijuana emanating from the car. While observing the occupants of the car step out into the street, Officer Avena noticed a cellophane bag containing leafy vegetable matter protruding from under the front seat. Suspecting that it contained marijuana, Officer Avena seized the bag and, thereafter, placed defendant under arrest. Subsequently, defendant was indicted for possession of a non-narcotic Schedule I substance in violation of 16 Del.C. § 4754. 2

Page 1362

Defendant moved in Superior Court for an order suppressing the evidence against him on the ground that it had been obtained during an illegal detention. After an evidentiary hearing the Superior Court granted defendant's motion. The State concedes that defendant was detained in circumstances where the investigating officer had no reasonable suspicion that any criminal activity or motor vehicle violation had or would take place. However, the State asserts that the practice of randomly stopping motor vehicles for license and registration examinations is both constitutionally permissible, and necessary to properly enforce motor vehicle regulations.

The issue of the legal validity of systematic, roadblocktype stops of a number of vehicles for license and vehicle registration check is not now before the Court. Systematic stopping procedures entail limited exercise of discretion concerning which vehicles to stop, and, therefore, pose legal issues different in nature from those presented by the random stop practice challenged here. We now focus on the competing State and individual interests which must be examined in order to determine the validity of random stopping procedures.

II

The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution provides;

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

The constitutional proscription against unreasonable searches and seizures is made applicable to the States by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Mapp v. Ohio, 367 U.S. 643, 81 S.Ct. 1684, 6 L.Ed.2d 1081 (1961); United States ex rel. Dyton v. Ellingsworth, 306 F.Supp. 231 (D.Del.1969). The Delaware Constitution Article I, § 6 is substantially similar to the Fourth Amendment and a violation of the latter is necessarily a violation of the former. State v. Moore, Del.Super., 187 A.2d 807 (1963). Evidence seized in disregard of these constitutional provisions is inadmissible at the trial of the person whose rights have been violated. Mapp v. Ohio, supra; Schaffer v. State, Del.Supr., 184 A.2d 689 (1962). The precise legal issue raised in this appeal is whether the stop of defendant's automobile was an unconstitutional seizure within the meaning of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments. While a temporary stop or detention of a motor vehicle and its occupants is not normally described as a seizure, the Fourth Amendment has been construed to protect against unreasonable governmental intrusions into the privacy of the individual, regardless of whether they are labeled stops, detentions, frisks or seizures. Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 88 S.Ct. 1868, 20 L.Ed.2d 889 (1968); Sibron v. New York, 392 U.S. 40, 88 S.Ct. 1889, 20 L.Ed.2d 917 (1968). Therefore, since the police action here entailed an interference with defendant's right to free access to public highways, it is an official intrusion which must...

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43 practice notes
  • People v. McGaughran, Cr. 20293
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (California)
    • October 19, 1978
    ...giving rise to a reasonable suspicion that a violation of such laws has actually occurred in each case. (State v. Prouse (1978) Del., 382 A.2d 1359; People v. Ingle (1975) 36 N.Y.2d 413, 369 N.Y.S.2d 67, 74, 330 N.E.2d 39; Commonwealth v. Swanger (1973) 453 Pa. 107, 307 A.2d 875, 19 People ......
  • South Dakota v. Neville, No. 81-1453
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • February 22, 1983
    ...The opinion there began with a statement that the police stops "violate Federal and State constitutional guarantees," State v. Prouse, 382 A.2d 1359, 1361 (Del.1978), but then went on to say that the state and federal constitutions are "substantially similar" and that "a violation of the la......
  • Delaware v. Prouse, Iii, No. 77-1571
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • March 27, 1979
    ...unconstrained exercise of discretion. Questioning of all oncoming traffic at roadblock-type stops is one possible alternative. P. 663. 382 A.2d 1359, affirmed. Charles M. Oberly, III, Wilmington, Del., for petitioner. David M. Lukoff, Wilmington, Del., for respondent. Page 650 Mr. Justice W......
  • State v. Gervasio
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (New Jersey)
    • July 19, 1983
    ...approval of the practice by invalidating a random stop without even mentioning Brignoni-Ponce or Martinez-Fuerte. State v. Prouse, 382 A.2d 1359 (Del.Sup.1978). Given this steady movement in the law toward invalidating random stops, I cannot view Prouse as an avulsive change in the course o......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
43 cases
  • People v. McGaughran, Cr. 20293
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (California)
    • October 19, 1978
    ...giving rise to a reasonable suspicion that a violation of such laws has actually occurred in each case. (State v. Prouse (1978) Del., 382 A.2d 1359; People v. Ingle (1975) 36 N.Y.2d 413, 369 N.Y.S.2d 67, 74, 330 N.E.2d 39; Commonwealth v. Swanger (1973) 453 Pa. 107, 307 A.2d 875, 19 People ......
  • South Dakota v. Neville, No. 81-1453
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • February 22, 1983
    ...The opinion there began with a statement that the police stops "violate Federal and State constitutional guarantees," State v. Prouse, 382 A.2d 1359, 1361 (Del.1978), but then went on to say that the state and federal constitutions are "substantially similar" and that "a violation of the la......
  • Delaware v. Prouse, Iii, No. 77-1571
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • March 27, 1979
    ...unconstrained exercise of discretion. Questioning of all oncoming traffic at roadblock-type stops is one possible alternative. P. 663. 382 A.2d 1359, affirmed. Charles M. Oberly, III, Wilmington, Del., for petitioner. David M. Lukoff, Wilmington, Del., for respondent. Page 650 Mr. Justice W......
  • State v. Gervasio
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (New Jersey)
    • July 19, 1983
    ...approval of the practice by invalidating a random stop without even mentioning Brignoni-Ponce or Martinez-Fuerte. State v. Prouse, 382 A.2d 1359 (Del.Sup.1978). Given this steady movement in the law toward invalidating random stops, I cannot view Prouse as an avulsive change in the course o......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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