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State v. Murray

Supreme Court of Rhode Island

October 16, 2019

Jeffrey Murray.

          Providence County No. P1/99-2303A Superior Court Associate Justice Stephen P. Nugent, Associate Justice William E. Carnes, Jr.

          For State: Christopher R. Bush Attorney(s) on Appeal Department of Attorney General

          For Defendant: Jeffrey Murray, Pro Se

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



         The defendant, Jeffrey Murray, appeals from both a Superior Court judgment adjudicating him a probation violator and a Superior Court order denying his motion to terminate imprisonment.[1] These consolidated appeals came before the Supreme Court pursuant to an order directing the parties to appear and show cause why the issues raised in the appeals should not be summarily decided. After considering the parties' written and oral submissions and reviewing the record, we conclude that cause has not been shown and that the appeals may be decided without further briefing or argument. For the reasons set forth herein, we affirm both the judgment and the order.


         Facts and Travel


         Probation Violation

         On April 18, 2000, defendant pled guilty to one count of first-degree sexual assault, for which he received a sentence of twenty years, with five years to serve and the remainder suspended, with probation, and one count of assault with a dangerous weapon, for which he received a ten-year suspended sentence, with probation, to be served concurrently. Subsequently, defendant twice pled nolo contendere, in 2010 and 2012, to charges of failing to register as a sex offender, for which he was also sentenced to terms of imprisonment and probation.

         On July 8, 2015, the state filed a probation-violation report in the Newport County Superior Court, pursuant to Rule 32(f) of the Superior Court Rules of Criminal Procedure, alleging that defendant had violated his probation in all three cases by failing to keep the peace and be of good behavior. Specifically, the report indicated that defendant was "under an active Newport Police investigation for the domestic strangulation, domestic kidnapping and domestic [first] degree sexual assault of his girlfriend." The report noted that "[s]aid violation of probation is not contingent upon any specific criminal offense."

         At the probation-violation hearing held over four days in late 2015 and early 2016 before a justice of the Superior Court, the complaining witness testified as to the events that allegedly took place between June 26, 2015, and June 28, 2015, at defendant's apartment on Elm Street in Newport.[2] Her testimony included graphic details of sexual assault and strangulation that followed her admission to defendant that she had been unfaithful to him while he had been incarcerated. She testified that she feared being harmed and therefore remained at defendant's side all weekend. She explained that much of the time over that weekend was spent placating defendant by staying with him, and that her ultimate plan was to notify the police when her father picked her up on Sunday morning.

         Following the complaining witness's testimony and the testimony of other witnesses involved in the case, including her father and the investigating police officers, as well as the admission of numerous exhibits, such as text messages, police reports, and statements to the police, the hearing justice rendered a bench decision. He began by noting that the burden was "on the [s]tate to reasonably satisfy the [c]ourt that the defendant has failed to keep the peace and be of good behavior."[3] He noted also that "a so-called 32(f) violation hearing is a civil proceeding and the evidence doesn't have to rise actually to the level of a criminal offense in order to constitute failing to keep the peace and be of good behavior."

         Next, the hearing justice reviewed the evidence and testimony presented at the hearing, acknowledging defendant's statements to police at the time of the incident. He found that defendant "in his own words confirmed [to the police] the fact that he had imprisoned [the complaining witness], by preventing her from leaving 36 Elm Street * * * when he arrived there[-]after learning from a co-worker that she had been seen leaving his apartment * * * with somebody[.]" Additionally, the hearing justice noted that defendant, in his own statement to the police, "says he pushes her back inside and makes her go back into the room upstairs where she had already locked the door and prevented her from leaving the apartment[.]" According to the hearing justice, "[t]hat in and of itself, without anything further, would certainly constitute a failure to keep the peace and be of good behavior."

         Following a detailed review of the complaining witness's testimony, the hearing justice noted that she had "readily admitted her issues" and "didn't try to gild the lily," and "basically said that [defendant] forced her to do the acts * * * which would certainly constitute a sexual assault under the statute." He addressed her trip out of the apartment with defendant to a Cumberland Farms store over the weekend, noting that the complaining witness in her testimony had pointed out that the surveillance video showed that she was crying and using her sunglasses to cover up. The hearing justice also addressed defendant's assertions that, if she believed she was in danger while she was with defendant that weekend, she could have asked for help or gone to the police. However, he found her explanation "to be credible, that she was waiting until Sunday when her father would come[.]"

         Regarding the complaining witness's multiple statements to police, the hearing justice found that "[w]hile there are some inconsistencies between the statements, which is certainly to be expected, which is really an indicia of truth or credibility, if the stories matched exactly you would think that they were rehearsed and made up, but they were in all important respects consistent." The hearing justice found that much of her testimony was corroborated by defendant in his statement to police, as well as by other witnesses. He ultimately found that defendant had certainly "failed to keep the peace and be of good behavior by having or holding her against her will, preventing her from leaving 36 Elm Street in his room at the top [of] the stairs[.]" The hearing justice determined that he was "convinced beyond a reasonable doubt as [to] those facts which this [c]ourt found based upon the credible testimony of [the complaining witness]."

         The hearing justice determined that defendant had approximately fourteen years and five months remaining on the suspended sentence imposed in P1/99-2303A, and he ordered that defendant serve thirteen years of that sentence. Judgment was entered on January 28, 2016. The defendant filed a timely notice of appeal on February 12, 2016.


         Motion to ...

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