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State v. Peters

Supreme Court of Rhode Island

November 14, 2017

State
v.
Luke P. Peters

         Providence County Superior Court (P2-2015-98A) Associate Justice Robert D. Krause

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

          For Defendant: Megan F. Jackson Department of Attorney General.

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

          OPINION

          MAUREEN MCKENNA GOLDBERG, ASSOCIATE JUSTICE

         This case came before the Supreme Court on October 3, 2017, pursuant to an order directing the parties to appear and show cause why the issues raised on appeal should not be summarily decided. The State of Rhode Island appeals from the trial justice's decision granting a motion to dismiss several counts set forth in a criminal information against the defendant, Luke P. Peters (Peters or defendant), pursuant to Rule 9.1 of the Superior Court Rules of Criminal Procedure. The state argues that the trial justice erred as a matter of law when he concluded that there was no probable cause to support the allegation that the defendant was operating a motor vehicle in violation of G.L. 1956 §§ 31-27-2.6, 31-27-1.2, and G.L. 1956 § 31-11-18. After hearing the arguments of counsel and examining the memoranda submitted by the parties, we are of the opinion that good cause has not been shown and that this case should be decided without further briefing or argument. We vacate the judgment of the Superior Court.

         Facts and Travel

         The facts that follow are derived from the filings of the parties and are undisputed for the purposes of this appeal. On August 6, 2014, after having purchased alcohol from a local liquor store, defendant, along with John Willette (Willette) and two underage minors, Julia, and Kajia, [1]went to Willette's home and consumed the alcohol. At 11 p.m., the group decided to drive to Twin River Casino (the casino) in Lincoln, Rhode Island. While en route in Willette's vehicle, defendant, Julia, and Kajia continued to imbibe. After the parties arrived at the casino, they decided not to risk entering because Julia and Kajia were minors and not permitted within the facility. They returned to Willette's vehicle and continued to drink while parked in the casino's parking lot.

         At around midnight, as they left the parking lot, Willette was at the wheel with Kajia in the front passenger seat; Julia was the rear passenger behind the driver, and defendant was sitting behind the front passenger. While traveling at a high rate of speed on the highway, an argument ensued among the parties. The defendant suddenly leaped from the rear seat and violently grabbed the steering wheel. He then turned the wheel, causing the vehicle to lose control, veer off the roadway, and roll over. A collision ensued, resulting in serious bodily injuries to Kajia and bodily injuries to Julia.

         A criminal information was returned in Superior Court, charging defendant with assault with a dangerous weapon in violation of G.L. 1956 § 11-5-2 (count 1); driving under the influence of liquor resulting in serious bodily injury in violation of § 31-27-2.6 (count 2); driving so as to endanger resulting in serious bodily injury in violation of § 31-27-1.2 (count 3); driving so as to endanger resulting in nonserious bodily injury in violation of § 31-27-1.2 (count 4); contributing to the delinquency of a minor in violation of G.L. 1956 § 11-9-4 (count 5); and driving with a revoked license in violation of § 31-11-18 (count 6). The defendant's motion to dismiss counts 1 through 4, alleging insufficient probable cause to support the allegations, came before a magistrate of the Superior Court. After the hearing, the magistrate denied the motion, finding that, although defendant was not "driving" the vehicle, there was probable cause to conclude that he was "operating" a motor vehicle at the time of the incident. Thereafter, defendant appealed the magistrate's decision to a justice of the Superior Court pursuant to G.L. 1956 § 8-2-39(e).[2]

         On March 24, 2016, defendant's appeal was heard by a trial justice. The defendant argued that the magistrate erred when he concluded that probable cause existed to charge defendant with assault with a dangerous weapon, as well as operating a motor vehicle in violation of §§ 31-27-2.6 and 31-27-1.2. In his decision, the trial justice determined that tugging on the wheel does not amount to driving or operating for purposes of §§ 31-27-2.6 and 31-27-1.2.[3] Accordingly, the trial justice granted defendant's Rule 9.1 motion to dismiss counts 1 through 4 and count 6.[4]

         The state timely appealed to this Court.[5] The state limits its appeal to the Superior Court's dismissal of counts 2, 3, 4, and 6 of the criminal information and has waived its appeal from the dismissal of count 1, assault with a dangerous weapon.

         Standard of Review

         A Rule 9.1 ...


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