Plaintiff: Peter Roklan, Esq.
Defendant: Thomas G. Gulick, Esq. (Kendall Petty) Pamela E.
Chin, Esq. (Elaine Boyd)
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.
Facts and Travel
February 29, 2016, Rhode Island State Trooper Evan
(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. 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
the vehicle pulled over, Shaw observed that the vehicle had a
tinted license plate cover, which made the license plate
difficult to discern. 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.
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. 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.
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. 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
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.
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. 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
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.
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.
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).
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."
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 ...