State v. Morris

Citation92 A.3d 920
Decision Date28 May 2014
Docket NumberNo. 2012–105–C.A.,2012–105–C.A.
PartiesSTATE v. Steven B. MORRIS.
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Rhode Island


Lauren S. Zurier, Department of Attorney General, for State.

Kara J. Maguire, Office of the Public Defender, for Defendant.



Justice INDEGLIA, for the Court.

The state appeals from an order of the Superior Court granting the defendant's motions to suppress and/or exclude evidence obtained by Pawtucket police detectives following the defendant's arrest in the city of Providence. The defendant Steven B. Morris (Morris or defendant) was indicted for two separate incidents of first-degree robbery committed in Pawtucket in violation of G.L.1956 § 11–39–1(a). On appeal, the state argues that the hearing justice erred in deciding that evidence stemming from an extrajurisdictional arrest was subject to the exclusionary rule of the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution. For the reasons set forth in this opinion, we vacate the order of the Superior Court.

IFacts and Travel

The facts in this matter are largely undisputed. The first of the two robberies with which defendant was charged occurred on September 6, 2010 when Alcides Dias, an assistant manager at PCX Clothing Store in Pawtucket, was robbed at knifepoint.1 Detective David Silva of the Pawtucket Police Department testified that Dias described the robber as being a “black male in his forties, or late thirties, * * * heavyset, stocky,” and wearing a red hat, white shirt, black and blue shorts, and black gloves with the tips cut off. A few days later, on September 9, 2010, the Save–a–Lot grocery store in Pawtucket was also robbed at knifepoint. Nicole Cookson, the victim in that robbery, described the robber as being “a black male, forties, stocky build, Hawaiian shirt, yellow hat, running shorts[.] Two other witnesses said that the robber fled the store in a black Mercedes Benz with a temporary license plate in the rear window of the car. The witnesses also said that the license plate contained the numbers 1367 or 1376. Detectives Silva and Donti Rosciti of the Pawtucket Police Department reviewed the surveillance footage from both robberies and, based on the videos, formed a belief that the person who had robbed the PCX had also committed the Save–a–Lot robbery. They then sent an email to all other police officers in the department with the description of the getaway vehicle.

The following day, Officer Mark Ramos identified a car matching that description parked outside of 327 Sayles Avenue in Pawtucket. Officer Ramos notified the detectives and discovered, on speaking to one of the residents, that the car belonged to “a black male * * * who lived on the third floor.” Detective Silva used the vehicle identification number of the car and was informed by the dealer at Class Act Auto Sales that the car had been sold to Morris. Officer Ramos and the detectives then went to the third floor of the building and received the consent of the resident to search the apartment. The resident of the apartment confirmed that Morris sometimes stayed overnight as a guest and directed the police to a storage room in the apartment where defendant kept some of his belongings. The police seized clothing and an Allstate insurance policy in defendant's name for the Mercedes.

Detective Silva obtained defendant's phone number and called him, explaining that his vehicle had been seen leaving the scene of a robbery. The defendant identifiedthe vehicle by asking, “My Mercedes?” Detective Silva told defendant that the detectives needed to speak with him. Although defendant offered to take a bus to the Pawtucket police station, he was eventually convinced by Det. Silva that he be picked up at Crossroads 2 in Providence.

On arriving at Crossroads, the detectives saw defendant and recognized him as the person whom they had observed in the surveillance footage from both robberies. After a brief conversation with defendant in which he agreed to accompany the detectives to the police station, Det. Rosciti performed a pat-down search of him. Detective Rosciti testified that the pat-down looking for weapons was standard procedure before any civilian is permitted to enter a police vehicle. On performing the pat-down, Det. Rosciti felt something like paper or plastic in one of defendant's pockets and removed it. The piece of paper that Det. Rosciti took from defendant's pocket was later identified as being a U–Haul rental truck receipt. Detective Rosciti testified that he took it out because he believed it might be contraband, such as a small packet of heroin or marijuana.

Morris was taken to the Pawtucket police station in the detectives' car. Morris was not handcuffed while in the car. After arriving at the Pawtucket police station, defendant reviewed and initialed a Miranda rights waiver form. The detectives asked defendant where he had been the previous day, September 9, 2010, and defendant answered that he had been helping his sister move from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. and had rented a U–Haul truck for that purpose. It was at that point that the detectives looked at the U–Haul receipt that had been seized from defendant's person during the pat-down search. Detective Rosciti also spoke to Vivian Morris, defendant's sister, who told him that defendant had called suddenly on September 9, between 1 and 1:30 p.m., and told her that he was going to move her that day. Following the conversation with Vivian Morris, the detectives then went to the U–Haul franchise in Pawtucket and reviewed the surveillance footage there. This footage showed defendant wearing what appeared to be the same clothing that the suspect in the Save–a–Lot robbery had been wearing.

The defendant was charged with two counts of first-degree robbery for the two armed robberies. The defendant filed a number of pretrial motions, including a motion to sever the charges pursuant to Rule 14 of the Superior Court Rules of Criminal Procedure, as well as several motions to suppress (1) certain clothing and paperwork found in the apartment on Sayles Avenue in Pawtucket, (2) the U–Haul receipt seized from defendant's person, (3) photographs taken from the surveillance video from the U–Haul franchise in Pawtucket, (4) the statements defendant made to the Pawtucket police, and (5) the testimony of defendant's sister, Vivian Morris.

The pretrial motions were heard in the Providence County Superior Court on February 23, 24, and 27, 2012. The hearing justice granted defendant's motion to sever the charges, and the state elected to proceed first on the charge involving the Save–a–Lot robbery.3 After hearing testimony and argument, the hearing justice granted defendant's motion to suppress the U–Haul receipt, concluding that defendant was under arrest from the moment of the pat-down procedure and that “the arrestwas illegal because it was outside [the] jurisdiction [of the detectives].” The hearing justice also granted defendant's motions to suppress defendant's statement to the Pawtucket police, the testimony of defendant's sister, and the U–Haul surveillance video photographs as “fruits of the poisonous tree” stemming from defendant's unauthorized arrest.4 The hearing justice denied defendant's motion to suppress the clothing and paperwork seized from the apartment on Sayles Avenue. 5

The state timely filed a notice to appeal the hearing justice's granting of defendant's various motions to suppress evidence, pursuant to G.L.1956 § 9–24–32.6 A final order memorializing the hearing justice's decisions on defendant's motions to dismiss was entered on May 14, 2012.7

Additional facts will be supplied as necessary to address the issues on appeal.

IIStandard of Review

In reviewing the grant or denial of a motion to suppress, this Court accords deference to the trial justice's factual findings and accepts those findings unless they are clearly erroneous. See State v. Musterd, 56 A.3d 931, 936 (R.I.2012). We engage in a de novo review of any questions of law and of mixed questions of law and fact involving constitutional issues. State v. Barkmeyer, 949 A.2d 984, 995 (R.I.2008). In addition, we review questions of statutory interpretation de novo. Campbell v. State, 56 A.3d 448, 454 (R.I.2012).


On appeal, the state contends that even though defendant's arrest was made outside the Pawtucket police officers' jurisdictional authority,8 the hearing justice erred in applying the Fourth Amendment 9 exclusionary rule to suppress the evidence obtained from the arrest. The state bases its argument on the United States Supreme Court opinion in Virginia v. Moore, 553 U.S. 164, 178, 128 S.Ct. 1598, 170 L.Ed.2d 559 (2008), in which the Supreme Court held that the Fourth Amendment “does not require the exclusion of evidence obtained from a constitutionally permissible arrest.” The state contends that the police officers' actions were reasonable and that consequently, the exclusionary rule is too extreme a remedy under the facts of this case. In contrast, defendant argues that application of the exclusionary rule is the appropriate remedy for a violation of state law and that the circumstances of the instant case did not otherwise justify the detectives' failure to respect the jurisdictional boundaries of their authority.

AThe Authority of the Pawtucket Police Officers

This Court has repeatedly held to the principle that [i]n the absence of a statutory or judicially recognized exception, the authority of a local police department is limited to its own jurisdiction.” State v. Ceraso, 812 A.2d 829, 833 (R.I.2002) (citing Page v. Staples, 13 R.I. 306 (1881)).10 The General Assembly has established two exceptions to this rule. The first, known as the “hot pursuit” exception, permits police officers who are in “close pursuit” of a person to cross into another jurisdiction in order to arrest that person. SeeG.L.1956 § 12–7–19.11 “Second, in emergency situations, it...

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