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State v. Carson

Court of Common Pleas of Delaware, New Castle

January 31, 2018

TRACEY L. CARSON, Defendant.

          Submitted: December 8, 2017

          Matthew Hicks, Esquire Attorney for the State of Delaware

          Andrew D. Rahaim, Esquire Rahaim & Saints, LLP Attorney for Defendant


          ALEX J. SMALLS, C.J


         On October 14, 2016, Tracey Carson ("Defendant") was arrested for the offenses of Driving While Under the Influence of Alcohol, (DUI) in violation of 21 Del C. §4177; Failure to Have Insurance, in violation of 21 Del. C. §2118(p)(1); and Driving a Motor Vehicle at a Slow Speed as to Impede the Flow of Traffic in violation of 21 Del. C. §4171 (b).

         The facts which gave rise to these proceedings indicate Defendant was driving home from work traveling northbound on Interstate 495 when she was struck from the rear by another vehicle. Cpl. Cassidy ("Cassidy") from the Delaware State Police responded to the accident and attempted to make contact with Defendant. Cassidy stated he smelled a strong odor of alcohol coming from the Defendant, her eyes were glossy and blood shot, and her speech was slurred. As a result of the collision, Defendant was injured to the extent that she was required to be transported by ambulance to Christiana Hospital. After clearing the scene of the accident, Cassidy responded to the hospital to continue his DUI investigation. At the hospital, Cassidy obtained the Defendant's blood by requesting her consent to take a sample which Defendant allegedly responded "okay." Subsequently, Cassidy had blood drawn by a phlebotomist. Afterwards, Cassidy arrested Defendant and charged her with the above offenses.

         On April 11, 2017, Defendant filed a Motion to Suppress. Defendant seeks to suppress her arrest, detention, and the blood test evidence on the basis that the police officer lacked probable cause to arrest, an absence of exigency to justify an exception to the warrant requirement in which a warrant was required to draw blood, and any consent by Defendant was not knowing and voluntary. Defendant avers that due to the severe injuries she sustained as a result of the accident, she was unable to fully appreciate the nature of Cassidy's questioning, thus, it was impossible for her to make an informed consent, and voluntarily give such consent for Cassidy to take her blood.

         On September 28, 2017, a hearing was held on Defendant's Motion to Suppress. During the Motion hearing, Cassidy testified on October 14, 2016, he was dispatched to an accident on Interstate 495 where both vehicles had sustained serious damage. Cassidy testified when he attempted to make contact with Defendant she was seated in the driver's seat of the vehicle that had been struck from the rear. He further testified that Defendant was extremely upset and crying. Defendant's responses to Cassidy's questions were difficult to comprehend and she repeatedly stated that "she was having a bad day." Cassidy testified he detected an odor of alcohol coming from the Defendant and her eyes appeared glossy and blood shot. Cassidy further testified that Defendant told him she works as a bartender and was coming from work. In addition, Cassidy testified it was his opinion that Defendant was under the influence of alcohol. He further testified he did not administer the standard field sobriety tests on Defendant due to her injuries and the dangerous area of Interstate 495.

         At the scene of the accident, Paramedics placed Defendant in a neck and back brace and transported her to Christiana Hospital Emergency Room. Cassidy went to the hospital and was again unable to conduct any meaningful conversation with the Defendant. Cassidy testified he asked Defendant for her consent to draw blood to which she replied "what for?" Cassidy responded to Defendant, "to check if there is alcohol and or drugs in your system." Defendant alleges that after Cassidy told her the blood draw was for the purpose of a DUI investigation, she did not respond further. The State's reply brief argues Cassidy told the Defendant the blood draw was "to check for drugs and alcohol" and the Defendant then responded "okay."

         During cross-examination, Cassidy testified he did not attempt to remove Defendant from the vehicle due to the severe damage to the car and the visible injuries to Defendant's face. Cassidy further testified it was clear to him that Defendant was severely injured. Defendant's counsel asked Cassidy if he was aware that Defendant bit a hole through her mouth during the accident and asked Cassidy how he makes the distinction between an alcohol slurred speech and a person's inability to speak due to severe injuries to the mouth and face.

         Cassidy testified that his conversation with Defendant at the hospital was very brief and he did not take any notes. Accordingly, Defendant argues that Cassidy was required to document the alleged consent from Defendant to withdraw her blood using a standard consent form. Cassidy testified he is unaware of a standard form used by the Delaware State Police that document consent to blood withdraws. Defendants Opening Brief cites Cassidy's police report stating "operator agreed to have her blood drawn." Defendant asserts that at the time of this alleged consent, Defendant had been in a severe accident, sustained numerous injuries, is unable to communicate due to pain, crying, and also unable to sign her name on hospital documents.

         On redirect, Cassidy testified that upon approaching Defendant's vehicle, he immediately smelled alcohol and still smelled alcohol at the hospital. Cassidy testified that at the hospital, Defendant was conscious, alert and gave valid consent to withdraw her blood. Cassidy testified that if Defendant had not consented, he would have obtained a warrant.

          The defense called Defendant's friend, John Veccione ("Veccione") to testify. Veccione testified he was shocked at Defendant's appearance at the hospital. Veccione testified Defendant was unable to talk and she continued going in and out of consciousness. Her eye was swollen passed her nose and she was covered in blood. Veccione further testified he was told by Doctors that Defendant broke her neck and they were worried because she kept flaring around the hospital bed. Veccione stated based on his observation of Defendant in the hospital, he was afraid she might die. Veccione testified he saw the police going in and out of Defendant's hospital room but did not observe any interaction between Cassidy and Defendant. Veccione testified that Defendant was hospitalized for two (2) weeks following the accident.

         Lastly, Defendant testified she does not recall talking to Cassidy at the scene of the accident or at the hospital and only remembers waking up crying in a hospital room. Defendant testified her injuries from the accident included a fractured neck, hip, and ribs crushed pelvis, punctured lung, serious lacerations to her face and she bit her tongue such that she was unable to close her mouth to speak and her tongue was black for three (3) months. Due to the pain from her injuries, Defendant testified she was unable to remember any substantive conversation with anyone the night of the accident. Defendant further testified that every airbag in her vehicle deployed during the collision. On cross-examination Defendant testified that she is a bartender and the night of the accident, she may have had a drink earlier that day but any odor of alcohol would be from her tending bar.

         At the conclusion of the Motion Hearing, I concluded the officer had probable cause to take Defendant into custody. The Court ordered supplemental briefing on the issue of consent to draw blood. On October 27, 2017, Defendant filed her Opening Brief in Support of Defendant's Motion to Suppress ("Defendant's Brief). Successively, on November 21, 2017, the State filed their Brief in Opposition of Defendant's Motion to Suppress ("States Reply"). This is the Court's Final Decision and Order on the Defendant's Motion to Suppress the blood draw.


         On a motion to suppress, the State must establish, by a preponderance of the evidence, that Defendant's arrest was supported by probable cause.[1] To satisfy the probable cause standard for a DUI arrest, the state "must present facts which suggest, when those facts are viewed under the totality of the circumstances, that there is a fair probability that the defendant has committed a DUI offense."[2] This totality consideration is based on '"the factual and practical considerations of everyday life on which reasonable and prudent men, not legal technicians, act."'[3] "Law enforcement officers must demonstrate reasonable articulable suspicion by pointing to "specific and articulable facts, taken together with rational inferences from those facts, reasonably warrant the intrusion."[4] "The Court must examine the totality of circumstances surrounding the situation as viewed through the 'eyes of a reasonable trained police officer in the same manner or similar circumstances, combining the objective facts with such an officer's subjective interpretation to those facts' and determine reasonable articulable suspicion."[5] In reaching its decision, the Court must analyze the facts based upon what the arresting officer knew at the time the decision was made to take the Defendant into custody. These factors here include the Defendant being involved in a motor vehicle accident, there was a "strong" odor of alcohol emanating from the defendant's person, she had glossy eyes, and her speech was slurred. Therefore, clearly the officer had sufficient facts to take Defendant into custody.

         Where the State seeks to rely on the alcohol contents of the Defendant's blood, the State must establish that a warrant was obtained to draw blood, there were exigent circumstances causing an exception to the warrant requirement, or the Defendant voluntarily gave consent for the blood extraction. The State has the burden to establish the basis which it relies.[6] The Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution and Delaware Constitution protects individuals against "unreasonable searches and seizures."[7] The State has the burden to prove by a preponderance of the evidence, that a warrantless search or seizure is not in violation of the Fourth Amendment.[8] "A compelled physical intrusion beneath the skin to obtain a blood sample for use as evidence in a criminal investigation is considered a search."[9] "A warrantless search is deemed perse unreasonable unless that search falls within a recognized exception."[10]

          One recognized exception to the warrant requirement is a search conducted pursuant to a person's voluntary consent.[11] To be deemed voluntary, consent must be knowing and intelligent, and may not be the product of coercion by threat or force.[12] In order to determine whether a defendant gave consent voluntarily, the Court must examine "the totality of the circumstances surrounding the consent" including: (1) the defendant's knowledge of his constitutional right to refuse to consent; (2) the defendant's age, intelligence, education, and language ability; (3) the degree to which the defendant cooperates with the police officer; and (4) the length of the detention and the nature of questioning, including the use of physical punishment ...

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