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State v. Petty

Superior Court of Rhode Island, Kent

February 6, 2018

STATE OF RHODE ISLAND
v.
KENDALL PETTY STATE OF RHODE ISLAND
v.
ELAINE BOYD

          For Plaintiff: Peter Roklan, Esq.

          For Defendant: Thomas G. Gulick, Esq. (Kendall Petty) Pamela E. Chin, Esq. (Elaine Boyd)

          DECISION

          PROCACCINI, J.

         Defendants Kendall Petty (hereinafter Petty) and Elaine Boyd (hereinafter Boyd)-collectively Defendants-move to suppress evidence that was obtained during a search of Boyd's vehicle on February 29, 2016. Petty, a passenger in the vehicle, argues that his arrest was unlawful, and, therefore, the evidence should be suppressed as fruit of the poisonous tree. Boyd, who was operating the vehicle, contends that the stop was unlawful, and, therefore, the evidence obtained from her vehicle should be suppressed as fruit of the poisonous tree. Conversely, the State of Rhode Island (hereinafter State) maintains that the stop of Boyd's vehicle was lawful. In addition, the State argues that the search of Boyd's vehicle was lawful under the automobile exception to the warrant requirement, and, therefore, the evidence found during the search should not be suppressed. For the reasons discussed herein, this Court denies the Defendants' motions to suppress.

         I

         Facts[1] and Travel

         On February 29, 2016, Rhode Island State Trooper Evan Shaw[2] (hereinafter Shaw) worked the night shift with Rhode Island State Trooper Nolan Gaumond (hereinafter Gaumond). Shaw drove the marked cruiser that evening. Around 11:00 p.m., Shaw traveled southbound on Interstate 95 until he reached the Town of Exeter. Shaw used an official turnaround to reverse direction, which positioned the cruiser perpendicular to vehicles driving northbound on Interstate 95. Before entering the highway, Shaw and Gaumond watched three vehicles, driving northbound, pass their location. The third vehicle caught Shaw's attention because he could not read or see a license plate.[3] As a result of his inability to see a license plate when the vehicle drove by, Shaw entered the highway and initiated a traffic stop of the vehicle.[4]

         Once the vehicle pulled over, Shaw observed that the vehicle had a tinted license plate cover, which made the license plate difficult to discern.[5] Shaw exited the cruiser and approached the vehicle on the passenger side. Gaumond exited the cruiser and maintained a position of cover behind Shaw's left shoulder. As Shaw approached the passenger side window, he observed two occupants-a female operator and a male passenger. Shaw spoke with the operator of the vehicle, who was identified as Boyd, and explained the reason for the traffic stop. Shaw observed that Boyd had glossy and bloodshot eyes. In addition, he smelled what he identified as fresh marijuana. Shaw questioned Boyd about the marijuana smell and asked if there was any marijuana in the vehicle. According to Shaw, the passenger replied that he and Boyd "smoked weed earlier." The passenger also gestured toward a burned cigar in the center console.

         After the passenger gestured toward the burned cigar, Shaw asked the passenger for identification. The passenger, however, had no proof of identification on his person. Shaw then instructed him to exit the vehicle and move to the rear of the vehicle, where Gaumond was located. While Gaumond spoke to the passenger, Shaw continued to speak with Boyd.[6] Boyd claimed that she and the passenger were heading back from Foxwoods. Shaw then asked Boyd what the passenger's name was and his relationship to her. Boyd responded that the passenger was the father of her child, that his name was Kendall, and that he was forty-nine years old. Boyd also stated that there was no more marijuana in the vehicle.[7]

         Shaw then proceeded to join Gaumond, who was speaking with the passenger. Shaw asked Gaumond how the passenger identified himself. The passenger told Gaumond that his name was Kendall Brown and that he was thirty-nine years old. Shaw then ran that information, but the search returned no results.[8] Shaw returned to the passenger and informed him that there were no results based on the information that he provided. The passenger maintained that his name was Kendall Brown, but changed his date of birth to make his age forty-nine. Shaw then checked the computer system using this updated information. Once again, the search yielded no results. After the second failed search, Shaw went back to the passenger and Gaumond, and the passenger was taken into custody for obstruction. As he was being placed into the back of the cruiser, the passenger gave his real name-Kendall Petty.[9]

         After placing Petty in the cruiser, Shaw went back to Boyd, who was still sitting in her vehicle. Shaw requested that Boyd step out of the vehicle. He asked her again about the marijuana and then asked if she had been drinking because he could smell alcohol. Boyd informed Shaw that she had a few drinks earlier in the evening. Gaumond then had Boyd complete a set of field sobriety tests.[10]

         While Boyd completed the set of field sobriety tests, Shaw went back to the passenger side of the vehicle. Shaw, again, observed the burned cigar that Petty had gestured toward at the beginning of the traffic stop.[11] In addition, Shaw, again, smelled a strong odor of fresh marijuana emanating from the vehicle. Moreover, Shaw noticed fresh marijuana on the floor, along with a clear plastic bag with more marijuana in it.[12]

         Now clearly inside the vehicle, Shaw realized that the strong smell of marijuana emanated from the center console. Upon that realization, Shaw opened the center console and found a larger quantity of marijuana and a half empty bottle of Hennessey Cognac. Shaw removed the marijuana and Cognac from the center console, which exposed a black plastic bag that was tied in a knot. Shaw proceeded to open the plastic bag. Shaw found eight separate baggies of one type of pill-later identified as Ecstasy-and a single clear bag containing about an ounce of another type of pill-later identified as Molly.

         The State charged both Boyd and Petty with (1) possession with intent to deliver methamphetamine and (2) conspiracy to possess with intent to deliver methamphetamine. The State also charged Petty, separately, with obstruction. Defendants moved, individually, to suppress the evidence found during the search of Boyd's vehicle.

         II

         Standard of Review

         Petty and Boyd bring their instant motions pursuant to Super. R. Crim. P. 41(f). The State bears the burden of establishing that the evidence seized from Boyd's vehicle 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, 177-78 n.14 (1974)); see also State v. Tavarez, 572 A.2d 276, 279 (R.I. 1990).

         III

         Analysis

         Petty and Boyd each contend that the evidence found in Boyd's vehicle should be suppressed, but for different reasons. Petty contends that his arrest for obstruction was not based on probable cause, and, therefore, the evidence found in Boyd's vehicle after his arrest should be suppressed as fruit of the poisonous tree. Specifically, Petty argues that "[s]ince the marijuana cigar in the ashtray was not seized, there was no justifiable reason for Trooper Shaw to begin searching Boyd's vehicle because [he] gave a name which did not show up on the Trooper[']s computer." Boyd contends that the stop of her vehicle was unlawful because Shaw and Gaumond did not have probable cause to make the stop, and, therefore, the evidence found in her vehicle should be suppressed as fruit of the poisonous tree. Specifically, Boyd argues that "[t]he mere fact that the Troopers could not see a license plate at 11:00 pm while positioned in an unlit, perpendicular point to interstate 95 does not support a violation of R.I.G.L. § 31-3-18." According to Boyd, "[i]n order for there to be probable cause to stop the vehicle for that violation, the Court should be satisfied that the license plate was not clearly visible to the officers at the time of the stop and not merely when they were parked."

         Conversely, the State argues that the stop of Boyd's vehicle was lawful. In addition, the State argues that the search of Boyd's vehicle was lawful under ...


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