State v. Heath

In State v. Heath, 929 A.2d 390, WL 3842144, Del. Supr. Young, J. (2006) the defendant was charged with violating 21 Del. C. Sec. 4155(b) by giving a signal of his intention to turn left 30 feet before turning instead of giving a signal 300 feet before turning. The officer testified at the suppression hearing that he stopped the defendant because he wanted to question him about being in a high crime area. Therefore, the police officer essentially testified at the suppression hearing that the stop was pretextual. Under those circumstances, the Court held that the stop was pretextual and the evidence was suppressed. In Heath, the Superior Court set forth the following framework for the analysis of pretextual stops. The first step is to determine if at the time of the stop, the police office reasonably believed the defendant was committing a traffic offense and whether the law authorizes a stop for that offense. The burden is placed initially on the State to demonstrate that there was reasonable suspicion that a traffic violation occurred and that a reasonable officer would have stopped the vehicle. Id. If the State meets this burden, then the burden is shifted to the defendant. Id. Under Heath, the defendant meets this burden by showing that "(1) he was stopped only for a traffic violation; (2) he was later arrested for and charged with a crime unrelated to the stop; (3) the crime or evidence of the crime was discovered as a result of this stop; (4) the traffic stop was merely a pretextual purpose, alleging that the officer had a hunch about, or suspected the defendant of a non-traffic related offense unsupported by reasonable suspicion; and (5) the pretext can be inferred, at least, when the suppression hearing evidence is presented." Id. In considering whether the defendant can meet this burden, the Court can consider the following factors which are not exhaustive: "(1) evidence of the arresting officer's non-compliance with written police regulations; (2) evidence of the abnormal nature of the traffic stop; (3) testimony of the arresting officer that his reason for the stop was pretextual; (4) evidence that the officer's typical employment duties do not include traffic stops; (5) evidence that the officer was driving an unmarked vehicle and was not in uniform; and (6) evidence that the stop was unnecessary for the protection of traffic safety." Id. If the defendant fails to meet his burden, the stop would be constitutional. Id.