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State v. Riggins

Superior Court of Delaware

December 7, 2017


          Submitted: November 17, 2017

         Upon Defendant's Motion to Suppress: DENIED

          William L. Raisis, Deputy Attorney General Thomas A. Foley, Esquire.

          Abigail M. LeGrow Judge.

         This 7th day of December, 2017, upon consideration of the Motion to Suppress (the "Motion") filed on behalf of Christopher Riggins, the record in this case, and the applicable legal authorities, it appears to the Court that:


         1. Riggins was arrested on June 12, 2017 for Driving Under the Influence, Third Offense ("DUI") and Leaving the Scene of a Collision. In this Motion, Riggins challenges both the arresting officer's reasonable and articulable suspicion for initiating the traffic stop that led to Riggins' arrest and the officer's probable cause to make the arrest.

         2. On June 12, 2017, Corporal Charles Armstrong, a member of the Delaware State Police, was returning to Troop 2 when he received a radio call reporting the driver of a dark pickup truck was slumped over the vehicle's steering wheel in the area of DE 896 and Porter Road. Armstrong drove around the area, but did not see any vehicle fitting that description. Just as he was about to "clear" the report, and while he was sitting at a traffic light at the intersection of 896 and Porter Road, [1] the driver of a garbage truck stopped next to Armstrong's police car. The driver reported that a blue pickup truck had just struck a vehicle at the intersection of 896 and Pulaski Highway and was attempting to leave the scene. The garbage truck driver indicated the pickup truck was in the turning lane of Southbound 896, waiting to turn left onto Porter Road, the direction in which Armstrong already was headed. The pickup truck was not visible at the time, so the garbage truck driver did not specifically point to the vehicle.

         3. Moments later, Armstrong observed a dark pickup truck making a left turn off 896 and traveling westbound on Porter Road. Armstrong quickly followed the vehicle, a dark blue Chevy Silverado, and initiated a traffic stop. Armstrong spoke briefly with the driver, Riggins. During this interaction, Armstrong detected a strong odor of alcohol on Riggins' breath and observed that his face was flushed and his eyes appeared glassy and were moving slowly. Armstrong then walked around the vehicle and observed damage on the front right side of the vehicle, including paint transfer, a broken lens, and what appeared to be a piece of a taillight stuck in the headlight. Armstrong spoke to Riggins again and inquired about the damage to the vehicle. Riggins denied any knowledge about the damage, telling Armstrong "I'm not 100% sure what you are talking about."

         4. Armstrong next conferred with the driver of another vehicle, which had pulled behind Armstrong's police car shortly after he pulled Riggins over. The driver of that third vehicle reported that he witnessed the crash and had followed Riggins' vehicle after Riggins left the scene. The witness reported that the Silverado rolled into another vehicle at a stoplight at the intersection of 896 and Pulaski Highway. Before the crash, the witness saw Riggins nodding off at the wheel. After the crash, Riggins immediately drove away, and the witness followed him and called the police.

         5. Armstrong then returned to Riggins' truck to speak with him. During their conversation, Riggins told Armstrong he was driving home after spending time with friends at a nearby bar and restaurant. Riggins admitted to drinking "a couple drinks" about two hours before the traffic stop. He again denied involvement in the crash and disclaimed any knowledge of damage to his vehicle. Armstrong continued to detect the odor of alcohol and observed that Riggins' eyes were glassy.

         6. Armstrong asked Riggins to step out of the vehicle and perform various field sobriety tests. During all these tests, Riggins was cooperative and his speech seemed normal. The State does not rely on the field sobriety test results to support its argument that Armstrong had probable cause to arrest Riggins. After administering those tests, Armstrong asked Riggins to take a portable breathalyzer test ("PBT"). Riggins refused to take the PBT, arguing he had passed the other field sobriety tests and wanted to speak with a lawyer. Armstrong then placed Riggins under arrest and transported him to Troop 2. Armstrong obtained a search warrant for a blood test and Riggins' blood then was drawn.

         7. Riggins first challenges Armstrong's basis for initiating the stop, arguing Armstrong lacked a reasonable and articulable suspicion to initiate the traffic stop because he lacked "any corroboration of apparent damage to any vehicles, and hence, [had] no corroboration that Mr. Riggins was involved in a hit-and-run."[2] The State argues, however, that the totality of the circumstances, viewed through Armstrong's eyes as a trained police officer, support a finding that Armstrong had reasonable and articulable suspicion of criminal activity. The State also argues the stop independently was justified under the community caretaker doctrine based on the report Armstrong received that the driver of a dark pickup truck was asleep at the wheel, followed by a second report that a dark pickup truck in the same area was involved in a hit-and-run accident.

         8. Even if Armstrong had reasonable and articulable suspicion to stop the truck, Riggins argues, Armstrong did not have probable cause to arrest Riggins and transport him to the troop for a blood test. Riggins argues the field tests Armstrong conducted are unreliable and therefore inadmissible, the mere fact that Riggins had been involved in a car accident was not sufficient to find probable cause, and Riggins' behavior during the traffic stop did not provide any additional basis for Armstrong to conclude there was a fair probability that Riggins was driving under the influence. The State agrees that the field sobriety tests should not be considered for purposes of the probable cause analysis, but contends that the circumstances, taken together, ...

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