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State v. Scott

Court of Common Pleas of Delaware, New Castle

January 16, 2018

STATE OF DELAWARE,
v.
OMARR J. SCOTT, Defendant.

          Submitted: November 20, 2017

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

          Benjamin S. Gifford IV, Esq. Attorney for Defendant

          DECISION AFTER TRIAL & MEMORANDUM OPINION ON DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO STRIKE

          JOHN K. WELCH, J.

          I. PROCEDURAL POSTURE

         On August 5, 2014, Defendant Omarr J. Scott ("Defendant") was charged with Driving While Suspended or Revoked, in violation of 21 Del. C. § 2756(a), and Driving Without a License, in violation of 21 Del. C. § 2701(a) (case ending in #3726). On May 14, 2016, Defendant was charged with Driving While Suspended or Revoked, in violation of 21 Del. C. § 2756(a), Failure to Have Required Insurance, in violation of 21 Del. C. § 2118(a), and Driving with Expired Tags, in violation of 21 Del. C. § 2115(1) (case ending in #0033). On June 21, 2016, Defendant was charged with Driving While Suspended or Revoked, in violation of 21 Del. C. § 2756(a), Failure to Have Insurance Identification in Possession, in violation of 21 Del. C. § 2118(p)(1), and Driving with Expired Tags, in violation of 21 Del. C. § 2115(1) (case ending in #7066). On July 31, 2016, Defendant was charged with Driving While Suspended or Revoked, in violation of 21 Del. C. § 2756(a) (case ending in #3828). And, on November 28, 2016, Defendant was charged with Driving While Suspended or Revoked, in violation of 21 Del. C. § 2756(a) and Failure to Have License in Possession, in violation of 21 Del. C. § 2721(b) (case ending in #8494).

         Pursuant to Court of Common Pleas Criminal Rules 8 and 13, Defendant and the State stipulated that all five matters should be consolidated and jointly tried. On August 8, 2017, a trial was convened in this matter, and the Court reserved decision. In lieu of oral closing arguments, the Court ordered written closing arguments and supplemental briefing on August 10, 2017. On August 24, 2017, the State filed its Post-Trial Opening Memorandum[1] On September 18, 2017, Defendant filed his Answering Memorandum[2] And, on October 3, 2017, the State filed its Post-Trial Reply Memorandum ("State's Reply Brief').[3]

          On October 16, 2017, Defendant filed a Motion to Strike ("Defendant's Motion") based on perceived problematic references in the State's Reply Brief.[4] On October 30, 2017, the Court issued an abbreviated briefing schedule. On November 7, 2017, the State filed its Response to Defendant's Motion to Strike.[5]And, on November 20, 2017, Defendant filed his Reply to the State's Response to Defendant's Motion to Strike.[6] This is the Court's consolidated decision after trial and memorandum opinion on Defendant's Motion.[7]

         II. FACTUAL HISTORY

         While this case concerns five consolidated matters, the nature of the trial timeline and evidence require a divergence from chronology. After the State's first witness testified regarding the arrest date of August 5, 2014, Defendant stipulated that on the arrest dates of May 14, 2016 and June 21, 2016, he was driving on a public roadway in Delaware, he did not possess minimum insurance coverage, and his vehicle's tags were expired.[8] Hence, this section will proceed in the following order: (A) the State's admitted exhibits; (B) Ms. Kami Beers' testimony as Chief of Driver Services at the Delaware Division of Motor Vehicles; (C) the first arrest on August 5, 2014 (case #3726), (D) the fourth arrest on July 31, 2016 (case #3828); and (E) the fifth arrest on November 28, 2016 (case #8494).

          A. The Exhibits

         The State introduced four alphabetically marked exhibits for identification purposes. These exhibits were subsequently admitted into evidence-over Defendant's objections[9]-and numerically marked.

         1. State's Exhibit 1

         State's exhibit 1 ("Exhibit 1") contains: (1) a notarized affidavit of a Delaware Division of Motor Vehicles ("DMV") employee who swears that a notice was mailed to Defendant at 105 Kent Drive, Clayton, DE 19938, (2) an Official Notice and Order of Suspension mailed on August 29, 2011, and (3) Defendant's Full Driving Record as of July 24, 2013.[10] The third document is also signed by a DMV employee.[11]

         Exhibit 1 indicates that because of Defendant's failure to display an insurance card on August 23, 2010, Defendant's driving privileges were suspended for six (6) months effective September 2, 2011.[12] State's Exhibit 1 also states:

         In order to be eligible for reinstatement, the following conditions must be met:

1. Serve the full term of the suspension.
2. Pay a $25 reinstatement fee at the Division of Motor Vehicles. Your driver license and/or driving privileges remain suspended until this fee is paid.
3. A vision screening, knowledge and/or road skills test may be required at the time of reinstatement.[13]

         Exhibit 1 evidences that a notice of these conditions was mailed to Defendant at 105 Kent Drive, Clayton, Delaware 19938 on August 29, 2011.[14] Defendant's Driving Record in Exhibit 1 does not indicate that Defendant paid the necessary fine, or that the suspension was lifted.

         2. State's Exhibit 2

         State's exhibit 2 ("Exhibit 2") contains: (1) a notarized affidavit of a DMV employee who swears that a notice was mailed on May 4, 2013 to Defendant at 105 Kent Drive, Clayton, DE 19938, and (2) Defendant's Full Driving Record as of July 24, 2013.[15] By the State's own admission, Exhibit 2 was admitted into evidence to show that Defendant was again notified on May 4, 2013 of his suspension.[16]

         3. State's Exhibit 3

         State's exhibit 3 ("Exhibit 3") contains: (1) a notarized affidavit of a DMV employee who swears that a notice was mailed to Defendant at 105 Kent Drive, Clayton, DE 19938, (2) Defendant's Full Driving Record as of February 11, 2015, and (3) an Official Notice and Order of Suspension mailed on November 18, 2013.[17] The second document is also signed by a DMV employee.[18]

         Exhibit 3 is nearly identical to Exhibit 1. Exhibit 3 indicates that because Defendant accumulated twelve (12) points on his driving record within a two (2) year period, Defendant's driving privileges were suspended for two (2) months effective November 22, 2013.[19] Exhibit 3 also states:

REINSTATEMENT
1. Serve the full term of the suspension.
2. Pay a $25 reinstatement fee at the Division of Motor Vehicles. Your driving privileges remain suspended until this fee is paid.[20]

         Exhibit 3 evidences that notice of these conditions was mailed to Defendant at 105 Kent Drive, Clayton, Delaware 19938 on November 18, 2013.[21] Defendant's Driving Record in Exhibit 3 does not indicate that Defendant paid the necessary fine, or that the suspension was lifted.

         4. State's Exhibit 4

         State's exhibit 4 ("Exhibit 4") contains: (1) a notarized affidavit of a DMV employee who swears that a notice was mailed on June 19, 2016 to Defendant at 2000 N. Jefferson Street, Wilmington, Delaware 19802, and (2) Defendant's Full Driving Record as of September 1, 2016.[22] Similar to Exhibit 2, Exhibit 4 evidences that Defendant was again notified on June 19, 2016 of his suspension.[23] As of September 1, 2016, Defendant's 9/2/2011 and 11/22/2013 suspensions remained on his "Full Driving Record."[24]

         B. Testimony of Ms. Kami Beers, DMV's Chief of Driver Services

         Kami Beers ("Ms. Beers"), Chief of Driver Services at the DMV, [25] testified for the State regarding the appropriate procedure to reinstate an offender's driving privileges after the offender has been suspended.[26] She testified that a notice is usually sent to the offender that his or her driving privileges have been suspended. Referencing the language of the Notice and Order of Suspension ("Notice") in Exhibits 1 and 3, Ms. Beers testified that the language of the Notice requires a fine to be paid in order for Defendant's privileges to be reinstated. Ms. Beers confirmed that the offender is required to serve the time of suspension and, after that suspension period has expired, the offender is then required to pay a fine to reinstate his or her driving privileges through the DMV.

         After the offender pays the reinstatement fee, Ms. Beers testified that the offender's driving record is updated at the DMV. Specifically, she testified that it would indicate: (a) the date an offender is cleared, (b) "Suspension lifted" with the date the offender paid the reinstatement fee, and (c) the notation "Cleared" next to the violation. As of September 1, 2016, Ms. Beers testified that there were no such notations on Defendant's "Full Driving Record." Based on said driving record, she testified that Defendant's driving privileges were suspended or revoked on: August 5, 2014, May 14, 2016, June 21, 2016, July 31, 2016, and November 28, 2016. Moreover, she testified that the 9/2/2011 and 11/22/2013 suspensions remain in effect.

         C. The August 5, 2014 Incident (#3 726)

         On August 5, 2014, Detective Matthew Rosaio ("Detective Rosaio")[27] of the Wilmington Police Department was conducting routine patrol near 1099 North Spruce Street, [28] Wilmington, Delaware at approximately 5:00 p.m. He testified that his attention was drawn to a Gold Chevrolet Traverse (the "Chevrolet vehicle"), which was traveling directly in front of his patrol vehicle. After conducting a registration check through the Delaware Criminal Justice Information System ("DELJIS"), [29] he testified that a "flag" appeared attached to the Chevrolet vehicle's registration. Detective Rosaio conducted a routine traffic stop of the Chevrolet vehicle in the 700 block of North Spruce Street. Detective Rosaio approached the Chevrolet vehicle and observed Defendant in the driver seat of the Chevrolet vehicle. Detective Rosaio testified that DELJIS also indicated that Defendant was suspended from driving. Defendant was charged with Driving While Suspended or Revoked, in violation of 21 Del. C. § 2756(a) and Driving Without a License, in violation of 21 Del. C. § 2701(a).

         D. The July 31, 2016 Incident (#3828)

         On July 31, 2016, Trooper Bryan Jefferson ("Trooper Jefferson") of Delaware State Police Troop Six was on duty in the southern area of Wilmington.[30] During his shift, Trooper Jefferson was called to a property damage accident on Northbound 1-95, in-between the Route 896 and Route 273 exits. Trooper Jefferson testified that three individuals were present at the accident scene when he arrived, including Defendant. Trooper Jefferson observed a Black Ford Pickup Truck ("Ford vehicle") on the right-hand shoulder of 1-95. When Trooper Jefferson approached the Ford vehicle, he observed Defendant in the driver seat of the Ford vehicle, as well as a "Ms. Sims" in the front passenger seat. Additionally, Trooper Jefferson testified that Defendant informed Trooper Jefferson that he had been driving. Upon further investigation, Trooper Jefferson discovered that the Ford vehicle was registered to Defendant. As part of Trooper Jefferson's investigation, he conducted a DELJIS search, which indicated that Defendant was suspended from driving. Ultimately, Trooper Jefferson was not able to determine who was at fault and, thus, Defendant was only charged with driving while suspended, in violation of 21 Del. C. § 2756(a).

         E. The November 28, 2016 Arrest (#8494)

         On November 28, 2016, Trooper Maria Rodriguez ("Trooper Rodriguez") of the Wilmington Police Department was on duty in the northeast area of Wilmington.[31] After being dispatched to the 1400 block of East 12th Street, Trooper Rodriguez was flagged down by the Gander Hill security regarding a vehicular/domestic assault concerning two vehicles: a Black Kia Sorento ("Kia vehicle") and Gold Cadillac ("Cadillac vehicle"). Upon arriving, Trooper Rodriguez interacted with Defendant and the operator of the second vehicle. Trooper Rodriquez testified that Defendant informed her that he was driving the Kia vehicle and was attempting to lose the Cadillac vehicle when the Cadillac vehicle struck his vehicle. Trooper Rodriguez testified that there was damage to the Kia vehicle's rear-passenger tire consistent with Defendant's statements.

         When Trooper Rodriguez interacted with Defendant he was near the Kia vehicle, but outside of the vehicle. Trooper Rodriguez could not recall whether the Kia vehicle remained running. During her investigation, Defendant was unable to provide Trooper Rodriguez with a valid Delaware driver's license; therefore, she conducted a DELJIS search. The search revealed that Defendant did not possess a Delaware driver's license and was currently suspended from driving. Defendant was charged with Driving While Suspended or Revoked, in violation of 21 Del. C. § 2756(a), and Failure to Have License in Possession, in violation of 21 Del. C. § 2721(b).

          III. DISCUSSION

         Based on the testimonial and documentary evidence produced at trial, the Court finds that the State has proven beyond a reasonable doubt that Defendant violated 21 Del. C. § 2701(a) in case #3726 when he was unable to produce a driver's license for Detective Rosaio, and DELJIS indicated on August 5, 2014 that Defendant did not have a valid driver's license.[32] Additionally, based on Defendant's stipulation, this Court finds that the State has proven beyond a reasonable doubt that Defendant violated 21 Del. C. § 2118 and 21 Del. C. § 2115 in case #0033 and case #7066. The remaining issues for this Court to address concern the legal interpretation of 21 Del. C. § 2756, whether the State has met its burden in proving violations of § 2756, and whether the police troopers were required to obtain arrest warrants before arresting Defendant for Title 21 violations on July 31, 2016 (case #3828) and November 28, 2016 (case #8494).[33]

         A. 21 Del. C. § 2756: Driving While License is Suspended or Revoked

         For the reasons discussed below, the Court finds that Defendant was driving "during the period of suspension." Section 2756(a) states: "[a]ny person whose driver's license or driving privileges have been suspended or revoked and who drives any motor vehicle upon the highways of this State during the period of suspension or revocation shall for the first offense be fined . . ., "[34] Defense counsel should be commended for his zealous advocacy in this case; however, this Court is not persuaded by Defendant's interpretation of § 2756. The Delaware Supreme Court has stated:

The object of statutory construction is to give, if possible, a sensible and practical meaning to a statute as a whole so that it may be applied in future cases as well as the present one without difficulty. The court must necessarily be guided by the presumption that the Legislature did not intend an unreasonable, absurd or unworkable result. If from the statute as a whole the object sought to be attained or the general intent underlying the statutory language can be ascertained, it will be given effect by the courts.[35]

         The Supreme Court further noted:

It is well-settled that unambiguous statutes are not subject to judicial interpretation. "If the statute as a whole is unambiguous and there is no reasonable doubt as to the meaning of the words used, the court's role is limited to an application of the literal meaning of those words." Accordingly, the first step in any statutory construction requires us to examine the text of the statute to determine if it is ambiguous. Under Delaware law, a statute is ambiguous if: first, it is reasonably susceptible to different conclusions or interpretations; or second, a literal interpretation of the words of the statute would lead to an absurd or unreasonable result that could not have been intended by the legislature.[36]

         Defendant claims the statute is unambiguous;[37] however, the parties' contentions before the Court in this matter belie Defendant's claim. The statutory language is ambiguous. Therefore, the Court must examine the ordinary and usual meaning of "during the period of suspension or revocation, " as it is not expressly defined in Title 21, [38] In this vein, "[o]ne of the numerous canons of statutory interpretation other than plain meaning and legislative history is the principle of noscitur a sociis, under which the meaning of an unclear word or phrase should be determined by the words immediately surrounding it."[39]

          The question of how § 2756(a)'s phrase "during the period of suspension or revocation" should be interpreted is plainly a question of law. The Delaware Supreme Court has provided guidance regarding the purpose of § 2756,

The object of this statute is to prohibit the operation of a car on our highways by one who has no driving privileges Whether the appellee's chauffeur's license or merely his driving privileges had been revoked is of little moment; the important consideration is whether he had or did not have the privilege of driving on our roads.[40]

         Neither party cites a case directly on point regarding the interpretation of § 2756. Likewise, the Court's own research has not yielded a case that addresses the issue presented. While this Court recently found a defendant guilty for violating § 2756, it did not define the suspension period.[41]That is, the Court's holding did not establish whether the defendant was convicted for driving during the monthly ...


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