United States District Court, D. Rhode Island
J. McConnell, Jr. United States District Judge
Thomas M. Severns filed a Motion to Suppress (ECF No. 18) all
tangible evidence seized by the Rhode Island State Police as
a result of a traffic stop, frisk, and vehicle search. After
full briefing, evidentiary hearing, and legal arguments, the
Court DENIES Mr. Severns' motion.
Severns was driving 82 miles per hour in his girlfriend's
car when two Rhode Island State Police troopers pulled him
over on September 26, 2015 at approximately 2
There were two male passengers in the vehicle. After running
Mr. Severns' name through the NCIC database, which
revealed a nineteen page long criminal history of arrests for
crimes involving narcotics and violence, the troopers asked
Mr. Severns to exit the vehicle. The troopers observed that
Mr. Severns was wearing a t-shirt bearing the logo of the
"Outlaw Motorcycle Gang, " known to police to have
a history of violent behavior. They also noted that his hands
were shaking and he appeared to be nervous as he turned over
his drivers' license. When asked about the "Outlaw
Motorcycle Gang" affiliation, Mr. Severns indicated that
he was a full patch member, that the two men were prospects,
and that they were driving to Rhode Island to attend a party.
In light of these observations, the troopers patted Mr.
Severns down and found a large knife in a sheath attached to
his belt. Determining that the length of the knife exceeded
state statutory limits, the troopers arrested Mr. Severns,
placed him in cuffs, and put him in the rear of the police
cruiser. When asked about other weapons in the car, Mr.
Severns evaded the question, instead insisting that he had
not been drinking. Police searched the vehicle and found a
loaded, semi-automatic handgun in the glove box. All three
men were arrested and processed.
of a previous felony, Mr. Severns was charged with being a
felon in possession of a firearm in violation of 18 U.S.C.
§§ 922 (g)(1) and 924 (a)(2). He moves to suppress
the gun on several grounds, arguing that his arrest was
illegal because the knife he was carrying was not concealed
so therefore did not violate Rhode Island law, and that the
frisk of his person and the inventory search of the car
violated the Fourth Amendment of the United States
the Court finds that the government has met its burden of
establishing that the initial stop of Mr. Severns'
vehicle was justified. It is uncontested that Mr. Severns was
traveling 82 miles per hour in a 65 mile per hour section of
Route 95 north in Rhode Island. United States v.
Whren, 517 U.S. 806, 810 (1996) ("As a general
matter, the decision to stop an automobile is reasonable
where the police have probable cause to believe that a
traffic violation has occurred."). Second, the troopers
were allowed to remove Mr. Severns from his vehicle. When the
police legally stop a vehicle, they "may order the
driver to get out of the vehicle without violating the Fourth
Amendment's proscription of unreasonable searched and
seizures." Pennsylvania v. Minims, 434 U.S.
106, 111 n. 6 (1977).
Severns' final challenge to the legality of the vehicle
search requires some discussion. The First Circuit Court of
Appeals held that if an officer "has some articulable,
reasonable suspicion that the persons stopped may be
dangerous, he can pat them down and search the car's
interior-including closed compartments-for weapons that they
could quickly lay their hands on." U.S. v.
McGregor, 650 F.3d 813, 820 (1st Cir. 2011).
on the totality of the record before it, the Court finds that
the troopers reasonably suspected that the situation was
dangerous and that the men might be carrying weapons in the
car. They had reasonably grounded their suspicion on a host
of facts taken together, including: l) the fact that Mr.
Severns was driving well over the speed limit; 2) he was a
member of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gang driving prospective
members to a party in Rhode Island and that the group is
known to have a violent history; 3) Mr. Severns' hands
were shaking and he appeared nervous; 4) he failed to produce
his registration and only gave the officers his license when
both were requested; 5) an NCIC check revealed Mr.
Severns' 19-page criminal history, which included arrests
for drugs, burglary, assault, making terrorist threats, and
carrying a concealed weapon, " 6) Mr. Severns repeatedly
insisted that he had not been drinking even though the
troopers never asked whether he had been! 7) there were three
unrelated men in a car, none of whom was the owner of the
car, * 8) the two troopers were alone on the scene at 2 a.m.
in a quiet section of Route 95; and 9) when Mr. Severns was
frisked after exiting his car, the police found a four-inch
knife in a sheath on his belt. Id. at 823. Based on
the totality of these factors, the officers reasonably
believed that the situation was dangerous and the persons
stopped may be dangerous, justifying the search of Mr.
Severns' car including the glove box where the trooper
found the gun.
analysis of the facts and law appears sufficient to deny Mr.
Severns' motion and not suppress any evidence. However,
Mr. Severns raises another issue that the Court will now
being asked to exit the vehicle, the trooper's pat down
of Mr. Severns revealed that he was wearing a sheath
containing a four-inch long knife, which the troopers
determined was in violation of R.I. Gen. Laws §
ll-47-42(a)(3). He asks the Court to invalidate his arrest
for carrying the knife in violation of the statute, which
prohibits any person from wearing or carrying concealed upon
his person a knife with a blade longer than three inches. The
parties disagree about the interpretation of the statute and
whether the knife was concealed or not. With regard to the
statute, Mr. Severns argues that it only prohibits carrying
such a weapon if it is concealed and his knife was visible
because he wore it on his belt. The Government argues that
the statute bars both the wearing and the concealed carrying
of such a large knife.
Rhode Island Supreme Court does not appear to have resolved
this statutory section's interpretation,  but this Court
declines to weigh in because whether the knife had to be
concealed is irrelevant to this Court's decision here.
The United State Supreme Court in Heien v. North
Carolina held that even if the police mistakenly
determined that certain conduct violated a statute, as long
as the officers' view of the statute was not
unreasonable, the seizure was not unlawful under the Fourth
Amendment. 135 S.Ct. 530, 536-40 (2014). The Court finds that
the search and arrest was valid because, even if the troopers
were mistaken about what kind of conduct the statute covered,
their interpretation of the statute was not unreasonable,
especially in light of the dearth of case law discussing the
specific interpretation of the statute at issue here.
Furthermore, any mistake resulting from that interpretation
was also reasonable under the circumstances.
Rhode Island State Police troopers acted properly when they
stopped the car that Mr. Severns was driving in excess of the
speed limit, ordered him out of the car, patted him down, and
searched the car after the pat down revealed a large knife
that the troopers knew or reasonably believed he carried in
violation of state law. His arrest was lawful and the search
and seizure did not violate the Fourth Amendment. Mr.
Severns' Motion to Suppress (ECF No. 18) is DENIED.