Diana A. Dunn, Esquire, Department of Justice, Wilmington, Delaware – Attorney for the State.
Joseph A. Hurley, Esquire, Wilmington, Delaware – Attorney for the Defendant.
JOHN A. PARKINS, JR., JUDGE
This case calls upon the court to decide whether the Fourth Amendment requires the State to show that the police strictly complied with their written procedures when operating a sobriety checkpoint. The defendant contends that his stop at a checkpoint deprived him of his Fourth Amendment rights and that the discovery and seizure of evidence of intoxication after that stop constitutes fruit of the poisonous tree. For the reasons which follow, the court finds that the stop of Defendant did not violate his Fourth Amendment protections and consequently there is no taint to the later discovered evidence. His motion to suppress is therefore denied.
On April 27, 2012 at 10:00 p.m. the Check Point Strike Force set up a sobriety checkpoint on southbound South Market Street in Wilmington. The checkpoint was scheduled to operate until 2:00 a.m. the next morning. The site was selected because of the comparatively high rate of drunk driving arrests in that area—in 2010 there were 26 DUI arrests and one alcohol-related motor vehicle fatality in the vicinity of the checkpoint where Defendant was stopped.
In the instant case there could be little doubt to an approaching motorist that a sobriety checkpoint was ahead. There were large illuminated signs warning motorists that they were approaching a sobriety checkpoint. Marked police cars with their emergency lights flashing abounded, and spotlights illuminated the checkpoint's command post. Specially trained uniformed police officers, wearing reflective vests, manned the checkpoint. Orange traffic cones topped by flashing lights served to narrow the traffic to one lane as the motorist approached the checkpoint itself.
The intrusion at the checkpoint was minimal. All cars were stopped and each driver was asked to roll down the window. A uniformed officer did not question the driver but simply explained to the driver that the police were operating a sobriety checkpoint. If the officer saw no signs of impairment, the driver was permitted to go on his or her way, in which case the entire encounter with the police officer lasted no more than a few seconds. In instances where the officer observed signs of impairment, the driver was asked to pull off to a well lit area for further investigation.
When Defendant Cook stopped at the checkpoint, the officer detected signs he was impaired. In accordance with standard procedure, Cook was asked to pull over to the side, where police conducted an additional investigation which revealed that Cook was intoxicated. Defendant does not contend that the direction to pull off to the side of the road and the investigation done there were constitutionally defective. He argues instead that his initial stop as he passed through the checkpoint violated his Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable seizures. Relying primarily, if not exclusively, on two Court of Common Pleas opinions, Defendant asserts that the Fourth Amendment requires the State to show that the police strictly complied with the written police procedures governing sobriety checkpoints.
A. The stop of defendant did not violate the Fourth Amendment.
The primary question here is whether the Fourth Amendment requires strict compliance with the protocol developed by Delaware police for the operation of sobriety checkpoints. It does not.
1. Defendant was "seized" within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment
Most Fourth Amendment analyses begin with a determination whether there has been a search or seizure contemplated by that amendment. This issue can be quickly disposed of here. The law is well settled that defendant Cook was "seized" when he was ordered by the police to stop and roll down his window. "Temporary detention of individuals during the stop of an automobile by the police, even if only for a brief period and for a limited ...