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State v. Lackford

Superior Court of Delaware, New Castle

January 29, 2014




AND NOW, TO WIT, this 29th day of January, 2014, IT IS HEREBY ORDERED as follows:


Before the Court is Defendant Christian Lackford's ("Defendant") motion, brought by counsel, to suppress all evidence obtained after Defendant was stopped at a sobriety checkpoint. Defendant argues that the stop violated his right against unreasonable seizures. Defendant also argues that police lacked reasonable suspicion to administer Field Sobriety Tests ("FSTs") and probable cause to arrest or subject him to a breath test. The Court held a suppression hearing on January 24, 2013 and reviewed the parties' submissions and documents submitted by the State.[1] For the following reasons, Defendant's motion is DENIED.

Findings of Fact

At 12:40 a.m. on July 27, 2013, Defendant was stopped during a sobriety checkpoint by Corporal Mark Conway ("Cpl. Conway") of the Delaware State Police ("DSP") while traveling on U.S. 40, Pulaski Highway in Newark, Delaware.[2] Cpl. Conway introduced himself and informed Defendant that the stop was part of a checkpoint designed to detect intoxicated drivers. While speaking to Defendant, Cpl. Conway observed that Defendant's eyes were glassy and his face was flushed. Cpl. Conway detected a strong odor of alcohol coming from inside the vehicle and viewed a small empty plastic bottle of Jim Beam Whiskey on the floor of the driver's seat. Based on these observations, Cpl. Conway asked Defendant how much he had to drink that evening. Defendant first replied that he had no alcohol, but then admitted to having two beers after work. Cpl. Conway noticed that Defendant's speech was slurred.

Thereafter, Cpl. Conway directed Defendant to pull into the designated testing lane. Cpl. Conway conducted pre-exit FSTs, starting with the alphabet test and the numbers test. Defendant's performance on these tests indicated a probability of impairment. Cpl. Conway then asked Defendant to perform the finger dexterity test. Defendant's performance on this test also indicated a probability of impairment.

Cpl. Conway asked Defendant if he would participate in additional testing and he agreed. Cpl. Conway asked Defendant to exit the vehicle. Defendant stumbled as he exited the vehicle and used the driver side door for support. After exiting, Defendant also leaned his back against the back of the vehicle. Defendant walked about ten feet to the testing area. Cpl. Conway conducted a Horizontal Nystagmus Test ("HGN"), [3] the walk-and-turn test, and the one-leg stand. Defendant's performance on these tests indicated a probability of intoxication. After Defendant completed the tests, Cpl. Conway then conducted a Portable Breath Test ("PBT").[4]

The State submitted a memorandum written by DSP statistician Tammy Hyland which contained research pertaining to the number of DUI related crashes and arrests for specific grid locations in the preceding three years.[5] The memorandum also explained that the grids were included in the list of possible checkpoints for 2013 only if they showed three or more alcohol related crashes or nine or more DUI arrests in any of the three years shown. In 2011- 2012, 11 alcohol-related crashes and 27 DUI arrests occurred in the particular grid in which Defendant was stopped, "090-338" (hereinafter, "the Grid").[6]

Lieutenant Michael Wysock ("Lt. Wysock") testified that he serves as the Traffic Lieutenant and as Deputy Troop Commander. Lt. Wysock explained that, based on DSP checkpoint guidelines, he was required to select certain areas based on the statistics provided in the statistician's memorandum and submit a request to Captain Sherri Benson ("Capt. Benson"), Director of the Traffic Operations Section. On July 18, 2013, Lt. Wysock sent a request to Capt. Benson that stated, "I am requesting a sobriety check point for July 26, 20130 (sic) from 2200-0200 hours. The location grid is 084-334, 084-336, 086-334, 0896-338 (sic), covers U.S. 40 fr[om] Wilton to SR 7."[7] Lt. Wysock testified that he did in fact send the request on July 18, 2013, that "0896-338" was a typographical error, and that the area on U.S. 40 from Wilton to Route 7 includes the Grid. On the same day of the request, Capt. Benson signed a memorandum approving a sobriety checkpoint on July 26, 2013 from 2200 to 0200 hours for "84-334, 084-336, 086-334, 086-338, 090-338 (Covers Rt. 40 from Wilton to Rt. 7)".[8] Capt. Benson's approval also contained the total number of alcohol related crashes and arrests from the previous three years for all of the grids that she listed.[9]

The checkpoint was conducted from 2200 to 0200 hours in four lanes, two on each side of Route 40. There were arrow boards set up about a half-mile from the checkpoint, marked police cars, lights, and cones. All vehicles were stopped, unless Lt. Wysock determined that traffic was congested. In addition, officers were required to introduce themselves and explain the purpose for the stop upon approach. When the checkpoint was completed, Lt. Wyscok compiled the summary in accordance with DSP sobriety checkpoint guidelines.


I. The Sobriety Checkpoint Substantially Complied with DSP Guidelines.

A stop at a sobriety checkpoint is a "seizure" subject to the reasonableness requirements of the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.[10] Determining whether such a stop is reasonable requires a balance between the "State's interest in preventing drunk driving, the extent to which the system can reasonably be said to advance that interest, and the degree of intrusion upon individual motorists who are briefly stopped".[11] The U.S. Supreme Court and Delaware courts require ...

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