Kent County Superior Court
For Plaintiff: John E. Sullivan III, Esq.
For Defendant: Matthew T. Marin, Esq.
Before the Court is Andrew Falandes's (Defendant) "Motion to Suppress Breath Test Results." Defendant avers that his consent to a breath test administered by the East Greenwich Police Department (the Department) was invalid because he was not adequately warned of all penalties and consequences that could be imposed upon him if he refused to take the breath test. The State maintains that Defendant's consent was valid because the "Rights for Use at Station" form (Rights Form) that was read, acknowledged, and signed by Defendant was adequate. For the foregoing reasons, the Court denies Defendant's motion to suppress.
Facts and Travel
On April 18, 2015, Defendant was arrested by officers of the East Greenwich Police (the Police) on suspicion of driving under the influence. He was taken into custody and transported to the Department, where he was read a Rights Form. Defendant consented to a breath test, which revealed his blood alcohol content (BAC) to be .15 percent, almost twice the legal limit of .08 percent. The State brought charges against Defendant for driving under the influence of alcohol. Defendant filed the instant motion to suppress, and an evidentiary hearing (the Hearing) was scheduled and heard on October 15, 2015. At the Hearing, the arresting officer, Patrolman Matthew Larson (Officer Larson), testified for the State.
Officer Larson has worked for the Department since graduating from the Municipal Police Academy (the Academy) in 2012. He received training in identifying suspects driving under the influence at the Academy and continues to receive DUI training annually at the Department.
Officer Larson was on duty the night of April 18, 2015, patrolling "District Two, " which encompasses the area in East Greenwich between Post Road and Route 4. Around 6:00 p.m., Officer Larson was observing traffic on Main Street from an abandoned Sunoco gas station when he received a broadcast from the Department's Dispatch Officer (Dispatch). Dispatch advised Officer Larson that there was an "erratic operator" driving northbound in a red sports car with Massachusetts registration plates. A few minutes later, Officer Larson observed a red Mitsubishi Eclipse-with a Massachusetts registration-traveling northbound at a high rate of speed. The car proceeded to "cut off" another automobile and commit several other motor vehicle violations. Officer Larson activated his overhead lights and initiated a traffic stop.
As Officer Larson approached the vehicle, he noticed Defendant in the driver's seat and an unidentified female passenger. He also detected an odor of alcohol emanating from the car. Officer Larson asked Defendant if he had been drinking; Defendant answered in the negative. In addition to smelling alcohol, Officer Larson observed Defendant's eyes to be bloodshot and watery, and his speech was slurred. Officer Larson again asked Defendant if he had consumed alcohol, and Defendant responded that he had consumed "a few" drinks at the beach. Subsequently, Officer Larson ordered Defendant out of the car and conducted several field sobriety tests, such as the "horizontal gaze" and "one leg balance" tests, among others. Based on Defendant's poor performance of these tests, he was placed under arrest and transported to the Department.
At the Department, Defendant read, acknowledged, and signed a Rights Form, agreeing to submit to a breath test. The Rights Form, in relevant part, states the following:
"You do not have to submit to a chemical test at my request. If you refuse, none shall be given. However, you will be charged with Refusal to Submit to a Chemical Test and a report will then be sent to a Rhode Island Traffic Tribunal Magistrate or a District court Judge, who upon receipt and review may promptly order that your Rhode Island driver's license or privilege to operate a motor vehicle in this state be suspended. If the Refusal charge is sustained after a hearing, the following mandatory sanctions shall be imposed:
"(1) For a first violation within Rhode Island, suspension of driver's license or privilege to operate a vehicle for six (6) to twelve (12) months; a fine of $200 to $500; public community service of 10 to 60 hours; and a course on driving while intoxicated and/or alcohol or drug treatment. The sentencing court may also prohibit you from operating a motor vehicle that is not equipped with an ignition interlock device for 6 months to [two] years."
[. . .]
"(4) In addition to the above penalties, all violators shall pay a $500 highway safety assessment fee, a $200 department of health chemical testing programs assessment fee, and a $350 license reinstatement fee. In determining the period of license suspension, a prior violation shall include any conviction of driving while under the influence of liquor and/or drugs, within a five (5) year period in the State of Rhode Island.
"(5) Violators will be required to maintain proof of financial responsibility for three (3) years, and all Rhode Island registrations in your name will be suspended unless proof of financial responsibility is provided for such vehicles." State's Ex. 1.
Officer Larson "did not tell him about anything not on [the Rights] Form, " and further "told him it was his choice" whether to refuse or take the breath test. Defendant submitted to two chemical tests, which revealed his BAC to be .15 percent, almost twice the legal limit. Defendant was released from the Department around 8:25 p.m.
On cross-examination, Officer Larson conceded that the Rights Form had been changed twice since Defendant's arrest, and the Rights Form currently used (the New Rights Form) was submitted into evidence as Defendant's Exhibit A. See Def.'s Ex. A. In comparing the two rights forms, the New Rights Form differs from the Rights Form read to Defendant inasmuch as it advises, "[y]ou may also qualify for a conditional hardship license to get to and from employment, which can only be granted in conjunction with the installation of an interlock ...