Plaintiff: Jonathan E. Burke, Esq.
Defendant: John M. Cicilline, Esq.
this Court is a Motion to Suppress evidence, which was
obtained following a vehicle stop. The Defendant, Jeffrey
Robinson (Defendant), alleges that the Rhode Island State
Police exceeded the scope of an inventory search when a
trooper peeled back the trunk liner of the vehicle operated
by Defendant exposing alleged evidence of drugs. The State
objects, arguing the Defendant lacks standing to contest said
search because he does not have a reasonable expectation of
privacy in the vehicle. Alternatively, the State maintains
that if the Defendant has proper standing, the trooper acted
in accordance with standard inventory search procedure
triggering an exception to the warrant requirement of the
Fourth Amendment. Jurisdiction is pursuant to G.L. 1956
afternoon of May 11, 2017, at approximately 4:15 p.m.,
Trooper Evan Shaw (Trooper Shaw) of the Rhode Island State
Police was on patrol on Route 95 North in the Town of
Richmond, Rhode Island. (Narrative for Trooper Evan T Shaw at
1.) Trooper Shaw observed a blue Chevrolet bearing MA 1MF247
traveling at an extremely slow rate of speed in the first
lane. Id. Upon further observation, Trooper Shaw
noticed the driver positioned at a close distance to the
steering wheel and the vehicle's stop lamps flash twice
quickly when no other vehicles were within close proximity.
Id. Subsequently, Trooper Shaw observed an
inoperable high mount stop lamp and initiated a motor vehicle
Shaw then made contact with the Defendant, who was the
operator and sole individual in the vehicle. Id.
Initially, the Defendant identified himself as Mark Robinson
and informed Trooper Shaw that he did not have an
operator's license on his person. Id. In
addition, Trooper Shaw observed that the Defendant appeared
unsure of his answers regarding his date of birth and the
street address on his license. Id. Further
questioning by Trooper Shaw revealed that Defendant was not
the owner of the vehicle. Id. Defendant stated that
his friend, "Buddha," owned the vehicle but the
Defendant was unsure of his friend's first or last name.
Id. Defendant then produced the vehicle's
registration, which listed the 2010 Chevrolet Malibu
registered to Joyce E. Ridley, of 74 Kilmer Avenue, Taunton,
Shaw then conducted checks of the Defendant with the alias
provided, which provided no information for any
operator's license in any New England state. Id.
Next, Trooper Shaw ordered the Defendant from the vehicle and
received consent to frisk the Defendant for weapons, finding
none. Id. Trooper Shaw again questioned the
Defendant regarding his identity at which point the Defendant
admitted he provided an alias and that his license was
suspended. Id. Trooper Shaw then conducted a check
with the new information provided and learned that the
Defendant possessed a revoked Massachusetts's
operator's license. Id. As a result, Trooper
Shaw requested a tow truck respond to the scene to retrieve
the vehicle. Id.
awaiting the tow truck, Trooper Shaw conducted an inventory
search of the vehicle pursuant to Department policy.
Id. at 1, 2. In the course of the inventory, Trooper
Shaw opened the trunk of the subject vehicle and noticed that
the "four to six" plastic securements, meant to
secure the trunk liner to the trunk frame, were missing from
the left side of the trunk. (Hr'g Tr. 33, Nov. 27, 2018.)
As a result, Trooper Shaw testified that the liner remained
"standing up," but "pulled apart" from
the frame because of the missing securements which were
distanced "four to six inches apart." Id.
at 12, 33. Trooper Shaw subsequently peeled back the
"pulled apart" lining approximately six inches and
shone his flashlight into the opening. (Narrative for Trooper
Evan T Shaw at 2.) Trooper Shaw observed tinfoil cupped in a
manner associated with drug packaging. Id.
Subsequently, Trooper Shaw peeled back the lining an
additional six to twelve and observed blue pills protruding
from the cupped foil, which he suspected to be 30 milligram
oxycodone pills. (Hr'g Tr. 23, Nov. 27, 2018; Narrative
for Trooper Evan T Shaw at 2.) Upon the initial discovery of
the suspected pills, Trooper Shaw discontinued his inventory,
closed the trunk door, and requested a K-9 unit for further
investigation. (Narrative for Trooper Evan T Shaw at 2.)
arrival and investigation by the K-9 unit, a black plastic
bag tied to the vehicle's frame was located behind the
front driver's side head light. Id. Based on
training and experience, as well as a strong chemical odor
emanating from the bag, Troopers suspected the bag contained
cocaine but were unable to safely remove the bag at the time.
Id. Subsequently, Trooper Shaw followed the vehicle
as it was towed back to the State Police, Hope Valley
Barracks. Id. At the barracks, troopers removed
approximately 550 oxycodone pills and approximately 428 grams
of cocaine, which were field tested yielding positive results
and later transported to the Forensic Service Unit at the
State Police Headquarters for further processing.
State has charged Defendant with five counts: (1) unlawful
possession and intent to deliver a controlled substance
(cocaine); (2) unlawful possession and intent to deliver a
controlled substance (oxycodone); (3) unlawful possession of
a controlled substance (cocaine) in excess of one ounce, but
less than one kilogram; (4) obstruction of a police officer;
and (5) operating a vehicle with a revoked license. Defendant
filed a Motion to Suppress evidence, and a Decision is herein
brings the instant motion pursuant to Super. R. Crim. P.
41(f); therefore, at a suppression hearing, the State bears
the burden of establishing that the evidence 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,