552 A.2d 1186 (R.I. 1989), 88-53, Clark v. Ellerthorpe

Docket Nº:88-53-C.A.
Citation:552 A.2d 1186
Opinion Judge:PER CURIAM.
Party Name:Sidney A. CLARK v. Donald E. ELLERTHORPE.
Attorney:Matthew F. Medeiros, Flanders & Medeiros, Providence, for plaintiff. James E. O'Neil, Atty. Gen., Jeffrey J. Greer, and Annie Goldberg, Asst. Attys. Gen., for defendant.
Case Date:January 30, 1989
Court:Supreme Court of Rhode Island
 
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Page 1186

552 A.2d 1186 (R.I. 1989)

Sidney A. CLARK

v.

Donald E. ELLERTHORPE.

No. 88-53-C.A.

Supreme Court of Rhode Island.

January 30, 1989.

Page 1187

Matthew F. Medeiros, Flanders & Medeiros, Providence, for plaintiff.

James E. O'Neil, Atty. Gen., Jeffrey J. Greer, and Annie Goldberg, Asst. Attys. Gen., for defendant.

OPINION

PER CURIAM.

The petitioner, Sidney A. Clark (Clark), the defendant in State v. Clark, 423 A.2d 1151 (R.I.1980), appeals from a Superior Court judgment denying his application for postconviction relief. The case came before this court on December 12, 1988, pursuant to an order directing both parties to show cause why the issues raised by this appeal should not be summarily decided. After careful consideration of the record and memoranda submitted by both parties and after hearing the arguments of counsel, we are of the opinion that cause has not been shown.

In November of 1974 Clark attacked a fellow inmate, Claude Saunders, at the Adult Correctional Institutions (ACI), viciously stabbing him to death with a "shank" or makeshift knife. The gory details of the prison slaying and our subsequent affirmance of petitioner's second degree murder conviction are contained in State v. Clark. Clark, currently serving a life sentence in prison, advances two arguments in favor of reversing the trial court's decision and granting his application for postconviction relief.

The first issue raised by petitioner challenges the improper admission of evidence obtained in violation of his constitutional rights. During the course of the murder investigation, the State Police directly applied benzidine, a carcinogenic substance, to the bodies of inmates suspected of killing Saunders. As used by law enforcement authorities to detect the presence of otherwise undetectable blood, benzidine is a rust-colored chemical which turns blue upon contact with certain enzymes in blood. The police, although knowing of the carcinogenic properties of benzidine, nevertheless liberally swabbed the chemical solution on Clark's skin. Clark tested positive for traces of blood. The petitioner argues that the compelled benzidine test violated his federal and state constitutional rights. The admission of evidence procurred from such an egregious constitutional infraction, Clark argues, cannot be considered harmless error.

The First Circuit Court of Appeals examined the constitutionality of this incident in Clark v. Taylor, 710 F.2d 4 (1st Cir.1983), a civil rights action brought by the inmates under 42 U.S. C.A. § 1983 (West 1981), and upheld District Court judgments against the prison warden and the police officers for violating the inmates' Fourteenth Amendment rights. 1...

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