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State v. Robinson

Superior Court of Rhode Island, Washington

February 19, 2019

STATE OF RHODE ISLAND
v.
JEFFREY ROBINSON

          For Plaintiff: Jonathan E. Burke, Esq.

          For Defendant: John M. Cicilline, Esq.

          DECISION

          McGUIRL, J.

         Before 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 § 8-2-15.

         I

         Facts and Travel

         On the 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 stop. Id.

         Trooper 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, Massachusetts. Id.

         Trooper 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.

         While 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.)

         Upon 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. Id.

         The 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 rendered.

         II

         Standard of Review

         Defendant 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, ...


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