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State v. Legates

Court of Common Pleas of Delaware, New Castle

August 22, 2018

STATE OF DELAWARE, Plaintiff,
v.
ADAM C. LEGATES, Defendant.

          Submitted: July 9, 2018

          Julie Mayer, Esquire Delaware Department of Justice Attorney for the State of Delaware

          Andrew G. Ahem III, Esquire Attorney for Defendant

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER ON DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO SUPRESS

          ALEX J. SMALLS CHIEF JUDGE.

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On January 20, 2018, Defendant Adam C. Lecates ("Defendant") was arrested for the offenses of Driving While Under the Influence of Alcohol (DUI), in violation of 21 Del C. §4177; Failure to Signal, in violation of 21 Del. C. §4155(b); and Improper Lane Change, in violation of 21 Del. C. §4122(1).

         The facts which gave rise to these proceedings indicate that on the night of January 20, 2018 Corporal Christopher Sutton of the Delaware State Police ("Cpl. Sutton") was driving in the left lane of Maryland Avenue, a four lane street in the City of Wilmington. He stopped for the red light at the intersection with Banning Street. While stopped at the red light, he observed a red Chevrolet Impala vehicle ("the Impala") operated by Defendant, traveling in the right lane in his direction. The red Impala also stopped at the red light. When the light turned green, both vehicles continued on Maryland Avenue. The traffic pattern on Maryland Avenue east of Banning Street permitted parking vehicles in the right lane where there were vehicles. These vehicles blocked the lane of travel for the Impala. After passing through the intersection, the Impala changed from the right lane to the left lane in front of Cpl. Sutton's marked police vehicle. Defendant used the vehicle's turn signal when making the lane change. Cpl. Sutton initiated a traffic stop of the Impala on the basis that Defendant failed to signal three hundred (300) feet prior to the lane change. Following an investigation, Cpl. Sutton thereafter arrested Defendant on the above-named offenses.

         On April 24, 2018, Defendant filed a Motion to Suppress. Defendant seeks to suppress from use at trial all evidence seized by the State as a result of the traffic stop and all statements made by Defendant on the basis that the officer lacked reasonable articulable suspicion and probable cause to stop the vehicle for a violation of 21 Del. C. §4155(b). Defendant does not dispute that he changed lanes, but avers that it was impossible for him to comply with §4155(b)'s requirement that he signal for at least 300 feet before changing lanes, because there were vehicles parked in the right lane which impede his path of travel such that there was less than 300 feet of roadway available to signal.

         On May 24, 2018, a hearing was held on Defendant's Motion to Suppress. During the Motion hearing, Cpl. Sutton testified that on January 20, 2018, at around 11:05 p.m., he was on routine patrol within the City of Wilmington in a marked police vehicle equipped with a Mobile Vehicle Recorder ("MVR"). Cpl. Sutton testified that it was a clear night, without any fog or precipitation. Cpl. Sutton testified he was driving in the left lane of Maryland Avenue and while stopped at the red light, he observed two vehicles, one traveling in the left lane and the other traveling in the right lane in his direction. The vehicle in the right lane appeared to be speeding, Cpl. Sutton further testified that the driver of the vehicle, a red Impala, timed the light to cross through the intersection right as it turned green. Seconds after crossing through the intersection, the Impala changed lanes from the right to the left, in front of Cpl. Sutton's vehicle. Cpl. Sutton testified that the driver of the Impala only turned on his turn signal after he was making the lane change. Cpl. Sutton then initiated a traffic stop of the Chevy Impala, which was driven by Defendant.

         During cross-examination, Cpl. Sutton testified that the basis for the stop of Defendant's vehicle was a violation of 21 Del. C. §4155(b), failure to signal continuously for 300 feet before changing lanes.

         At the conclusion of the Motion Hearing, the Court ordered supplemental briefing. On June 13, 2018, the State filed its Supplemental Response to Defendant's Motion to Suppress Evidence ("State's Brief). Successively, on June 28, 2018, Defendant filed his Reply to the State of Delaware's Response to his Motion to Suppress Evidence ("Defendant's Reply"). This is the Court's Final Decision and Order on the Defendant's Motion to Suppress.

         LEGAL STANDARD

         The Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution secures an individual's right to be free from unreasonable governmental searches and seizures. Under the Fourth Amendment, "a traffic stop is reasonable if it is supported by reasonable suspicion or probable cause to believe that a traffic violation has occurred."[1]

         To justify a vehicle stop, the officer must be able to point to objective facts which would support "reasonable articulable suspicion, taken together with rational inferences from those facts, which reasonably warrant the intrusion."[2] "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 ...


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