879 A.2d 425 (R.I. 2005), 2004-117, State v. Stierhoff

Docket Nº:2004-117-C.A.
Citation:879 A.2d 425
Opinion Judge:PER CURIAM.
Party Name:STATE v. Neil STIERHOFF.
Attorney:Aaron L. Weisman, Providence, for Plaintiff., Earl F. Pasbach, Providence, for Defendant., Present: WILLIAMS, C.J., GOLDBERG, FLAHERTY, SUTTELL, and ROBINSON, JJ. Aaron L. Weisman, Providence, for Plaintiff. Earl F. Pasbach, Providence, for Defendant.
Judge Panel:Present: WILLIAMS, C.J., GOLDBERG, FLAHERTY, SUTTELL, and ROBINSON, JJ.
Case Date:April 19, 2005
Court:Supreme Court of Rhode Island

Page 425

879 A.2d 425 (R.I. 2005)

STATE

v.

Neil STIERHOFF.

No. 2004-117-C.A.

Supreme Court of Rhode Island

April 19, 2005

Page 426

Aaron L. Weisman, Providence, for Plaintiff.

Earl F. Pasbach, Providence, for Defendant.

Present: WILLIAMS, C.J., GOLDBERG, FLAHERTY, SUTTELL, and ROBINSON, JJ.

OPINION

PER CURIAM.

This case comes before us on the appeal of the defendant, Neil Stierhoff, from his conviction for misdemeanor stalking under G.L.1956 § 11-59-2, 1 following a jury-waived trial before a justice of the Superior Court. Stierhoff raises the following arguments on appeal: (1) the trial justice erred in denying his posttrial motion to dismiss the charges against him because the state failed to prove that his actions

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caused "substantial emotional distress" to the complainant, (2) the trial justice erred in denying his motion to dismiss because the state failed to produce evidence that his actions constituted "harassment" as defined under the statute, (3) the trial justice erred in failing to declare a mistrial in light of an alleged discovery violation committed by the state, and (4) the trial justice erred in denying his motion to dismiss because § 11-59-2, as applied to him, is unconstitutionally vague. The matter came before this Court for oral argument on March 9, 2005, pursuant to an order directing the parties to appear and show cause why the issues raised by this appeal should not summarily be decided. After hearing the arguments of counsel and examining the memoranda filed by the parties, we are of the opinion that cause has not been shown and that the case should be decided at this time. We affirm the judgment of the Superior Court.

Facts

The testimony elicited during defendant's trial established the following facts. On the afternoon of February 23, 2001, an unidentified man approached the complainant, "Ann," 2 while she was resting in the employee break room of the Staples store in South Attleboro, Massachusetts, where she worked as a cashier. The man, whom Ann had neither met nor seen prior to that day, and who appeared to be more than twenty years her senior, complimented the young woman on her appearance and placed an envelope on the table located between them. Ann opened the envelope, and saw that it contained a greeting card on which was written a romantic poem. She read the poem and thanked the unidentified man, who thereafter left the room. At no time during this encounter did the man introduce himself. Ann was "shocked" by the romantic messages contained in the poem.

About a week later, while Ann again was relaxing in the Staples employee break room, the same unidentified man entered the room and approached her. As he had during their first encounter, the man gave Ann an envelope containing a greeting card and a poem. The man then offered Ann a DVD 3 movie, saying that an actress in the film resembled her. She declined the offer, however, and the man exited the room, again without providing his name or any other information about himself to the young woman. After he left, Ann read the poem, which was printed on the inside of the greeting card. At trial, she testified that the contents of that poem, which referred to "marriage," made her nervous. As she had done the week before, Ann showed the card to her coworkers and her mother. Due to the content of the two unsolicited cards, the young woman began to develop apprehensions about encountering the man again. She communicated her concerns to her managers at Staples, who consequently agreed to take her off register duty if the man returned to the store while she was working.

The man again entered the Staples store a few weeks later, on March 24, 2001. The store manager on that day, Norman J. Letendre, was notified of the man's arrival and promptly removed Ann from register duty. The man left without incident. Undeterred by the manager's efforts to protect the young woman, however, the man returned to the store just days later, again while Ann was working at one of the store's checkout counters. Ann noticed

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the man as he walked into the store, and she communicated his presence to her coworkers. They, in turn, informed the store's manager. Although the manager did not remove Ann from her register, he approached the man and informed him that his presence was causing the manager to fear that he might cause a scene. In response, the man assured Letendre that he would complete his purchase and leave the store. He then gathered some merchandise and approached Ann's register aisle, where she rung him out as her manager stood directly next to her. According to Ann, the man intently stared at her while he stood in line. As she waited on him, his gaze terrified the young woman. After the man left the store, Ann cried and was consoled by a coworker.

Much to the complainant's dismay, however, the man's undesired attempts to strike up a relationship with her soon expanded beyond the confines of the Staples store in Attleboro, when an envelope addressed to Ann arrived in the mail at her mother's house in Providence. Although she was living in a student dormitory at Rhode Island College at the time, Ann was home to receive the mail on that particular day. When she opened the envelope, the young woman discovered an Easter card, a CD, 4 and yet another poem printed on the inside of the card. She immediately recognized that the writing style of the poem was the same as that contained in the two cards that she had received from the man whose approaches had frightened her while working at Staples. Ann's initial fears were significantly exacerbated because she realized that the man involved in those encounters had somehow obtained her mother's home address. Distressed by this knowledge, Ann decided to contact the Rhode Island State Police. Because she had no concrete personal information about the man, however, the police were unable to launch a comprehensive investigation at that time.

A short time later, in mid-April 2001, the same man again entered the Staples store during Ann's shift. On that particular day, the store's general manager, Brian P. Leg, approached the man and informed him that his apparent efforts to cultivate a personal relationship with Ann were causing her to feel uncomfortable and fearful. The manager also asked the man to refrain from coming into the store while she was working, and also to stop giving her any poems, letters, or other items in the future. The manager informed the man that if he was unwilling to stop his attempts to interact with the complainant, he would not be permitted to shop at any Staples store in the future. At trial, the manager testified that, during their conversation, the man said that if his actions were upsetting the young woman, he would stop. Nevertheless, this incident motivated Staples management to modify Ann's work schedule in an effort to avoid such future confrontations.

Around the same time, Ann was frightened by another unnerving incident, when a man identifying himself as the person that previously had given the complainant the poems left a voice message on Ann's mother's home telephone answering machine. In the message, the man said that he felt his actions were being misinterpreted and that he had not intended any harm to Ann. Despite the caller's apologetic sentiment, the message upset and worried the young woman even more. For some reason, the contacts ceased for almost a year after the voice message.

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On March 19, 2002, however, Ann observed a piece of paper folded and stuck inside the driver's side door of her vehicle, which was parked on the Rhode Island College campus. Thinking that the piece of paper was an everyday campus flier or bulletin, she removed it from the door and began reading it. Upon doing so, Ann discovered, to her dismay, that the folded paper contained not an advertisement, but a romantic poem. Much worse, Ann immediately observed that the note was typewritten in the same font and in the same style as the distressing cards and poems that she had received during the preceding year. Ann immediately broke down in tears and fearfully scanned the lot to see if the man was watching her. She then brought the letter to the Rhode Island State Police.

On March 29, 2002, Ann discovered another note attached to the outside of her car door in the same manner as the previous note. Ann once again became alarmed when she saw the note, and, without reading it, she took it directly to the state police. On April 2, 2002, Ann discovered a third note placed in the door of her car, in the same fashion as on the previous two occasions. She again took the letter directly to the state police without reading it.

Later on that same day, Ann was working at Staples when a suspicious-looking man wearing large sunglasses entered the store. She noticed the man because he did not remove his sunglasses as he shopped, but Ann did not immediately recognize the customer as anyone she had ever met or seen prior to that day. The man collected some items and went to Ann's register, where she rang him out. After he had made his purchase and exited the store, however, Ann came to the chilling realization that the man in the glasses was the same man who had approached her in the employee break room in February 2001. As the reality sank in, Ann became "scared" and "ready to cry." Notwithstanding her fear, she immediately told her manager, Riccardo Oriani, of the man's whereabouts. The manager then ran out of the store in an effort to ascertain the man's license plate number. Fortunately, Oriani was able to observe the suspicious man as he entered a van in the Staples parking lot. He wrote down the vehicle's license plate number as it exited the lot, and he communicated that information to law enforcement later that same afternoon.

That license plate number enabled the state police to identify the owner of the van as...

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