DOVER — A Felton-area drug case has ended after seized evidence was not supported by reason to search a residence in September 2016.
Charges against Robert Harding were dismissed during a final case review that followed a Superior Court ruling Monday.
Mr. Harding, 22 at the time of his arrest, resided at a Reeves Crossing Road mobile home where police found marijuana and weapons during investigation into alleged methamphetamine manufacturing at another nearby residence. But Judge Jeffrey Clark found that the two addresses could not be considered linked to suspected criminal activity.
Thus, no probable cause to search Mr. Harding’s home existed, the court said.
The state maintained that heavy foot traffic between Mr. Harding’s home and the suspected residence tied them together and justified a search warrant for both.
“Prior to the execution of a search warrant at the premise, Mr. Harding was not a target of a drug investigation and did not suspect him of any criminal activity,” Judge Clark explained in a 14-page order.
According to Delaware State Police in an affidavit, another suspect allegedly seen purchasing Sudafed several times was found to have a “history” at Mr. Harding’s residence during an address check.
“An address history … and foot traffic are innocent activities,” Judge Clark maintained. “While many jurisdictions are willing to find probable cause on a showing of innocent activity, the Delaware courts have viewed wholly innocent activity skeptically when examining justification for searches.”
Judge Clark said, “There is nothing explaining or providing any context regarding this history.”
Attorney Alex Funk represented Mr. Harding in the motion.
Authorities conducting surveillance on the primary suspected residence also watched activity at two other homes, including Mr. Harding’s, according to the order.
The three units shared a trash bin, and investigating police allegedly pulled out one bag containing items commonly used for manufacturing methamphetamine. Included in the bag was a sales receipt and suspect signature from the suspected manufacturing site, the court said.
“These materials, in conjunction with the officer affiants’ cited expertise, provide clear probable cause of methamphetamine manufacturing,” the order stated.
“However, these items were found within one bag that also contained a pharmacy receipt with (the suspect’s) name, signature and (his address) on it. This receipt is sufficient to link the trash’s contents to the (suspect’s address.)
“However, despite the state’s argument, this is not evidence of criminal activity that could be reasonably be linked to (Harding’s) address.”
Court documents cited police allegations that 502.76 grams of marijuana and several weapons were found when Mr. Harding was arrested.
Authorities initially alleged that a .357 caliber handgun, 7.62 AK47 rifle, 9mm handgun, .40 caliber handgun, .38 caliber handgun, a 12 gauge shotgun, and ammunition for the weapons were located, along with over $4,000 in suspected drug proceeds.
Mr. Harding was originally charged with six counts of possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony, possession with intent to deliver a controlled substance (marijuana) and five counts of possession of a deadly weapon by a person who also possesses a controlled substance. He was subsequently held at James T. Vaughn Correctional Center near Smyrna on a $50,000 secured bond.
Reach staff writer Craig Anderson at firstname.lastname@example.org