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State v. Yon

Supreme Court of Rhode Island

June 9, 2017

State
v.
Tavell D. Yon.

         Providence County Superior Court P2/13-2441AG Robert D. Krause Associate Justice.

          For State: Lauren S. Zurier Department of Attorney General

          For Defendant: George J. West, Esq.

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

          OPINION

          William P. Robinson III Associate Justice

         The defendant, Tavell D. Yon, appeals from a May 2, 2014 judgment of conviction in Providence County Superior Court for constructive possession of a firearm after a conviction for a crime of violence, [1] in violation of G.L. 1956 § 11-47-5.[2] On appeal, he contends that the trial justice erred in: (1) failing to suppress the defendant's statement with respect to the gun at issue in the case; (2) failing to "submit to the [j]ury the issue of the voluntariness of [the] defendant's alleged statement" with respect to the gun at issue; and (3) denying the defendant's motion for judgment of acquittal and motion for a new trial. This case came before the Supreme Court, sitting at Woonsocket High School, for oral argument on April 26, 2017.

         For the reasons set forth in this opinion, we affirm the judgment of the Superior Court.

         I

         Facts and Travel

         In this case, a tip from a confidential informant led to the search of an apartment where defendant was located and the discovery of a firearm. The defendant was subsequently arrested. At the police station, he was asked if the gun found in the apartment was stolen, and he responded: "'[W]hat gun bought off the street isn't stolen?'" It was that statement which defendant sought to have suppressed before trial. We relate below the relevant portions of the suppression hearing.

         A

         The Suppression Hearing

         1. The Testimonies of Detective John Bento and Detective Martin Hames

         Providence Police Detective John Bento was the first witness to testify at the suppression hearing. It was his testimony that, on October 26, 2012, following an investigation that involved surveillance and the issuance of a search warrant, he and other members of the "Narcotics and Organized Crime Unit" executed the search warrant at 14-16 Monticello Street. He added that he and the other officers were searching for a firearm. Detective Bento testified that they "used force" to enter the apartment, at around 11:00 a.m., after there was no answer to a knock on the door. He stated that, upon entering the apartment, the officers detained Mr. Yon and his girlfriend, one Desiree Rodrigues. Detective Bento added that neither individual was placed in handcuffs and that they were seated at the kitchen table. It was the testimony of Det. Bento that a search of the apartment was then conducted and a firearm was eventually discovered. He stated in his testimony that, at that point, Mr. Yon and Ms. Rodrigues were placed "into custody and in cuffs." It was further Det. Bento's testimony that he immediately read both individuals "their rights, their Constitutional rights" from a pre-printed card that he kept in his wallet. He added that, at the conclusion of reading from the card, he inquired whether or not Mr. Yon understood his rights and that Mr. Yon "acknowledged by saying yes, he understands." It was Det. Bento's testimony that, "[s]hortly after" he had read Mr. Yon and Ms. Rodrigues their rights, they were transported to the police station-"within ten, fifteen minutes."

         The testimony of Providence Police Detective Martin Hames corroborated Det. Bentos's testimony. Detective Hames added that, during the investigation of defendant, he discovered that defendant had been arrested "numerous times" and had had his rights read to him in the past. It was also his testimony that he "observed Detective Bento reading the rights to both [defendant and Ms. Rodrigues];" he added that he also heard the rights being read. Detective Hames testified that, at the police station, about a half hour after he had heard Mr. Yon being read his rights, he proceeded to the interview room where Mr. Yon was handcuffed and asked Mr. Yon a single question-viz., whether "the gun was stolen." It was his testimony that Mr. Yon responded as follows to that question: "'[W]hat gun off the street wasn't stolen?'"

         2. The Testimonies of Tavell Yon and Desiree Rodrigues

         At the suppression hearing, Tavell Yon testified that, on October 26, 2012, as soon as the police entered the apartment, they "thr[e]w [him] on the ground" and "cuff[ed] [him]." He stated that he and Ms. Rodrigues were then seated in the kitchen. It was further his testimony that, after the gun was located, an officer said to him: "'[Y]ou're federally f***ed now, you're going down for this, you won't see the streets for a while.'" He added that Ms. Rodrigues told the police that the gun belonged to her and that they proceeded to put her in handcuffs. It was then his testimony at the suppression hearing that "[t]hat morning nobody read [him his] rights."

         With respect to what occurred after he was taken to the police station, defendant testified that after being placed, alone, in an interrogation room at the police station, he was "processed." He further testified: "The guy who works down in the cellblock asked me was the gun stolen. I was like, I don't know what guns on the streets ain't stolen though." It is important to note that, when asked at the suppression hearing, defendant did not deny making that statement. He testified that he had known the man who asked him the question "for so many years;" he added that "he's an all right guy." He further testified that he did not think he was being "interrogated" or "question[ed]" at that time.

         On cross-examination, defendant acknowledged that he had seen Miranda[3] rights being read on television. He was also confronted on cross-examination with a Miranda rights form that he had signed on a previous occasion. The defendant further answered questions on cross-examination with respect to his numerous previous encounters with law enforcement; and he testified that, on several other occasions, he also had not remembered being read his Miranda rights. He added: "I really don't pay attention when I'm getting arrested. I'm so mad, I don't pay attention to what officers are saying." When asked by the court, during cross-examination, whether he knew his rights, he stated that he could "repeat [them], " but he added that he did not "really understand all of them." In his testimony on cross-examination, he went on to state that he knew he had a right to an attorney and the right to remain silent.

         Ms. Rodrigues also testified at the suppression hearing. It was her testimony that, when the officers entered the apartment on October 26, they "put [Mr. Yon] on the ground, cuffed him, put him at the table." It was further her testimony that, after the officers located the gun, she told them the gun belonged to her. She stated that an officer then said to her: "[O]h, you want to play games, you can come down to the station too;" she added that she was then arrested. Ms. Rodrigues stated in her testimony that she and defendant were not read their Miranda rights.

         After the close of testimony at the suppression hearing, the trial justice issued a bench ruling denying defendant's motion to suppress the statement which he made at the police station with respect to the gun at issue-"'what gun off the street [is not] stolen?'" A trial then commenced which spanned four days in February of 2014. We relate below the salient aspects of what transpired at that trial.

         B

         The Testimony at Trial

         After the trial justice's bench ruling on the motion to suppress, but before any testimony was taken at trial, the following colloquy took place out of the presence of the jury:

"THE COURT: If the case is going to take a turn into the Miranda corner, I wouldn't be surprised, [defense counsel], if [the prosecutor] is going to want to get into some of the stuff [which] was disclosed during the course of * * * the hearings * * * relative to your client's knowledge of Miranda. The cases are, as I've already mentioned, pretty clear in that direction. I don't know that the state should be disadvantaged from not being able to use some of that relevant information in the course of a trial where the claim is the statement was made and it was not Mirandized.
"[DEFENSE COUNSEL]: Judge, in light of the Court's ruling, I'm not going to touch on that at all. I'm simply going to ask Ms. Rodrigues if she was advised of her rights before she gave her statement [at the police station] and we can leave it at that.
"THE COURT: Well, is there going to be any suggestion or argument or evidence that you want to proffer to this jury relative to your client making a statement that he was not Mirandized and that the human[e] practice rule ought to be invoked during the course of the --
"[DEFENSE COUNSEL]: The what?
"THE COURT: Human[e] practice rule. In other words, giving the jury that instruction on Miranda.
"[DEFENSE COUNSEL]: Judge, I don't intend to argue that, under the Court's ruling, whether it was suggested ...

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