Ruling: Drug evidence in Cheswold speeding stop inadmissible

DOVER — Potential drug evidence located during a May speeding stop in Cheswold can’t be used against a defendant due to an unjustified search by police, a judge ruled Thursday.

Driver Nathan H. Ward, did nothing to warrant anything more than a traffic stop response by police, according to Kent County Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Clark in an eight-page opinion.

Thus, a container of crack cocaine found in the vehicle during a search was suppressed as evidence in the case, the Court determined.

A police officer — identified as Corporal Simms in court documents — who made the initial stop on May 6 testified that Mr. Ward appeared nervous, gave a conflicting explanation for his direction of travel and had three cell phones on the passenger’s seat, according to papers.

Mr. Ward was stopped for allegedly traveling 41 mph in a 25 mph zone.

According to the Court, the officer found through the Delaware Justice Information System that no arrest warrants were out for Mr. Ward, and the vehicle was properly registered.

Police told Mr. Ward to stand beside his car for approximately 20 minutes as Delaware State Police were called for backup, according to the opinion. The officer said Mr. Ward was found with $40 cash in his pocket during a pat down, documents said.

Police and the driver disputed the circumstances regarding Mr. Ward signing a consent form for a vehicle search.

“Ward stated he wanted to avoid the trouble, so he signed a consent form,” according to the opinion.

“Simms, however, testified that he did not have sufficient information to obtain a search warrant, and denied telling Ward that he would override his decision by obtaining a warrant if Ward refused consent.”

Eventually, Mr. Ward  was charged with illegal possession of a controlled substance, speeding and drug dealing, papers said.

The judge maintained that nervous behavior doesn’t indicate criminal activity “and in fact is a typical reaction for many vehicle operators after being stopped by a police officer.”

Mr. Ward said he was driving to give his mother — who he said was a Dover resident — flowers, which police questioned due to his direction heading out of town. Mr. Ward produced two bouquets of flowers from the back seat area and later explained that his mother was at his sister’s home in Clayton for a Mother’s Day dinner.

Judge Clark wrote that “the misunderstanding regarding the direction of travel is understandable.”

While the three cell phones location was not “common,” Judge Clark opined that they were “not determinative of any wrong doing where no other objective facts support reasonable suspicion of further criminal activity.”

Judge Clark concluded, “All of the facts analyzed together do not raise a reasonable suspicion that Ward was armed and dangerous or was engaged in drug activity at the time.”

Reach staff writer Craig Anderson at canderson@newszap.com

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