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State v. Munir

Supreme Court of Rhode Island

June 11, 2019

Hasim Munir.

          Providence County P1/16-2489A Superior Court Netti C. Vogel Associate Justice.

          For State: Owen Murphy Department of Attorney General

          For Defendant: Susan B. Iannitelli, Esq.

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


          William P. Robinson III Associate Justice.

         The defendant, Hasim Munir, appeals from a July 6, 2017 judgment of conviction entered against him in Providence County Superior Court following a jury trial. Mr. Munir was charged by indictment with and subsequently convicted of one count of first-degree child molestation sexual assault, in violation of G.L. 1956 §§ 11-37-8.1 and 11-37-8.2. On appeal, he raises the following issues: (1) "whether the trial justice committed clear error by refusing to suppress defendant's statement to the police where evidence that defendant's confession was knowing, intelligent and voluntary was less than clear and convincing;" and (2) "whether the trial justice committed clear error in admitting defendant's confession into evidence despite his invocation of his right to remain silent[.]"

         For the reasons set forth in this opinion, we affirm the judgment of the Superior Court.


         Facts and Travel

         On August 25, 2016, Mr. Munir was charged by indictment with "engag[ing] in sexual penetration, to wit, penile to vaginal penetration, with * * * a person fourteen (14) years of age or under, in violation of §11-37-8.1 and §11-37-8.2 * * *." In due course, Mr. Munir's case proceeded to trial. Prior to the start of the trial, defendant moved to suppress "any and all statements" he made to the police officers who interrogated him after taking him into custody on May 7, 2015.[1] He contended that those statements were "obtained by the Police in violation of his rights under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution [and] Article I, Section 6, of the Rhode Island Constitution, and they are therefore barred as admissible evidence under RIGL § 9-19-25." A suppression hearing was held with respect to defendant's motion.


         The Audio Recording of the Interrogation at Issue

         Before delving into the testimony at the suppression hearing, we deem it necessary for the sake of clarity to review some of what occurred during the custodial interrogation, especially those portions thereof with which defendant takes issue on appeal. An audio recording of the interrogation was played in its entirety for the trial justice at the suppression hearing and has been listened to in its entirety by this Court.[2] It was also played in its entirety for the jury at trial. The parties do not dispute what occurred during that interrogation, but they do disagree as to the effect which what occurred may have had on defendant's exercise of his free will.

         The audio recording reveals that the interrogating detectives frequently used vulgarity and sometimes raised their voices to defendant. Moreover, they subjected him from time to time to what fairly can be characterized as a barrage of questions. It should also be noted that, throughout the interrogation, Mr. Munir had his left hand handcuffed against the wall of the interrogation room.

         During the course of the interrogation, the detectives represented to Mr. Munir that his DNA might be found on portions of the victim's body, and they actually stated that a DNA sample was at the Department of Health at that moment-despite the fact that it is undisputed that no DNA had been found. At another point in the interrogation, as defendant states in his brief before this Court, "the detectives pretended to be handcuffed to each other to pantomime the defendant in the position of being handcuffed to another defendant and led before a judge where it would become known that he had requested to know the results of the DNA test." The defendant alleges that that pantomime was also meant to intimidate defendant by suggesting that other prisoners would find out that he was charged with child molestation.

         Importantly, defendant was asked by one of the detectives: "Do you have anything else you want to say? Did you do it?" The defendant responded: "I don't -- I have nothing else to say." Also of note is the fact that, during the course of the interrogation, the police suggested to Mr. Munir that, if he believed that the victim was sixteen, "in the eyes of the Court" that would not be "frowned upon;" and they also told him that, if he "thought she was 16," "[t]he State of Rhode Island says, yes."

         At the start of the interrogation, defendant denied having molested the underage victim. However, at the end of the approximately one and a half hour interrogation, defendant ultimately confessed to having sexually molested the victim, although he said that he did not believe that there had been penetration.

         We now proceed to relate the salient testimony adduced at the suppression hearing.


         The Suppression Hearing Testimony

         Detective Christopher Rotella was the only person to testify at the suppression hearing. It was his testimony that, as a member of the Providence Police Department, he had served as a "sex crimes detective" for approximately eight years. He testified that an arrest warrant for Mr. Munir was effectuated on May 7, 2015. Detective Rotella added that, before talking with Mr. Munir on that date, he enlisted the assistance of Detective Joseph Hanley and they proceeded to the cell block, where Det. Rotella read Mr. Munir his rights and asked if he would like to speak to the detective. It was Det. Rotella's testimony that Mr. Munir agreed to speak with the detectives, so he escorted Mr. Munir to an "interview room or interrogation." Detective Rotella testified that he then read Mr. Munir's rights to him a second time and that Mr. Munir signed the "rights form."

         The audio tape of the full interrogation was then played for the trial justice at the suppression hearing. After the audio recording was played, Det. Rotella was asked by the prosecutor why he used vulgar language during the interrogation. He stated that "[i]n this particular case it's just a matter of getting the person to feel comfortable, getting down to not necessarily their level, but discussing the situation to make them feel the most comfortable." When asked if he threatened Mr. Munir in any way, Det. Rotella responded in the negative. He added that, except for handcuffing Mr. Munir to bring him to the interview room, neither he nor Det. Hanley "put his hands" on Mr. Munir.

         On cross-examination, Det. Rotella was asked to describe his training in conducting interrogations. It was his testimony that he had been trained in the Reid technique, and he stated that "the Reid format is where you mirror the suspect or you develop a rapport with the suspect."

         Detective Rotella further testified on cross-examination that he was aware when he interrogated Mr. Munir that there were no "physical findings" in the case. He added that, "[w]hile I was speaking with him, I could tell the way he was answering me that he probably had more to say." He further stated:

"[T]here was a couple times during that interview I would ask him a question, and he would pause because I was almost done and ready to end the interview on a couple of occasions during that interview. However, because of his reaction to my questions or his facial expressions, that's why I continued."

         Detective Rotella further testified on cross-examination that part of the Reid technique consists of "press[ing]" the suspect for an answer when he or she does not remember something. Detective Rotella added that he had used a tactic where he started to discuss the existence of DNA evidence, but he pointed out that he never actually told Mr. Munir that the police had his DNA. However, Det. Rotella also conceded on cross-examination that the interrogation was "a little chaotic * * *."

         Lastly, Det. Rotella was asked on cross-examination about the pantomime which he and Det. Hanley performed during the interrogation of defendant-which pantomime portrayed one prisoner being handcuffed to another prisoner and brought before a judge. Regarding that pantomime, Det. Rotella stated that its purpose was not to intimidate defendant. Rather, he stated, it had been done only to "give him an example of what it would look like when he's standing in front of a judge saying, 'We're going to wait for the DNA,' but he doesn't want to tell me whether or not we're going to find it in her vagina." He added that he performed that pantomime because "[w]hen you get arraigned and you're standing in front of a Judge, as I know for 20 years, the ...

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