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State v. Angeles

Supreme Court of Rhode Island

April 3, 2017

José Angeles.

         Supreme Court No. 2015-42-M.P. (P2/12-617A) Stephen P. Nugent Associate Justice.

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

          For Defendant: Catherine Gibran Office of the Public Defender

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



         When giving his instructions to the jury at the conclusion of the parties' final arguments, the trial justice referred to a suppression hearing that had occurred before trial, and he instructed the jury that the question of whether the police lawfully seized cocaine from José Angeles, the defendant, was a legal issue that he would decide. After a jury convicted the defendant of two counts of felony assault and one count each of possession of a controlled substance, resisting arrest, and reckless driving, the defendant petitioned this Court for a writ of certiorari, arguing that the trial justice's jury instructions constituted reversible error because the instructions amounted to commenting on the evidence and were "confusing, misleading, unnecessary and bolstering."[1]

         The matter came before this Court for oral argument on February 23, 2017, pursuant to an order directing the parties to appear and show cause why this appeal should not summarily be decided. After considering the parties' oral and written arguments, and after thoroughly reviewing the record, it is our opinion that cause has not been shown and that this case should be decided at this time without further briefing or argument. For the reasons set forth in this opinion, we affirm the judgment of conviction.

         Facts and Travel

         On the evening of July 6, 2011, Sgt. Gregory Sion, a supervisor in the Providence Police Department's narcotics unit, was operating an unmarked car on patrol in the north end of the city. As Sgt. Sion was traveling east on Ledge Street, he "observed two vehicles approaching [him] at a high rate of speed." One of those vehicles was a silver SUV bearing Massachusetts license plates, and the other vehicle had New York license plates. It appeared to Sgt. Sion that the silver SUV was chasing the vehicle with New York plates and, as the two vehicles approached him, the silver SUV veered across the center of the road and into Sgt. Sion's lane of travel. Sergeant Sion said that, to avoid a collision, he "had to swerve to the right to get out of [the silver SUV's] way, " causing the right-front wheel of the police vehicle to go up onto the sidewalk. In response, Sgt. Sion quickly executed a U-turn in an attempt to follow the two vehicles. He said that he initially lost sight of both vehicles but, with the aid of a passerby who was walking his dog, he quickly located the vehicles near 33 Marietta Street. By the time Sgt. Sion came upon the vehicles, both were unoccupied.

         Using his police radio, Sgt. Sion alerted the six other members of his narcotics squad about the incident that had occurred on Ledge Street, which he described as "a road rage type of incident." While Sgt. Sion had been driving around the block to see if he could locate the drivers of the two vehicles, Det. John Bento and his partner Det. Leo Pichs, both of the Providence Police Department's narcotics unit, drove to Marietta Street and parked their unmarked police vehicle approximately halfway down the street, facing towards Charles Street. Shortly after arriving at Marietta Street, Det. Bento saw the silver SUV "pull out of the parking lot of 33 Marietta" and come towards him. Detective Bento alerted Sgt. Sion that the silver SUV had pulled out onto Marietta Street.

         Soon, Sgt. Sion positioned his car behind the silver SUV, and Detectives Bento and Pichs were in front of the car. Sergeant Sion observed a lone male driver in the silver SUV, who appeared to be the same person who was driving the car when it ran Sgt. Sion off the road. He then ordered Detectives Bento and Pichs "to move in." Detectives Bento and Pichs got out of their vehicle and approached the driver of the silver SUV, which was being driven by defendant, José Angeles.

         There is conflicting testimony about what happened after the police "boxed in" the silver SUV. According to the testimony of Sgt. Sion and Det. Bento, the emergency lights on Det. Bento's vehicle were activated, and Detectives Bento and Pichs, who were in plainclothes, verbally identified themselves as police officers, and Det. Pichs' badge was clearly visible. Several eyewitnesses, however, testified that the police did not turn on their emergency lights nor did they identify themselves as they approached the silver SUV. And two of the eyewitnesses testified that they believed that defendant was getting "jumped" by random people.

         Detective Bento testified that, as he walked toward the silver SUV, he observed defendant "manipulate something in his hand and put it under his leg." Then, defendant put the silver SUV into reverse, striking Sgt. Sion's vehicle, and proceeded to drive back and forth, ramming into both Det. Bento's vehicle and Sgt. Sion's vehicle repeatedly until he had enough room to escape. The defendant drove the silver SUV onto the sidewalk towards Det. Bento, at which point Sgt. Sion drew his service pistol and at "point blank range shot the left rear tire of the vehicle in hopes that it would somehow disable the vehicle from running down [Det.] Bento." However, Det. Bento was struck[2] and defendant fled the scene. A high speed chase ensued.

         The chase soon ended after defendant crashed into a parked car and lost control of the SUV, which went down a driveway, and ultimately through a yard and into a fence. The defendant fled on foot, but the police quickly apprehended him. Officer Andres Perez, who at the time of this incident was a detective in the Providence Police Department's narcotics unit, participated in the pursuit and capture of defendant. After defendant was taken into custody, Officer Perez returned to the abandoned SUV to see "if there was any evidence left there." As it turned out, Officer Perez "seized [from ...

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