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State v. Mingucha

Court of Common Pleas of Delaware

March 23, 2017

STATE OF DELAWARE,
v.
MARTHA MINGUCHA, Defendant

          Submitted: March 17, 2017

          Erik Towne, Esquire Deputy Attorney General Attorney for the State of Delaware

          Richard Zemble, Esquire Attorney for Defendant

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER ON DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO SUPPRESS

          HON. CARL C. DANBERG, JUDGE

         The defendant, Martha Mingucha (hereinafter the "Defendant"), brings this motion to suppress evidence in connection with a Driving Under the Influence ("DUI") investigation. On January 31, 2017, the Court suppressed the contents of a Mobile Video Recording (hereinafter the "MVR"). The Defendant followed the suppression of the MVR with the instant Motion to Suppress. Specifically, the Defendant seeks to prevent the State from offering testimony concerning the events depicted in the MVR. The Court accepted briefing on the matter and reserved decision. This is the Final Decision of the Court on the Defendant's Motion to Suppress.

         PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On September 4, 2016, the Defendant was arrested and charged with a DUI offense and other related charges. The State, in responding to a timely discovery request from the Defendant, provided all relevant discovery, with the exception of an MVR depicting the DUI investigation. On November 2, 2016, at case review, this Court ordered the State to provide the Defendant with a copy of the MVR by November 23, 2016. As of December 21, 2016, the State had not provided the MVR, prompting the Defendant to file a Motion to Suppress.

         On January 31, 2017, a hearing was convened on the Motion. This Court entered an Order, styled as a discovery sanction pursuant to Court of Common Pleas Criminal Rule 16, prohibiting the State from utilizing the MVR in its case-in-chief and allowing the Defendant to utilize the MVR for impeachment or as affirmative evidence in her defense.[1] However, the State was permitted to introduce testimony from the arresting officer concerning the events depicted in the MVR. Following the hearing, the Defendant submitted a letter memorandum requesting the State be prohibited from introducing the officer's testimony.

         PARTIES' CONTENTIONS

         The Defendant raises three grounds for suppressing the officer's testimony. First, the Defendant argues the State's failure to provide the MVR should be treated as a violation under Deberry. Second, the Defendant argues the officer's testimony is violative of the Best Evidence Rule, as the MVR is the best evidence of what transpired during the DUI investigation. Third, the Defendant argues the allowance of testimony after suppressing the MVR will reward the State and encourage it to withhold evidence in future DUI cases.

         In response, the State first argues Deberry is inapplicable because the MVR was not lost or destroyed and was, in fact, provided to the Defendant, albeit late. Second, the State contends the MVR was not withheld in bad faith and the Best Evidence Rule does not require suppression of independently valid methods of introducing evidence. Third and finally, the State argues there would be no benefit to purposely withholding an MVR in the future, as the State often prefers to utilize video evidence to highlight a defendant's impairment in ways testimony cannot convey.

         DISCUSSION

         Preliminarily, neither party has presented case law where a court considered suppressing testimony in connection with an MVR - or equivalent evidence - for a discovery violation.[2] However, in State v. Montalvo, [3] this Court addressed the precise issue of a defendant seeking to suppress an officer's testimony following suppression of an MVR.[4] While the Court denied the suppression motion in Montalvo, the defendant in that matter did not raise the same arguments as the Defendant in the matter sub judice. Therefore, the Court will address each of the three grounds in this matter seriatim and will not rely upon Montalvo in reaching its decision.

         I. Deberry v. State[5]

         The Defendant argues Deberry supports suppressing testimony concerning the events depicted in the MVR. Deberry is applicable when the State has lost or destroyed exculpatory evidence when it had the affirmative duty to preserve such evidence.[6] If the ...


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