Weather plays role in court’s ruling in a DUI case

DOVER — The legal need to avoid cold and rain in a DUI investigation is not absolute, but it was deemed justified in a recent Superior Court matter in connection with a February traffic stop in Dover.

While Randell Matthews argued that his transport from the scene for testing was illegal and should thus invalidate ensuing sobriety tests, Judge Noel Eason Primos found that the weather and close proximity of the Dover Police Department warranted the removal on Feb. 25.

The court pointed to state case law from 1993 and 2001 confirming that “[r]emoval of motorists from the scene to a police station for the purpose of performing field sobriety tests has been permitted in circumstances where due to dangerous roadside conditions and inclement weather there are ‘no suitable or safe means of conducting the requisite tests’ and thus such transportation is ‘reasonable and necessary.’ “

Judge Primos described a proposed analogy from the defendant regarding another court decision as “inapt,” noting that the transport to the police station in that case involved “multiple miles,” not the three to four blocks involved in the Dover case.

“The Court’s ruling here is narrow, and does not imply that the transportation of a DUI suspect is justified whenever it is cold and raining, nor that transportation is justified regardless of the distance travel,” Judge Primos wrote in his five-page decision to deny suppression of evidence.

“This ruling is tied to the particular facts of this case, which rendered transportation legal and necessary for the administration of the tests.”

In evaluating the motion, Judge Primos determined that “The Court heard credible testimony that the weather was rainy and very cold, and that Mr. Matthews complained of the cold, and that the officer reasonably concluded that Mr. Matthews would be unable to perform the tests under the current conditions.

“The Court also viewed a video recording showing that Mr. Matthews appeared either unwilling or unable to perform the initial field test and verbally complained that it was ‘cold.’ “

Mr. Matthews was found by a responding officer sitting on the ground following a reported single-vehicle accident, according to the Court’s recounting of submissions, evidence and argument provided on Aug. 23.

The officer “noted that he appeared confused, was moving sluggishly, and was stumbling,” according to the Court. Also, the officer claimed “that Mr. Matthews was slurring his speech as well as speaking slowly and incoherently.”

According to the opinion, Mr. Matthews allegedly did not cooperate with an initial attempt to conduct a field sobriety test and described the weather as “cold.”

The full opinion is available online at courts.delaware.gov/opinions/.

 

Reach staff writer Craig Anderson at canderson@newszap.com

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