State v. Locke

Decision Date13 August 1980
Docket NumberNo. 79-418-C,79-418-C
Citation418 A.2d 843
PartiesSTATE v. Gary L. LOCKE. A.
CourtRhode Island Supreme Court
OPINION

BEVILACQUA, Chief Justice.

The defendant was found guilty by a trial justice of the Superior Court, sitting without a jury, of driving under the influence of alcohol pursuant to G.L.1956 (1968 Reenactment) § 31-27-2, as amended by P.L.1974, ch. 120, § 2. He has now appealed to this court from the judgment of conviction.

The facts are not in substantial dispute. Charlestown police officer Donald Middlebrooks arrested defendant in the early morning hours of November 14, 1976. While leaving the Charlestown Town Hall parking lot, the police officer observed a man in a motor vehicle stopped in the northbound lane of Route 2 "revving up" the engine. The officer stopped his vehicle behind the other vehicle. Presently the party under observation spun the wheels of his car and slid the car across the center line of the highway.

After stopping the vehicle, the driver backed up and repeated this action of spinning the car's wheels. Upon moving alongside the motor vehicle, the police officer trained his strobe light on the automobile to indicate that he wanted the operator to pull the car over to the side of the road. Officer Middlebrooks observed defendant, Gary L. Locke, behind the wheel of the motor vehicle. Instead of pulling to the side of the road, the operator of the motor vehicle drove off and in the process spun the car wheels for a third time. The officer gave chase in his patrol car, sometimes reaching speeds of ninety miles per hour. The pursued vehicle, at times crossing the center line, was driven in an erratic manner. When they came to the town line at Richmond, the officer, fearing the dangers involved, discontinued pursuit.

At approximately 1:50 a. m. of the same day, Officer Middlebrooks, while checking a stopped motor vehicle on Shannock Road, observed a Plymouth Duster drive up behind his police cruiser. He immediately recognized the car as the same motor vehicle to which he had previously given chase. The automobile stopped and defendant alighted. Locke staggered and almost fell. He approached the police officer and spoke to him in a loud voice, slurring his words. Observing the condition of defendant, the officer placed Locke under arrest for driving under the influence and advised him of his Miranda rights. The officer then placed defendant in the police cruiser and transported him to the town of Westerly to administer a breathalyzer test to him. At trial the officer explained that the reason he took defendant to Westerly was because Charlestown did not have breathalyzer equipment. A police officer of the town of Westerly performed the test on defendant in Westerly.

Prior to taking the test, the police, in accordance with G.L.1956 (1968 Reenactment) § 31-27-2.1, as amended by P.L.1978, ch. 174, § 1, advised defendant of his rights under that section and further advised him that refusal to submit to the test would result in a mandatory fine and a possible suspension of his driver's license. The defendant signed a consent form and submitted to the test. The test results were consistent with a finding of intoxication. Before trial defendant filed a motion to suppress the results of the test on the ground that the threat of license suspension coerced him into submitting to the test and rendered his consent involuntary. Because the charge was tried without a jury, the trial court permitted defendant to proceed to trial before the court had ruled on his motion to suppress; the trial justice heard argument on defendant's motion after the close of evidence. On direct examination defendant conceded the legality of the initial arrest, but he testified that he had submitted to the breathalyzer test only because of the threat of license suspension. He claimed that the test as administered was therefore an unreasonable search and seizure in violation of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments of the Federal Constitution, and art. I, sec. 6 of the Rhode Island constitution.

In further support of his motion to suppress defendant argued that when Officer Middlebrooks transported him from the town of Charlestown to the town of Westerly, the officer lost his authority as a police officer to hold him under arrest. As a result, the fruits of the illegal arrest, he claimed, were constitutionally infirm and, therefore, inadmissible in evidence.

The trial justice denied the motion to suppress and found defendant guilty as charged. The defendant then filed an appeal with this court.

In support of his contention that the breathalyzer test was an unlawful search and seizure the results of which should have been excluded from evidence at trial, defendant in this court presses two theories: (1) that at the time the police conducted the breathalyzer test they held him under an unlawful arrest and, therefore, searched him in violation of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments of the Federal Constitution and art. I, sec. 6 of the Rhode Island constitution, and (2) that the implied-consent law, G.L.1956 (1968 Reenactment) § 31-27-2.1, which threatens suspension of the driver's license of any person suspected of driving under the influence of intoxicating liquor who withholds his consent to a test of his breath, blood, or urine conducted for the purpose of ascertaining his blood-alcohol level, places an unconstitutional condition on the exercise of his federally and state guaranteed immunity from unreasonable searches and seizures.

I

The taking of blood, breath, or urine samples from a suspect is a search and seizure under the Fourth Amendment and R.I.Const., art. I, § 6. State v. Bentley, 92 Wis.2d 860, 863, 286 N.W.2d 153, 155 (1979); see Schmerber v. California, 384 U.S. 757, 86 S.Ct. 1826, 16 L.Ed.2d 908 (1966). Initially we recognize the settled rule that "a search conducted without a warrant issued upon probable cause is 'per se unreasonable . . . subject only to a few specifically established and well-delineated exceptions.' " Schneckloth v. Bustamonte, 412 U.S. 218, 219, 93 S.Ct. 2041, 2043, 36 L.Ed.2d 854, 858 (1973). Ordinarily the police obtain search warrants before searching a dwelling and, absent exceptional circumstances, "no less could be required where intrusions into the human body are concerned." Schmerber v. California, 384 U.S. at 770, 86 S.Ct. at 1835, 16 L.Ed.2d at 919. Rhode Island law recognizes that two of the specifically established exceptions to the requirements of both a warrant and probable cause include a search incident to a lawful arrest, State v. DeWolfe, R.I., 402 A.2d 740, 742 (1979); see United States v. Robinson, 414 U.S. 218, 94 S.Ct. 467, 38 L.Ed.2d 427 (1973), and a search conducted pursuant to consent. State v. Leavitt, 103 R.I. 273, 237 A.2d 309 (1968); see Schneckloth v. Bustamonte, 412 U.S. at 219, 93 S.Ct. at 2043, 36 L.Ed.2d at 858.

The defendant first contends that once Officer Middlebrooks transported him outside Charlestown, the officer no long had the authority to hold him under arrest; therefore, because the breathalyzer test was administered when he was unlawfully arrested, its results were inadmissible in evidence. In support of his argument defendant relies wholly on Page v. Staples, 13 R.I. 306 (1881), where, in an action for trespass for assault and false imprisonment, the defendant, Staples, a Providence County sheriff, transported Page, his prisoner, through a part of Kent County on his way to admitting Page to bail at the Providence County jail. The court held that "(i)n the absence of statutory provisions, the power of a sheriff is limited to his own county." Id. at 307; accord, e. g., Zanks v. Fluckiger, 22 Conn.Supp. 311, 171 A.2d 86 (1961); State v. Shienle, 218 Kan. 637, 545 P.2d 1129 (1976); City of Fairborn v. Munkus, 28 Ohio St.2d 207, 277 N.E.2d 227 (1971); Irwin v. State, Dept. of Motor Vehicles, 10 Wash.App. 369, 517 P.2d 619 (1974). We further said in Page that if a peace officer conducts a prisoner outside his own county, he then becomes a trespasser. Page v. Staples, 13 R.I. at 307. The only exceptions to this principle noted in Page were these: when a peace officer, acting under the authority of a writ of habeas corpus, conducts a prisoner in custody pursuant to the writ through other counties to return the prisoner to the place where the writ is returnable and when an officer, upon fast pursuit, retakes a prisoner who has escaped from his custody into another county. Id. at 307-08; accord, e. g., United States v. Getz, 381 F.Supp. 43 (E.D.Pa.1974); State v. Terracina, 309 So.2d 271 (La.1975); Commonwealth v. Robb, 238 Pa.Super. 62, 352 A.2d 515 (1975).

The Page case is distinguishable from the instant case. Instead, our ruling in Cioci v. Santos, 99 R.I. 308, 207 A.2d 300 (1965), controls the issue before us. In Cioci after the plaintiff attempted suicide the arresting officers of the town of Cumberland took him for treatment to a hospital in the city of Providence. We held that "the dictates of public policy require * * * that police officers who have a citizen in their lawful custody be not deterred from acting to protect the well-being of such person, particularly in circumstances arising out of an emergency such as existed in the instant case." Id. at 315, 207 A.2d at 304.

In Page the travel in another county was for the convenience of the defendant-sheriff and not as part of the sheriff's duties. In the instant case, as in Cioci, an emergency existed that impelled the officer to carry the suspect outside of his jurisdiction. Officer Middlebrooks acted to protect the public from a drunken driver and to protect Locke from himself. Under the circumstances public policy required the officer, in carrying out his duties, to administer a breathalyzer test so that he could intelligently decide...

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