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State v. Sabourin

Supreme Court of Rhode Island

June 9, 2017

Ernest Sabourin.

         Providence County Superior Court P1/14-2044A Luis M. Matos Associate Justice.

          For State: Owen Murphy Department of Attorney General

          For Defendant: Lara E. Montecalvo Office of the Public Defender

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


          Francis X. Flaherty Associate Justice.

         The defendant, Ernest Sabourin, appeals from a judgment of conviction after a jury found him guilty on two counts of first-degree sexual assault. The defendant had been accused by a woman, both of whom believed was his daughter, [1] of sexually assaulting her at a time when she was too intoxicated to resist. The trial justice sentenced the defendant to twenty-five years on the first count and twenty-five years on the second count, to run concurrently with the first count. On appeal, the defendant argues that the state has failed to meet its burden of demonstrating, by clear and convincing evidence, that he knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily waived his constitutional rights under Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966), and that he thereafter made voluntary statements. After careful consideration of the defendant's arguments and a thorough review of the record, we affirm the judgment of conviction.


         Facts and Travel

         The Incident

         On the evening of April 5, 2014, the complaining witness left defendant's apartment to attend a party with defendant's grandson. She had already been drinking when she left the apartment. At the party, she consumed more alcohol but she could not recall how many drinks she consumed. By the time she left the party, she was stumbling and, according to her testimony, was "pretty drunk." She was driven back to defendant's apartment. Upon her entry into the apartment, she went straight for the couch.

         According to the complaining witness, defendant approached her while she was on the couch and began to remove articles of clothing from her body and touch her everywhere. She kept saying "no" and telling him to "stop." She testified that defendant then dragged her into his bedroom. Once she was on the bed, defendant removed her jeans and her underwear. At this point, she remembered defendant penetrating her with his fingers. She felt his mouth and tongue on her vaginal area. She testified that she wanted it all to stop but because of the alcohol in her system she was unable to move.

         The next morning, one of defendant's sons drove the complaining witness to her mother's house. She told her mother what had happened to her the night before. The defendant's son later returned to bring her to the Central Falls police station. The woman gave the police a statement and she was brought to the hospital. The defendant's son also spoke to the police.

         The Visit to Defendant's Apartment

         After speaking to both witnesses, a lead detective, accompanied by another detective, went to defendant's apartment. They were clad in civilian clothing and drove an unmarked police vehicle.[2]

         The defendant resided on the second floor of a three-family house. The detectives entered through the unlocked common entryway of the house and walked up the stairs leading to the second floor. When they reached the second floor, they knocked on defendant's door.

         When defendant asked who was at the door, the detectives informed him that it was the police. The defendant opened the door and said, "I knew you guys were coming. I don't want to go through this again." One of the detectives testified that she believed that defendant was "basically inviting [them] in" because he opened the door and stood back, and, as the detectives stepped forward, he did not say "stop." In response to defendant's statements, one of the detectives asked him, "What do you mean by that?" The defendant responded, "[the complaining witness] was here last night, she was drunk, she kept taking her clothes off, I had to make her go in my bedroom."

         One of the detectives then asked him if he would give them consent to search his apartment. The detective testified that, as he was trying to read the consent-to-search form to him, defendant was continuously talking over him, trying to explain what had occurred the night before. He kept repeating the same story that "[the complaining witness] came to [his] house drunk * * * [and] kept taking her clothes off." Significantly, one of the detectives instructed him not to say anything further. The detectives then testified that neither of them was yelling at defendant; he was not handcuffed, nor was he told he was under arrest. The defendant ultimately signed the consent-to-search form.

         After signing the form, defendant asked the detectives what they were searching for. When one of the detectives indicated that they were going to seize the bedsheets, defendant said that they "were not going to like what [they] found on the sheets." The detective then asked him, "What do you mean?" The defendant answered that the complaining witness "was in the bedroom and had been playing with herself."

         After seizing the bedsheets, the detectives asked defendant if he would accompany them to the police station. He responded that he would but that he first wanted to comb his hair. The detectives allowed him to comb his hair in the bathroom; neither of the detectives accompanied him there but the bathroom door remained open. After all three of them left the apartment, the uniformed police officer, who had remained outside the apartment, took defendant into custody.

         Once at the police station, the lead detective asked defendant if he would speak to her, and he agreed. At this point, defendant was informed of his Miranda rights.[3] He initialed on the form after each of his rights was read to him. Notably, however, defendant checked off "no" for the part that read, "I understand my rights." The detective, however, believed that the "no" was applicable to the statement that came right before that statement and read, "The police have made no threats or promises to me." Nonetheless, she testified that she asked him several times whether he understood his rights; each time he indicated that he did. The defendant subsequently agreed to give a statement.

         His statement was typed up by the detective and was reviewed with defendant, both on the computer screen and again after it was printed. After he read each of his responses, he initialed each one to indicate that he read and understood it. In addition to imparting his initials, defendant signed the bottom of the page.

         In July 2014, a grand jury indicted defendant on five counts: one count of engaging in sexual penetration, to wit, digital/vaginal penetration, knowing or having reason to know that the victim was physically helpless (count 1), in violation of G.L. 1956 § 11-37-2; one count of engaging in sexual penetration, to wit, cunnilingus, knowing or having reason to know that the victim was physically helpless (count 2), in violation of § 11-37-2; one count of engaging in sexual contact, to wit, mouth to breast, knowing or having reason to know that the ...

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