Smyrna Police search upheld in court ruling

DOVER — After witnessing a supposed seat belt violation last summer, Smyrna Police were justified in extending the ensuing traffic stop and executing a search that located drug evidence, according to a court ruling last week.

Thus, alleged crack cocaine seized from Darrell H. Faulkner’s vehicle on June 30 can be presented as evidence against him, Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Clark determined in a seven-page order released Nov. 30. The court said it hosted a suppression hearing and reviewed two body camera videos before reaching a conclusion.

According to police, an officer detected the smell of marijuana upon stopping Mr. Faulkner shortly after he was allegedly seen acting suspiciously in a high crime area described as an open air drug market.

Mr. Faulkner drove his vehicle with a passenger from the area before the traffic stop by a Smyrna Police sergeant and a K-9 officer who had been notified of the alleged activity, authorities claimed.

Another officer described the driver to his colleagues as supposedly going to and from his trunk with multiple persons.

In attempting to also suppress statements he made to police, Mr. Faulkner argued that probable cause did not exist beyond the traffic stop and this a K-9 sniff and search was unwarranted. He claimed the sergeant “did not smell marijuana in the car because he did not relay information about the alleged smell to the canine officer at any time before the canine sweep,” according to the order.

Judge Clark evaluated the sergeant’s witness testimony during the suppression hearing and found his report of detecting the odor of marijuana as credible. He pointed to the K-9 officer’s verbal recognition of the odor captured on body camera video and Mr. Faulkner’s admission of smoking marijuana shortly before his arrest as corroborating police suspicion.

Mr. Faulkner was not handcuffed and arrested until after the K-9’s sweep “which lasted only several minutes after he and the passenger stepped out of the vehicle,” the Court wrote.

“Mr. Faulkner’s liberty was not directly restrained before that point;” Judge Clark maintained. “he smoked during the time; and his demeanor supports this finding since he sat on the curb and talked freely regarding unrelated matters with the canine officer.

He expressed a “surprised reaction” when subsequently told he was being detained, the Court found, which indicated there was no thought of being under arrest previous to that.

Charges against Mr. Faulkner included drug dealing, possession of drug paraphernalia and failure to wear a seatbelt.

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