Judge grants motion to suppress evidence

DOVER — Potential evidence seized during a Felton area investigation last spring was ruled inadmissible by a Kent County judge who evaluated a Delaware State Police trooper’s suspicions about a vehicle parked in an overflow deli lot last week.

Matthew A. Layton’s motion to suppress was granted based on an improper detention at the Sandtown Deli on March 27, Superior Court Resident Judge William L. Witham Jr. determined in a 10-page order last Thursday.

The Court found a lack of “reasonable and articulable suspicion” when a trooper spotted three men getting into a vehicle in the area of a previous drug dealing arrest he made, and the defendant’s movements as “ambiguous.”

According to the judge’s order, “The officer testified that when the Defendant saw the officer, that he and his companions immediately got into the parked vehicle and began to shuffle things around.

“Yet, that seems consistent with the actions of passengers who just purchased food from the deli and are likely preparing to leave the establishment once the Defendant finished his conversation with the driver of the parked vehicle …”

After citing the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution (freedom from unreasonable search and seizure) and Delaware Supreme Court case law, Judge Witham pointed to the trooper’s testimony that police were not “employing special efforts and vigilance because of unusual criminal activity” in the vicinity of the detention.

The Court reasoned that the vehicle’s position in a deli overflow lot could have been due to all the regular spots being filled, and did not warrant suspicion from police.

According to the order, the trooper “positioned his patrol vehicle in front of the patrol vehicle, blocking the occupants from leaving” before exiting his own vehicle and approaching them.

Attorney Anthony J. Capone represented Mr. Layton in a motion entered on July 18, and Deputy Attorney General Gregory R. Babowal opposed it for the state.

Reach staff writer Craig Anderson at canderson@newszap.com

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