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State v. Radcliff

Court of Common Pleas of Delaware, New Castle

August 3, 2017


          Submitted: July 27, 2017

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

          Elliot Margules, Esquire Office of the Public Defender Attorney for Defendant.


          Carl C. Danberg Judge.

         By way of Information dated October 31, 2016, the Defendant, Justin Radcliff (hereinafter the "Defendant"), was charged with one count of Resisting Arrest, in violation of 11 Del. C. § 1257(b). A non-jury trial was convened on June 15, 2017. At the conclusion of the trial, the Defendant requested the opportunity to provide additional briefing, and the Court reserved its decision pending the post-trial briefing. This is the Court's Final Opinion and Decision After Trial.


         After a verbal colloquy with the Court, the Defendant elected to waive his right to a jury trial, and the case was tried as a bench trial. As such, the Court sat as the sole trier of fact. Therefore, it is the Court's responsibility to assess the credibility of the testifying witnesses and, where there is a conflict in the testimony, to reconcile these conflicts, "if reasonably possible[, ] so as to make one harmonious story."[1] In doing so, the Court takes into consideration the demeanor of the witnesses, their apparent fairness in giving their testimony, their opportunities to hear and know the facts about which they testified, and any bias or interest that they may have concerning the nature of the case.[2] Based upon the facts established at trial, the Court must then determine whether the State has met each and every element of the specified offense beyond a reasonable doubt.[3]


         During the trial convened on June 15, 2017, the Court heard testimony from Officer Blake Middendorf (hereinafter "Officer Middendorf') of the New Castle County Police Department. No other witnesses testified at the trial. The Court finds the relevant facts as follows.

         On the evening of September 24 into September 25, 2016, Officer Middendorf was on routine patrol in a marked police vehicle with Officer Gregory Bruno (hereinafter "Officer Bruno") in the area of Castle Hill Drive and Roxeter Road in New Castle, Delaware. During the patrol, the officers observed a black Ford Explorer commit two distinct turn signal violations, prompting the officers to activate the emergency lights on the police vehicle and initiate a traffic stop. However, the Explorer did not immediately stop, and instead swerved from one side of the road to the other while traveling less than twenty-five miles per hour. The Explorer eventually stopped when it pulled into the driveway of a nearby residence.

         Immediately after the Explorer pulled into the driveway, an individual exited the Explorer from the passenger side, jumped over a fence, and ran into the nearby house. The individual was later identified as the Defendant. Officer Bruno exited the police vehicle and went up to the house, while Officer Middendorf stayed with the Explorer and the remaining occupants.[4] Officer Bruno pounded on the front door of the house and yelled for Defendant to "come out." Inside the residence, the Defendant was arguing with an unnamed female; the woman looked as though she was attempting to pull the Defendant toward the front door, while the Defendant appeared reluctant to leave.[5] Finally, the officers entered the residence and arrested the Defendant. The Defendant claimed he fled because he had two outstanding violations of probation. The Defendant was ultimately charged with one count of Resisting Arrest.


         The Defendant raised two primary contentions in his post-trial memorandum. First, the Defendant argues the activation of police lights does not indicate to a reasonable person an intention to stop every occupant of a vehicle - particularly when the offense justifying the stop was a mere traffic violation. Specifically, the Defendant suggests a reasonable person in the Defendant's position would not have believed himself or herself to be under arrest, and there was no manifestation of the officers' intent to detain all occupants of the vehicle. Second, the Defendant argues Officer Bruno's statement of "come out" is inadmissible hearsay and, irrespective of whether it is admissible, it does not constitute the requisite objective manifestation of an intent to arrest the Defendant. Relatedly, the Defendant's reported "reluctance" to exit the house does not constitute refusal or resistance.

         The State argues passengers in vehicles are subject to police scrutiny during routine traffic stops and would not believe themselves to be free to leave; accordingly, activating emergency lights to detain a vehicle functions to alert all occupants of the vehicle they are being detained. Second, the State argues the statement "come out" is admissible non-hearsay, as it is a command and is not offered for the truth of the matter asserted; in the alternative, the State argues the statement was offered to show the effect of the statement on the Defendant. Coupled with the statement is the Defendant's failure to comply with significant and unambiguous commands from a police officer to exit the house, which the State argues is sufficient to prove the elements of resisting arrest beyond a reasonable doubt.


         Under 11 Del. C. § 1257(b), the State must prove the Defendant intentionally prevented or attempted to prevent a police officer from effecting an arrest or detention of the Defendant or intentionally fled from a police officer who was effecting an arrest of the Defendant. Case law has expanded the State's burden to prove the arresting officer "had a manifest purpose of taking the person into custody and the defendant resisted[.]"[6] The arresting officer must communicate an intention to arrest that is "sufficiently clear" as to allow the arrestee to "understand that the officers were trying to stop" the individual.[7] A defendant's resistance must be intentional, which Delaware law defines as "the person's conscious object to engage in conduct of that nature or to cause that result[.]"[8]

         While this matter involves a single count of Resisting Arrest, the parties agree there are two distinct points which could theoretically give rise to a conviction for Resisting Arrest. The first point is when the Defendant allegedly exited the Explorer and ran into the house, while the second point is when Officer Bruno was at the door of the house. Therefore, the Court will treat these occurrences as separate events, and will consider the relevant legal arguments in conjunction with the appropriate event.

         I. The Initial Stop of the Vehicle

         It is undisputed a driver resists arrest by continuing to operate a motor vehicle after a trailing police vehicle activates its emergency lights, or when the occupant of a vehicle refuses to exit after being ordered to do so by a uniformed police officer.[9] The activation of emergency lights is a near-universal signal to operators of motor vehicles, and it is unquestionable such an event would be unambiguous in communicating the police officer's intent to detain the driver. However, the parties dispute whether such an event would communicate the same fact to a passenger in the vehicle.

         Both the United States and Delaware Supreme Courts have found passengers are deemed to be detained when the driver of the vehicle is subjected to a traffic stop.[10] However, the majority of the existing case law regarding the detention of passengers is focused on the Fourth Amendment.[11] This distinction is critical, as rules crafted for the sake of protecting the constitutional rights of passengers present different considerations than a rule subjecting a defendant to criminal liability; therefore, the fact of prior case law terming a passenger seized or detained is not binding on the instant matter.

         The Defendant cited to Massachusetts v. Quintos Q.[12] in his post-trial brief. In Quintos, a police officer activated his emergency lights in an attempt to pull over a vehicle in which the defendant was a passenger.[13] The driver of the vehicle led the police on a chase lasting several minutes, at the conclusion of which both the driver and the passenger exited the vehicle and began running. A second officer chased the driver and the defendant on foot, yelling "stop, police." The defendant was eventually cornered, arrested, and charged with resisting arrest.[14] The defendant's conviction for resisting arrest was overturned, as the defendant - who was merely the passenger - would not have suspected himself to be under arrest.[15] The Massachusetts resisting arrest statute requires an intention to arrest and an understanding of such intention by the person to be detained.[16] However, as the State correctly notes, the Massachusetts statute is limited to arrests, and does not include resisting a detention.[17]

         In S.G.K. v. Florida, [18] the defendant was standing next to a vehicle that had been involved in a traffic accident; as a marked police vehicle approached the scene, the defendant fled into the nearby woods.[19] The police officer did not say anything to the defendant during the chase, and eventually brought the defendant back to the scene, handcuffed him, and placed him under arrest.[20] The defendant, who admitted he fled because he was truant, was adjudicated delinquent on the charge of resisting arrest.[21] In Florida, a defendant is not guilty of resisting arrest when, inter alia, the defendant had no reason to believe he or she was being detained.[22]The Florida District Court of Appeal reversed the adjudication of delinquency, as the officer never made any commands to the defendant and the defendant "had no reason to believe he had done something illegal for which he would be arrested."[23] Furthermore, "a defendant's mere presence at the scene of a crime and flight therefrom is insufficient evidence to support an adjudication of delinquency [for resisting arrest]."[24]

         In Tawdul v. Indiana, [25] the defendant was a passenger in a vehicle pulled over by the police for a traffic violation.[26] After the vehicle stopped, both the driver and the passenger exited the vehicle; both refused to return to the vehicle after being ordered to do so by the police officer.[27] After some conversation, the passenger went into a nearby residence and returned moments later; the passenger was charged with and convicted of resisting arrest. The Indiana Court of Appeals held "the police have a limited right to briefly detain a passenger who exits the vehicle after it has been lawfully stopped."[28] Even though the passenger played no part in the underlying offense, the passenger was not entitled "to simply exit the vehicle and walk away. Although under no suspicion of culpability, the passenger is still subject to the limited authority of the officer."[29]

         While none of the aforementioned cases are precisely on point, they are instructive. Concerning Quintos, the difference in the requisite elements prevents direct comparison. However, the Massachusetts Court made the following observation: "[e]ven assuming that the circumstances of the police pursuit in this case communicated an intent to arrest, we conclude that a reasonable passenger, innocent of any crime, would assume that it was the driver that the police intended to arrest."[30] Whether the police action ...

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