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State v. Seaton

Superior Court of Delaware, New Castle

January 30, 2018

STATE OF DELAWARE,
v.
SPENCER SEATON, Defendant.

          Submitted: January 26, 2018

         Upon Consideration of Defendant's Motion to Suppress -Motion GRANTED.

          William L. Raisis, Esquire, Deputy Attorney General, Delaware Department of Justice, Wilmington, Delaware, Attorney for the State of Delaware.

          Michael W. Modica, Esquire, Wilmington, Delaware, Attorney for the Defendant.

          OPINION

          Diane Clarke Streett, Judge

         This 30th day of January, 2018, having considered Defendant's Motion to Suppress, the State's Reply, a Suppression Hearing, and oral argument, Defendant's Motion to Suppress is GRANTED.

         Factual and Procedural Background

         On August 23, 2017, at approximately 9:45 p.m., Trooper Duane Freeman while driving a marked police vehicle, entered Route 40 westbound, a divided roadway. The westbound side of Route 40 had either two or three lanes divided by broken lines near Wellington Road. Immediately upon driving in the right lane, the officer observed a vehicle approximately three car lengths ahead of him also in the right lane. The lanes did not have solid lines.

         The vehicle was proceeding at an appropriate rate of speed and was not being driven erratically. There were no other cars on the road. Trooper Freeman watched as the vehicle's right directional signal was turned on. Shortly thereafter, the vehicle drifted approximately twelve (12) inches into the left lane for two (2) seconds and then immediately returned completely to the right lane. The vehicle then made a right turn into the right turn lane and exited off of Route 40. The officer had observed the vehicle for approximately two minutes as it travelled for less than a mile. Based on that sole observation, Trooper Freeman signaled for the vehicle to pull over as it cleared the exit.

         Upon stopping the vehicle, Trooper Freeman observed that the driver, Spencer Seaton ("Defendant"), had glassy eyes, a strong odor of alcohol, and slurred speech. Trooper Freeman asked Defendant to step out of the car and the Defendant complied without incident.

         Trooper Freeman performed a pat down search of Defendant's person. Defendant admitted that he had marijuana in his pocket and had smoked marijuana and used alcohol that evening.

         Trooper Freeman then attempted to administer the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus test and the Walk and Turn test. Defendant could not perform either of the field tests. Defendant, while wearing dentures, eventually took a Portable Breath Test ("PBT") which registered a blood alcohol level of 0.139%. Trooper Freeman then arrested Defendant for driving under the influence.

         On October 16, 2017, a Delaware grand jury returned a three-count indictment against Defendant for driving a vehicle while under the influence, failing to maintain lane in violation of 21 Del. C. § 4122(1), and no proof of insurance.

         On December 15, 2017, Defendant filed a Motion to Suppress all evidence. On December 20, 2017, the State filed the State's Reply to Defendant's Motion to Suppress. On January 26, 2018, the Court held a Suppression Hearing.

         At the hearing, the State presented the testimony of Trooper Freeman and also entered the motor vehicle video recording ("MVR") of the events leading up to, during, and after Defendant's traffic stop. The Defendant did not present any testimony and did not enter any exhibits into evidence.

         Parties' Contentions

         In his Superior Court Criminal Rule 41(f) Motion to Suppress, Defendant argues that "there was insufficient reasonable suspicion to stop his vehicle for an alleged lane violation"[1] and that "[t]he stop, detention, administration of field coordination tests, administration of breath test, and arrest [] violated his state and federal constitutional rights against unreasonable search and seizures"[2] because "a single entry into another lane followed by a correction does not constitute a violation of Section 4122(1)."[3]

         The State responded that Trooper Freeman had reasonable suspicion to conduct a traffic stop because "Defendant's vehicle moved to the left and slightly entered the left lane before moving back to the right lane, then into the right turn lane."[4] The State added that "[t]he fact that [D]efendant had his right turn signal on and eventually made a right turn indicate[s] that he did not ascertain that movement into the left lane could be made with safety."[5]

         Standard ...


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