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State v. Mendez-Garcia

Court of Common Pleas of Delaware, New Castle

October 16, 2019


          Submitted: October 8, 2019

          Isaac Rank, Esquire Deputy Attorney General Attorney for the State of Delaware

          Thomas A. Foley, Esquire Attorney for Defendant



         Defendant Cristian Mendez-Garcia was arrested and charged for Driving Under the Influence ("DUI") in violation of 21 Del. C. § 4177(a)(1). Defendant timely filed the present Motion to Suppress Evidence ("Motion") in which he seeks to suppress all evidence gathered by the New Castle County Police, including the results of the intoxilyzer test administered to Defendant. Defendant alleges that the field sobriety tests conducted by the officer were not consistent with National Highway Transportation Safety Administration ("NHTSA") standards and that the officer did not have probable cause to arrest Defendant. The State opposes Defendant's Motion, arguing that the field sobriety tests were administered in compliance with NHTSA. Alternatively, the State argues that absent the field sobriety tests, the officer had probable cause to arrest Defendant based on the officer's observations of the Defendant.

         On October 8, 2019, the Court held a suppression hearing. At the conclusion of the hearing, the Court took the matter under advisement. This is the Final Decision of the Court on Defendant's Motion.


         On October 8, 2019, the Court held a hearing on Defendant's Motion. At the hearing, State witness and arresting officer Corporal Shultz testified as to her training and experience with DUI cases, as well as the certification process for DUI training.[1] She testified that at approximately 6:30 a.m. on the morning of March 30, 2019, she was on patrol duty and wearing a body camera when she was called out to the area of Danbury Drive in New Castle County, Delaware, for a vehicle collision investigation. Upon arriving at the scene, she approached Defendant, who was standing outside of the vehicle in question.

         Corporal Shultz asked Defendant for his registration and insurance card, but Defendant was unable to produce his physical driver's license. While Defendant gathers his registration and insurance information, Defendant admitted to Corporal Shultz that his license was suspended due to entering a guilty plea and being sentenced on a prior DUI. At this time, she observed Defendant smelled of alcohol and had bloodshot eyes. Additionally, Defendant admitted to drinking alcohol on the day in question. Corporal Shultz determined that a collision involving Defendant did occur and testified that pieces of the car light from Defendant's car were found near the victim's car.

         Corporal Shultz testified Defendant was willing to cooperate with field sobriety tests. Corporal Shultz proceeded to conduct three field sobriety tests including, the horizontal gaze nystagmus test ("HGN"), the walk-and-turn test, and the one-leg-stand test. Corporal Shultz testified that Defendant exhibited all six clues for HGN, two clue for the walk-and-turn test and zero clues for the one-leg-stand test. Ultimately, as a result of the field sobriety tests, Corporal Shultz administered a portable breathalyzer test ("PBT") on Defendant.

         During the October 8, 2019, suppression hearing, Corporal Shultz testified that she was wearing a body camera during the March 30, 2019, encounter with Defendant, and that the video fairly and accurately reflected her recollection of the incident. The body camera footage was played during the October 8, 2019, suppression hearing and admitted into evidence. Through this video and audio footage, the Court observed the accident scene and the Defendant's conduct.

         Defendant's recorded statements, while perhaps not admissions per say, certainly weigh against Defendant under the totality of the circumstances. The Defendant admitted to backing up too quickly and striking a parked car. On numerous occasions. Defendant made statements using expletive language describing how bad he messed up; that he should have taken an Uber or Lift, and that he had ruined his life. While Corporal Shultz was attempting to administer the HGN, Defendant was having difficulty keeping his head still and struggled to follow the stimulus with only his eyes. Corporal Shultz repeatedly advised Defendant to stop moving his head, and suggested he stop talking and focus on the stimulus. Even after this warning, Defendant continued to make profanity laced quasi-admissions.

         Corporal Shultz testified to both her specialized training and the NHTSA standards with regard to the HGN test only. Corporal Shultz did not testify as to her specialized training or the NHTSA standards for the walk-and-turn or one-leg-stand tests. Corporal Shultz did briefly discuss the clues an officer looks for when conducting the walk-and-turn and the one-leg-stand tests.

         Corporal Shultz testified that there are eight clues to the walk-and-turn test. According to Corporal Shultz's testimony, there are two stages to the walk-and-turn test. At the first stage, or the instruction stage, there are two clues; (1) that Defendant does not start the test too early; and (2) that Defendant can maintain balance. At the second stage of the test, or the walking stage, there are six clues. The six clues are whether the Defendant; (1) missed a heel to toe; (2) steps off the line; (3) uses their arms for balance; (4) raises arms;[2] (5) turns incorrectly; or (6) stops walking prior to completion of the test.

         As for the one-leg-stand test, Corporal Shutlz testified that there are four clues officers look for while conducting the test. The four clues consist of whether Defendant; (1) puts their foot down; (2) uses their arms for balance; (3) sways; or (4) hops.

         Following the field sobriety tests, Corporal Shultz administered a PBT. Corporal Shultz testified that it is standard practice to wait fifteen minutes after coming in contact with a defendant to administer a PBT, and that she did wait fifteen minutes before administering the PBT to Defendant. After conducting the PBT, Corporal Shultz arrested Defendant and transported Defendant back to the New Castle County Police Station, where an intoxilyzer test was administered on Defendant.


         Defendant generally argues that Corporal Shultz's administration of the field sobriety tests were conducted in a manner not consistent with NHTSA standards. Defendant asserts that Corporal Shultz did not have probable cause to place Defendant under arrest after administering the field sobriety tests. Defendant additionally argues that the length of detention constitutes an arrest of Defendant as it was not "carefully tailored to its underlying justification," and therefore, probable cause for arrest was necessary.[3] Defendant argues the arresting officer did not have probable cause for Defendant's arrest and transportation to ...

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