State v. Hazard

Decision Date19 June 2013
Docket NumberNos. 2011–29–C.A., 2010–371–C.A.,s. 2011–29–C.A., 2010–371–C.A.
PartiesSTATE v. Adrian HAZARD.
CourtRhode Island Supreme Court

OPINION TEXT STARTS HERE

Christopher R. Bush, Department of Attorney General, Providence, for State.

John F. Cicilline, Esq., for Defendant.

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

OPINION

Justice GOLDBERG, for the Court.

The defendant, Adrian Hazard,1 appeals from an adjudication of probation violation. While on probation, the defendant fled from two uniformed police officers after they instructed him to stop his vehicle. After the defendant's brief flight came to an end and he was arrested, a replica of an 1858 Remington revolver was discovered on the floor of his car. On the basis of this conduct, the trial justice found the defendant to be a violator of the terms and conditions of his probation, and the defendant appealed.

In addition to the probation-violation proceeding, the state charged defendant with recklessly operating a motor vehicle, carrying a revolver without a license, and possession of a firearm after having been convicted of a crime of violence. Apparently concerned about the trial justice's interpretation of G.L.1956 § 11–47–2(3) and (8) during the course of the violation hearing, the state requested, in a motion in limine, that the trial justice interpret the Firearms Act (Firearms Act or act), chapter 47 of title 11, in such a manner that a weapon need not be capable of expelling a projectile, or be readily convertible to do so, in order to fit within the definitions of “firearm” or “pistol.” The trial justice denied the state's motion and incorporated his earlier ruling from the violation hearing. The state timely appealed.2 After careful consideration, we affirm the trial justice in all respects.

Facts and Travel

On November 8, 1996, defendant pleaded guilty to one count of manslaughter and one count of carrying a pistol without a license. He was sentenced to thirty years for the manslaughter count, with fifteen years to serve and the balance suspended, with probation, and a consecutive ten-year term, suspended, with probation, for the firearms conviction. While on probation after his release from incarceration, defendant was arrested. The circumstances of that arrest follow.

On December 30, 2009, Providence Police Patrolmen Ludwig Castro (Ptlm.Castro) and Eugene Chin (Ptlm.Chin) received information that a gold Volkswagen would be in the area of Linwood Avenue and Cranston Street and that there was a firearm inside the vehicle. Patrolmen Castro and Chin responded to that intersection and soon observed a gold Volkswagen, driven by defendant, turn onto Cranston Street. While the officers followed the vehicle, they observed defendant make a right turn without using a turn signal and then stop in the roadway, obstructing the flow of traffic, while he spoke with a pedestrian. Patrolman Chin activated the overhead lights of his police cruiser, and Ptlm. Castro exited the cruiser and approached the driver's side door of the Volkswagen. Patrolman Castro testified that he did not remove his weapon from its holster when he approached the Volkswagen. He then instructed defendant to pull the vehicle over; defendant responded by fleeing the scene. Patrolman Castro testified that he and Ptlm. Chin pursued defendant at speeds in excess of forty miles per hour until the Volkswagen was cut off by another police cruiser, bringing the chase to an abrupt end.

Patrolman Castro further testified that, when he approached the vehicle after the stop, he observed the front-seat passenger, Carlos Washington (Washington), hunched over with his hands between his legs. He then spotted the “shiny barrel of a revolver” on the floor of the Volkswagen. Both defendant and Washington were taken into custody, and the officers retrieved a replica of a Remington 1858 .44–caliber black powder revolver from the floor of the vehicle.

The defendant also testified at his probation-violation hearing, offering a different version of the events of December 30, 2009. He testified that he saw a man approach him with a gun drawn and that he “blacked out” and sped off because he was afraid that the man was about to start shooting. He further testified that he did not realize that the man who approached his vehicle was a police officer and that, as soon as he realized that the police were chasing him, he stopped immediately.

Camille Stokes (Stokes), defendant's close friend who said she witnessed these events, testified in support of defendant. She testified that she saw defendant flee after a man wielding a gun approached his car. She related that she followed defendant in her own vehicle and that he stopped as soon as the police activated their overhead lights.

Washington, who is defendant's half-brother,3 also testified for the defense. He claimed that he owned the revolver and brought it into the Volkswagen on the day that he and defendant were arrested. He further testified that he never informed defendant that he was armed. Washington testified that, as soon as the police chase began, he threw the gun on the floor of the car because he did not want to be caught with it on his person.

Washington's testimony was in sharp contrast to that of Detective Thomas M. Rawnsley (Det.Rawnsley) of the Youth Services Bureau of the Providence Police Department, who questioned Washington after he was arrested. Detective Rawnsley testified that, while Washington was being questioned, he told Det. Rawnsley that defendant was attempting to flee from the police and that defendant, not Washington, pulled out the gun and threw it on the floor.

The trial justice found that neither Stokes nor Washington was credible. He pointed out inconsistencies within each of their statements and found that each had a strong motivation to lie based on their close relationships with defendant. The trial justice rejected defendant's story about his alleged blackout and credited the testimony of Ptlm. Castro and Chin. He found that the officers' weapons were not drawn when they first approached defendant's vehicle and that defendant deliberately eluded them because he knew the gun was in the vehicle. Based on these findings, the trial justice determined that defendant's actions in eluding the police constituted a failure to keep the peace and remain on good behavior; on that basis, the trial justice determined that defendant had violated the terms of his probation.

The trial justice then went on to address the evidence concerning the weapon that had been found in the car. First, he explained that he was “certain” that Washington had lied when he testified that he brought the gun into the car, describing his testimony as “a perjurious effort to take the onus off his half[-]brother * * *.” The trial justice concluded that it was defendant, and not Washington, who possessed the gun. However, because the evidence was clear that the weapon was damaged and unable to be fired in the condition in which it was found,4 an issue remained as to whether it constituted a “firearm” or “pistol,” as those terms are defined in the Firearms Act. The defendant requested that the trial justice rule that the weapon was an “antique firearm[ ] unsuitable for use,” which would place it outside the ambit of the act. Section 11–47–25.

First, the trial justice found that the gun was not an antique firearm unsuitable for use under § 11–47–25. Next, the trial justiceheld that possessing a pistol, or the frame or receiver of a gun, did not violate §§ 11–47–5 or 11–47–8 unless the pistol, or the frame or receiver, either had the capability to expel a projectile or might readily be converted to do so. With respect to the subject revolver, the trial justice was satisfied that it could be readily converted to expel a projectile and, therefore, qualified as a “firearm” and a “pistol” under the Firearms Act.5 Accordingly, the trial justice identified yet another basis on which to rest his probation-violation adjudication: defendant had failed to keep the peace and remain on good behavior because he carried a pistol without a license and possessed a firearm despite being convicted of a crime of violence.

After announcing his conclusion that defendant violated his probation, the trial justice addressed the issue of what portion of defendant's suspended sentence should be executed. The trial justice heard argument from the state, defense counsel, and defendant; he then ordered defendant to serve ten years of the previously imposed suspended sentence.

Meanwhile, the state was continuing in its prosecution of defendant on the charges of recklessly operating a motor vehicle, carrying a revolver without a license, and possession of a firearm after having been convicted of a crime of violence. In light of the trial justice's interpretation of the Firearms Act during the course of the probation-violation hearing, the state filed a motion in limine, requesting the court to construe the act such that a weapon need not have the capability to expel a projectile, or be readily convertible to do so, in order to qualify as a “pistol” under § 11–47–2(8). Additionally, the state sought a ruling that a pistol is per se a “firearm” under § 11–47–2(3), and that the mere frame or receiver of a weapon also constitutes a “firearm” under that section, whether or not the pistol, or the frame or receiver, can expel a projectile or be readily converted to do so. The trial justice denied the state's motion, concluding that his interpretation of the statute at the probation-violation hearing was correct.

Both the state and defendant are now before us, each side assigning error to different aspects of the trial justice's rulings in both cases.

Analysis

We must decide whether the trial justice erred in (1) finding that defendant violated his probation and (2) his interpretation of the Firearms Act. We first address the state's appeal before tackling the trial justice's probation-violation...

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