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State v. Cruz

Supreme Court of Rhode Island

February 11, 2015

Ana M. Cruz

Page 382

Providence County Superior Court. (P3/12-3306A). Associate Justice Judith C. Savage.

For State: Aaron L. Weisman, Department of Attorney General.

For Defendant: Catherine Gibran, Office of the Public Defender.

Present: Suttell, C.J., Goldberg, Flaherty, Robinson, and Indeglia, JJ.


Page 383

Suttell, Chief Justice

The defendant, Ana M. Cruz, appeals from a Superior Court judgment of conviction, having been found guilty on two counts: (1) resisting arrest in violation of G.L. 1956 § 12-7-10; and (2) disorderly conduct in violation of G.L. 1956 § 11-45-1. On appeal, the defendant argues that her right to counsel, guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution and article 1, section 10 of the Rhode Island Constitution, was violated when the trial justice allowed her to represent herself at trial without first determining whether she had made a knowing and intelligent waiver of her right to counsel. This case came before the Supreme Court pursuant to an order directing the parties to appear and show cause why the issues raised in this appeal should not be summarily decided. After considering the parties' written and oral submissions and reviewing the record, we conclude that cause has not been shown and that this case may be decided without further briefing or argument. For the reasons set forth in this opinion, we affirm the judgment of the Superior Court.


Facts and Procedural History

On July 7, 2012, police officer Jared Hardy of the Cranston police department received a dispatch call regarding a " report of a one-year-old walking around nude in the street" near 57 Lakeside Drive. Because that area in Cranston was part of Officer Hardy's " beat," he drove there immediately in order to respond to the call. Officer Hardy arrived, ninety seconds later, at 57 Lakeside Drive in his patrol car and dressed in his police uniform. After scanning the area for children, he did not find a nude child in front of that address. Therefore, he approached the residence at 57 Lakeside Drive and unsuccessfully tried to " raise the resident." He testified that he rang the doorbell, as well as knocked several times. Officer Hardy testified that he heard " children's voices coming from the backyard," which

Page 384

led him to go around to the back, because " that[] [was] the nature of the call." Next, he entered the backyard; he testified that he did not have to pass through a fence or gate to do so.

Once in the backyard, Officer Hardy testified, he saw two young males, approximately five and three years of age. Further, he described, " [t]he three-year-old was wearing a T-shirt, underwear, no pants and he was playing around in a patio that had several pieces of broken glass spread about it." Officer Hardy testified that the backyard was on a steep hill, which led directly down to a lake without anything besides " a lightly wooded area" obstructing access to the water. He stated that these children were not being supervised at the time in the backyard. At trial, defendant's daughter, Esmerelda Morontoro, testified that she was in the upstairs window at the time throwing a toy parachute down to the children while they were playing in the backyard. While still in the backyard, the officer questioned the children about the present location of their parents. In response, the smaller child indicated that his mother was inside and offered to bring the officer to her. Officer Hardy testified that " [t]here [wa]s a three-year-old I don't think should be unsupervised especially around a lake, pantless and barefoot in a glassy area. I think it was a dereliction of my duty if I walked away from that three-year-old with no adult supervision." Consequently, the officer followed the two children into the home to find the boy's mother.

After walking through a playroom and kitchen, he entered a living room where he came upon four women in conversation. Officer Hardy testified that defendant was among the group and that he asked the women which one was the mother of the scantily-clad three-year-old. At trial, defendant testified that she was cleaning up the living room when the officer entered her home and she asked, " could I help you?" Because Officer Hardy entered the home to find the smaller child's mother, he continued to pursue that line of questioning with the women. At trial, the officer testified that he believed one of the women, Crystal Bretton, was the smaller child's mother based upon his observations of the child pointing to her and her ensuing nervous demeanor. According to defendant's testimony, Bretton was upstairs when the officer entered; shortly after she came downstairs, Officer Hardy said that he was going to call the Department of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF). Officer Hardy, however, repeatedly denied that he ever made any call or reference to DCYF.

Officer Hardy testified that defendant was " getting between me and [Bretton] and beginning to raise her voice." Furthermore, he testified that defendant was " pointing her finger in my face. Everything she sa[id] [wa]s in an aggressive manner, you don't have a right to be talking to my daughter,[1] you don't have the right to be in here." Officer Hardy testified that defendant had put her hands on him " several times," including pushing his hand down as he tried to write. As this behavior continued, tensions escalated among the parties. Abruptly, Bretton ran from the house and Officer Hardy pursued her. This swift departure prompted defendant to go out into the street where, according to the officer, she yelled, " you don't have the right to ask her any questions, don't tell him anything." While defendant, Officer Hardy, and Bretton were outside, the melee intensified; Officer Hardy testified that defendant grabbed Bretton and told her to run to the house,

Page 385

then the officer grabbed Bretton and felt defendant " jump onto [his] back." [2] Officer Hardy explained that he used his shoulder radio to call for backup, saying " they're fighting with me." He further testified that this trio then re-entered the house with defendant still on his back. Soon after other police officers arrived, Officer Hardy was finally able to handcuff and arrest defendant when he " pushed [defendant] into a bedroom and pushed her facedown on the bed." After the arrest, the officer escorted defendant outside and placed her in a police cruiser. Subsequently, Bretton was also apprehended and arrested.

Following the chaotic events at her home, defendant was charged with: (1) assault and battery in violation of G.L. 1956 § 11-5-3; (2) resisting arrest in violation of § 12-7-10; and (3) disorderly conduct in violation of § 11-45-1. After a District Court trial on November 28, 2012, defendant was found not guilty of assault and battery and guilty of resisting arrest and disorderly conduct. The defendant received a one-year guilty filing on the resisting arrest offense and twenty hours of community service on the disorderly conduct offense. The defendant appealed her conviction to the Superior Court on November 28, 2012. A jury trial occurred in the Superior Court on June 11 and 13, 2013, on the counts of resisting arrest and disorderly conduct.

Waiver of Counsel

Prior to the trial, the trial justice offered defendant, who at the time was represented by counsel, the opportunity to accept a one-year filing, during which period defendant would maintain her not-guilty plea on the condition that she " keep the peace and be of good behavior." The charges would then be dismissed. The defendant rejected the offer, and the trial justice proceeded to empanel a jury.[3]

Page 386

Partway through jury selection, after the luncheon recess, defendant's counsel informed the trial justice that defendant had told him that she wanted to represent herself at trial. The trial justice then engaged in a detailed discussion with defendant on the record regarding her decision to proceed without representation. Because defendant's knowing and intelligent waiver of her right to counsel lies at the heart of this appeal, we reproduce the colloquy in its entirety:

" THE DEFENDANT: Yes, your Honor. I believe if I don't have a chance to get another lawyer, I would like to represent myself.
" THE COURT: Well, the problem is we're in the middle of picking a jury and you wanted a trial this morning.
" THE COURT: You had no trouble with your lawyer then. You had no trouble with your lawyer, to my knowledge, while we were picking the jury and I'm going to finish the trial.
" THE DEFENDANT: The problem was when I came out what my lawyer has told me I feel that I could do it better myself.
" THE COURT: So do you want to represent yourself in this trial?
" THE COURT: Do you understand that you'll be required to do everything at this point?
" THE DEFENDANT: Your Honor, I do not know how to write and read. Is that a problem? If I represent myself, would that be a problem?
" THE COURT: Do you know how to represent yourself?
" THE DEFENDANT: No, your Honor.
" THE COURT: Well, how do you intend to proceed on your own?
" THE DEFENDANT: What I believe is whatever they say and whatever I believe that it's not. I'm going to say things how it really happened and I would like to have myself say exactly what happened and I would not hold anything back to help my own case.
" THE COURT: There are, I think, three choices for you at this point given where we are, okay? You can have [counsel] represent you still, you can represent yourself which means you have to pick the jury. You have to follow our rules in doing that. You have to be able to examine ...

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