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State v. Connell

Court of Common Pleas of Delaware, New Castle

December 6, 2013

STATE OF DELAWARE,
v.
WILLIAM CONNELL, Defendant.

Submitted: November 5, 2013

David Holloway, Esquire Deputy Attorney General Attorney for the State of Delaware

Thomas A. Foley, Esquire Attorney for Defendant

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER ON DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO SUPPRESS

Carl C. Danberg, Judg.

Defendant William Connell ("Connell") was arrested on December 21, 2012 during a stop at a sobriety checkpoint (the "Checkpoint"), and charged with Driving Under the Influence ("DU1") in violation of 21 Del C. § 4177, and Failure to Have Insurance Identification in Possession in violation of 21 Del, C, § 2118. On May 3, 2013, Connell noticed the present Motion to Suppress, challenging, inter alia, the legality of the Checkpoint.

A hearing on the Motion was held on July 8, 2013. At the hearing, the defense stipulated that it was challenging only the issue of the Checkpoint. At the conclusion of the hearing, the Court reserved decision and ordered supplemental briefing from both parties. This is the Final Decision of the Court on Defendant's Motion to Suppress.

FACTS

At the July 8, 2013 hearing on the Motion, the Court heard testimony from one witness, Corporal Jones ("Corp. Jones"), and documentary evidence was submitted by both parties. The State entered into evidence the Sobriety Checkpoint Information Memo of Lisa M. Shaw dated December 12, 2012 (the "Shaw Memo"). Connell stipulated to the admission of this document for purposes of the hearing. Connell entered into evidence a letter from Thomas A. Foley, Esquire, attorney for the defendant, addressed to Joyce Lienig (the "Discovery Request Letter").

In the Discovery Request Letter, Mr. Foley specifically requests:

Because this is a Roadblock case, please accept this letter requesting all statistical information, relied upon by the Office of Highway Safety in establishing the DUI Checkpoint, on Salem Church road, on or about December 21st, 2012.
This letter also requests a copy of the actual traffic statistics/data supplied by the respective police agency, that were forwarded to the Office of Highway Safety, along with any cover letters or e-mails accompanying the request for data by OHS, and the response by the police agency.[1]

Corp. Jones was the sole witness to testify for the State. Corp. Jones testified that he has been employed as a police officer with the Newark Police Department for over 10 years. He is currently assigned to patrol, and his duties include, investigating accidents, crimes, traffic issues, and DUI arrests, among other things.

On December 21, 2012, Corp. Jones was working an overtime assignment for Checkpoint Strikeforce, with the DUI Task Force of New Castle County. The Checkpoint was located at Salem Church Road and Adel Drive in New Castle County, Delaware. The Checkpoint was directed by Chief Capriglione of the Newport Police Department.

Shortly after 11:00 p.m., Chief Capriglione directed Corp. Jones to investigate the vehicle driven by Connell. Corp. Jones asked Connell if he had been drinking any alcohol, to which Connell responded affirmatively. Corp. Jones observed that Connell's eyes were bloodshot and glassy, and his speech was slurred. Corp. Jones also noticed a very strong odor of alcohol emanating from Connell. Based on these factors, Corp. Jones directed Connell to pull out of the line for further investigation.

Corp. Jones testified that the location for Checkpoints, including the one at issue, is predetermined at a command level. Corp. Jones testified that the location has to be certified by the Office of Highway Safety ("OHS"), based on a number of factors. On cross examination, Corp. Jones testified that he was not involved in the determination of the location for the Checkpoint, nor was he involved with the statistics used to draw the Checkpoint. Rather, the location determination and associated statistical analysis were done through OHS.

a. Parties Contentions

It is Connell's position that the data set forth in the Shaw Memo is not adequate or sufficient to provide Connell the information necessary to mount a defense. Connell maintains that the information provided by the State afforded no meaningful ability to challenge the establishment of the Checkpoint.

It is the State's position that the underlying data used in establishing the Checkpoint is a procedural requirement, and has no bearing on how the Checkpoint is operated. As such, the State contends, the underlying data is not a constitutional requirement, but rather a state-imposed guideline used to help deploy limited resources.[2]

DISCUSSION

On a motion to suppress, the burden is on the State to prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, that a warrantless search or seizure did not violate the constitutional rights of the defendant.[3]

It is well-settled that the temporary detention of an individual at a DUI checkpoint constitutes a seizure under the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution. The Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution and Article I, Section 6 of the Delaware Constitution afford individuals protection from "unreasonable" seizures.[4] The reasonableness of a seizure is dependent upon "on a balance between the public interest and the individual's right to personal security free from arbitrary interference by law officers."[5] The United States Supreme Court set forth a test, assessing the reasonableness of a sobriety checkpoint by balancing "the state's interest in preventing injury and damage caused by drunk driving and the effectiveness of sobriety checkpoints as a means of prevention versus the level of intrusion on individual privacy as a result of a checkpoint."[6]

In Delaware, the Courts have approved the use of sobriety checkpoints so long as certain procedures are followed. Checkpoints will be deemed constitutionally sound, reasonable seizures so long as "procedures are in existence to ensure that cars passing through checkpoints are stopped in a reasonably safe manner and that sufficient safeguards are in place limiting the discretion of law enforcement officers with respect to the location of each checkpoint and the stopping of vehicles."[7]

The location of such checkpoints is determined under policy guidelines provided by the Delaware State Police, which serve as substitutes for the reasonableness requirements of the Fourth Amendment and Article 1, Section 6 of the Delaware Constitution.[8] Certain objective criteria must be considered when choosing the location and while conducting the roadblock, including: the "selection of the location, visibility of the checkpoint, suggested language of the officers, appropriate actions for determining sobriety, and requirements for a supervisor (or designees) to monitor the checkpoint, record and compile the results of the checkpoint."[9]Overall, there must exist "a reasonable nexus betweent the location of the checkpoint and the State's interest in preventing drunk driving."[10]

The issue of whether the State must demonstrate compliance with procedural requirements of DUI checkpoints was recently addressed by the Superior Court. In State v. Terry, the defendant filed a motion to suppress, challenging the validity of the DUI checkpoint.[11] The defendant argued that the State failed to prove that the DUI checkpoint was created and operated in accordance with the policy guidelines of the Delaware State Police.[12] Similar to the present case, the Terry defendant sent a letter requesting statistical information supporting the establishment of the DUI checkpoint; however, the State failed to produce the requested information.[13] The court granted the defendants motion to suppress, and explained:

The law is clear that the State . . . must demonstrate compliance with certain important procedural requirements as part of any sobriety checkpoint DUI prosecution. The Court does not believe that denying Mr. Terry an opportunity to test the adequacy of the foundation set forth in the declaration is harmless error. . . . DRE 902(11)(C) places the burden of notification of intent to use written declarations and to provide adequate information regarding the purported business records on the proffering party - here, the State. The State did not do this and, thus, prevented Mr. Terry from fair opportunity to challenge the 902(11) Declaration.[14]

The Superior Court decision in Terry is binding precedent on this Court. The State's sole witness, Corp. Jones, could not testify to the procedure involved in the establishment of the Checkpoint. Corp. Jones was not involved in determining the location of the Checkpoint. Corp. Jones did not participate in the selection of the location, nor was he familiar with the statistics which are used to draw the Checkpoint.

Connell requested "all statistical information, relied upon by the Office of Highway Safety in establishing the DUI Checkpoint, " as well as "a copy of the actual traffic statistics/data supplied by the respective police agency, that were forwarded to the Office of Highway Safely." The State did not provide adequate information regarding the establishment of the Checkpoint, thereby denying Connell a meaningful opportunity to challenge its constitutionality. Accordingly, the State failed to meet its burden of proving that the Checkpoint was a reasonable seizure under the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution, and Article I, Section 6 of the Delaware Constitution.

CONCLUSION

For the foregoing reasons, the Court GRANTS the Motion and suppresses all evidence obtained during the seizure of Defendant at the Checkpoint. The matter will be set for trial before this judicial officer.

IT IS SO ORDERED


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