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State v. Cabrera

Superior Court of Rhode Island

July 21, 2016


         Kent County Superior Court

          For Plaintiff: Matthew L. LaMountain, Esq.

          For Defendant: Emili B. Vaziri, Esq.


          STERN, J.

         Before the Court is Jose Cabrera's (Defendant) Motion to Suppress Tangible Evidence (the Motion). Defendant argues that the 1100 oxycodone pills found in his car should be excluded from evidence because the search of his motor vehicle was unconstitutional as it was not supported by probable cause. Conversely, the State of Rhode Island (the State) objects to the Motion, maintaining that the search of Defendant's motor vehicle was supported by probable cause and thus constitutional. Jurisdiction is pursuant to G.L. 1956 § 8-2-15. For the following reasons, the Court denies the Motion.

         I Facts[1] and Travel

         On October 7, 2015, Trooper Garrett Hassett (Trooper Hassett) of the Rhode Island State Police (RISP) was patrolling Route 95 near Exit 5 and the Austin Farm turnaround. Trooper Hassett is a five-year veteran of the RISP and a member of the Domestic Highway Enforcement Team (DHET). As a member of the DHET, Trooper Hassett has received training to identify criminal activity in automobiles. The training informed Trooper Hassett of certain indicia of criminal activity in a motor vehicle stop, such as using cover scents and sympathetic statements, having unrealistic travel plans, and being untruthful, among others.

         During Trooper Hassett's patrol, he observed a black vehicle (the Vehicle) bearing Massachusetts license plates, following a semi-truck car carrier. The Vehicle was traveling in the northbound direction in the travel lane furthest to the right and following the car carrier too closely, only being one-half of a car length behind it. As a result, Trooper Hassett followed the Vehicle for half of a mile, during which time he observed that another RISP Trooper had initiated a traffic stop ahead of himself and the Vehicle. Trooper Hassett increased the distance between his police cruiser and the Vehicle to give the Vehicle ample room to move over to the left travel lane, away from the traffic stop, in conformance with Rhode Island's new "Move Over" law[2]; however, the Vehicle did not move to the left travel lane. Accordingly, Trooper Hassett initiated a traffic stop of the Vehicle.

         After approaching the Vehicle, Trooper Hassett observed that Defendant was the driver and there were no passengers. Trooper Hassett asked Defendant to provide his license, registration, and proof of insurance, and questioned Defendant about his travel plans. Defendant indicated that he was coming from the Bronx, New York, where he spent the night visiting his father, who was sick. At this time, Trooper Hassett noticed an odor of marijuana emanating from the Vehicle and asked Defendant if he had smoked marijuana, to which Defendant responded that he had smoked one hour before. At this time, Defendant handed Trooper Hassett a small amount of marijuana and a half-smoked joint.[3] Trooper Hassett asked Defendant if he had ever been arrested before, and Defendant stated that he had been arrested in 2001 by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) for a conspiracy drug charge. In making a cursory glance around the passenger compartment of the Vehicle, Trooper Hassett observed, in plain view, a magazine on the passenger seat of the Vehicle with what he identified as a marijuana grow lamp on the front cover. Trooper Hassett indicated that his interaction with Defendant was normal-while he sensed that Defendant was slightly nervous, he stated that such a reaction was common among the majority of people who are pulled over by police. Trooper Hassett reported back to his police cruiser to check Defendant's license, registration, and to run a background check. The background check revealed that Defendant had also been arrested in 2009 by the Massachusetts State Police for possession of cocaine.

         About fifteen minutes into the traffic stop, Trooper Hassett returned to the Vehicle and asked Defendant to step out of the Vehicle so that they could talk. After Defendant exited the Vehicle, Trooper Hassett asked Defendant to submit to a field sobriety test because he noticed that Defendant's eyes were bloodshot and watery. Defendant obliged and passed the three field sobriety tests that were administered. Trooper Hassett asked Defendant why he had not told him about the 2009 Massachusetts arrest, and Defendant responded that he was nervous and that he had forgotten about it. At this time, Defendant's nervousness had increased exponentially. Despite it being only seventy degrees, Trooper Hassett observed that Defendant was perspiring at an excessive rate; so much so that Defendant used the bottom of his shirt to wipe the sweat from his forehead and face. When Defendant picked up the bottom of his shirt to wipe his face, Trooper Hassett observed that Defendant's abdomen was also covered in sweat. Trooper Hassett stated that this was the most nervous and the most he has seen anyone perspire in his five years of service with the RISP. Subsequently, Trooper Hassett indicated to Defendant that he was going to search the Vehicle, at which time Defendant's knees buckled and he fell to the ground, having apparently fainted. Trooper Hassett and two other members of the RISP who were on scene helped Defendant to his feet, and told him to sit on the push bumper of Trooper Hassett's police cruiser while Trooper Hassett conducted a search of the Vehicle.

         During Trooper Hassett's search of the Vehicle, he observed, in plain view, a Marmot backpack in the back seat. He opened the backpack and found a black plastic bag. Upon opening the black plastic bag, Trooper Hassett found eleven separate clear bags containing a total of 1100 oxycodone pills, which have a street value of roughly $33, 000. Trooper Hassett arrested Defendant on drug charges and also issued Defendant two civil citations.

         On December 24, 2015, the State filed a criminal information charging Defendant with (1) possession and intent to deliver a controlled substance in violation of § 21-28-4.01(a)(4)(i) of our general laws, and (2) operating a motor vehicle while knowingly having in the motor vehicle a controlled substance, in violation of § 31-27-2.4 of our general laws. On January 15, 2016, Defendant was arraigned and pled not guilty to the above charges. After several conferences with the Court, Defendant filed the Motion arguing that the 1100 oxycodone pills should be suppressed because they were obtained during an unconstitutional search.

         II Standard of Review

         Defendant brings the instant motion pursuant to Super. R. Crim. P. 41(f); therefore, at a suppression hearing, the State bears the burden of establishing that the evidence is admissible "by a fair preponderance of the evidence." State v. O'Dell, 576 A.2d 425, 427 (R.I. 1990) (citing United States v. Matlock, 415 U.S. 164, ...

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