Delaware Today magazine: Tales From the Court, strange, bizarre cases from Delaware courtrooms
Delaware has hosted some of the most scandalous and salacious legal cases in the country. From Tom Capano to a pedophilic pediatrician, the state has had more than its share of headline-stealing court battles. While those tales garner most of the ink, the First State has featured a variety of other interesting litigations. Funny, embarrassing, intriguing or just plain odd, the following are some of the most interesting cases to grace the dockets in the past few years.
(page 1 of 4)
It seems like only yesterday that getting pulled over with a duffel bag full of marijuana meant immediate jail time, but not any more. Times have changed.
On Feb. 24, 2010, Michael D. Holden of Newark was pulled over after he crossed the Delaware Memorial Bridge into Delaware with a bag of pot. The real issue with this case isn’t what he had, but how police knew he had it.
A few weeks before the arrest, the Drug Enforcement Administration received a tip that named Holden as a person of interest for drug trafficking, so it planted a tracking device on his Lexus. Three weeks of monitoring yielded nothing and the lead looked dead—that is, until the informant tipped off the agency about a potential deal going down in New Jersey. With the new information, the officers were able to use GPS surveillance to follow Holden to the drop house, where police say the contraband was put in the Lexus. Upon his return to Delaware, Holden received a warm welcome from the Delaware River and Bay Authority Police, who pulled him over, searched his car and found 10 pounds of marijuana.
Sounds like a textbook arrest, except for the fact that the police never obtained a warrant to place the tracking device. More surprising?
Current laws don’t require one. The police can’t enter your home without a warrant, but they can follow you around for weeks without paperwork if they deem it necessary.
“The law has not kept up with technology,” says Kathleen MacRae, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Delaware. “There are new pieces of technology that the police are using that they don’t need a warrant to use. They say it’s not illegal search and seizure.”
Police argue that using these sorts of devices is similar to using long-range surveillance techniques that don’t require warrants, like binoculars or telescopes. But the ACLU counters, stating the individual privacy rights found in the Constitution trump the pounds of weed found in a car.
On Dec. 28, 2010, Delaware Superior Court Judge Jan Jurden sided with the ACLU in favor of privacy rights, though this case could reach the U.S. Supreme Court. It’s one of many similar cases throughout the country.
In 2008 a judge in Chester County, Pa., threw out evidence in a case against a serial burglar that was obtained through the warrantless placement of a GPS device. In another case in 2010, a federal appeals court discarded similar evidence in a drug case against a Washington, D.C., nightclub owner.
The ACLU isn’t trying to release criminals into society. It is trying to improve the personal rights and freedoms of all citizens, says MacRae.
“The Constitution exists to control government power,” she says, “so this really is about restricting the power of government to interfere.”
case 2: Silent Movie