State v. Travis, 75-183

Citation360 A.2d 548,116 R.I. 678
Decision Date22 July 1976
Docket NumberNo. 75-183,75-183
PartiesSTATE v. Gene Edward TRAVIS. C.A.
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Rhode Island

PAOLINO, Justice.

This is an indictment charging the defendant with robbery and receiving stolen goods. This case is before us on the defendant's appeal from a judgment of conviction entered on May 21, 1975 and a sentence imposed on the same day.

The record discloses the following pertinent facts. On March 8, 1974, a Cumberland Farms store was robbed by a masked man carrying a pistol. Two store employees witnessed the robbery and later testified to the general physical appearance of the robber. One of the employees chased the robber down the street and saw him get into a blue automobile bearing license plate number SV375.

Early on the morning of March 9, 1974, the Warren police located this automobile, which had been stolen on March 7, 1974, and turned it over to their fingerprint expert who found defendant's fingerprints in the car.

On April 5, 1974, defendant was arrested and brought to the Warren police station where he was incarcerated in the detective division cellblock. He was given his Miranda warnings and told that the police were holding a warrant for his arrest on a charge of robbery. He was then asked if he would like to answer any questions. The defendant refused and stated that he wished to consult with an attorney. Shortly thereafter, Renald L. Langlois, an undercover police officer, entered defendant's cell in order to obtain information regarding the robbery. The undercover police officer had very long hair, a long beard and was dressed in 'modtype' clothing. He was handcuffed when he was brought to the cellblock and the handcuffs were removed when the undercover agent entered the cell. The undercover agent testified that he made conversation with defendant in order to put him at ease, after which defendant made several statements which amounted to a confession that he committed the robbery at the Cumberland Farms store.

On April 15, 1974, defendant was indicted. On May 1, 1974, he was arraigned in the Superior Court, pleaded not guilty and was committed to the Adult Correctional Institutions for want of bail in the amount of $2,000 for robbery and receiving stolen goods. A motion to suppress the undercover agent's testimony was made and denied on March 18, 1975. This ruling is one of defendant's allegations of error.

On the same day trial of defendant started before a justice of the Superior Court and a jury. In the course of the undercover police officer's testimony, he stated that defendant mentioned that he was an escapee. Defense cousel immediately moved to pass the case. The trial justice gave a cautionary instruction and the jury was questioned to find out if any of them were prejudiced by the undercover officer's testimony; none indicated any inability to sit and the case proceeded. The defendant did not take the stand. The denial of the motion to pass is the second error claimed by defendant.

On March 20, 1975, the jury returned a verdict of guilty as charged on each count. The defendant's motion for a new trial was denied and on May 21, 1975, defendant was sentenced to the Adult Correctional Institutions for life on the robbery charge and for a term of 1 year on the charge of receiving stolen goods.

On May 23, 1975, defendant filed his notice of appeal and on June 4, 1975, he filed a motion to reduce sentence under Super.R.Crim.P. 35. A hearing on this motion was held on June 17, 1975 and at the conclusion of the hearing the trial justice denied the motion. The denial of this motion is defendant's third ground of appeal.

The defendant argues that the trial justice's ruling allowing into evidence the undercover officer's testimony violated his privilege against compulsory self-incrimination and his right to counsel. Because we agree with his first point we do not express an opinion on the right to counsel argument.

As we have stated in State v. Lachapelle, 112 R.I. 105, 108, 308 A.2d 467, 469 (1973): '* * * Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 86 S.Ct. 1602, 16 L.Ed.2d 694 (1966), requires that when an accused informs the police of his desire to see an attorney, all further interrogation must cease * * *.' Miranda also dictates that '(i)f the individual indicates in any manner, at any time prior to or during questioning, that he wishes to remain silent, the interrogation must cease.' Miranda v. Arizona, supra at 473-74, 86 S.Ct. at 1627, 16 L.Ed.2d at 723.

The defendant in this case did both by telling the police that he wished to consult with an attorney and that he did not wish to say anything before seeing an attorney. In these circumstances the police were not permitted to ask defendant questions until after he had an opportunity to speak with counsel. The Warren police attempted to circumvent this stricture by asking undercover officer Langlois to masquerade as a fellow prisoner in order to 'obtain further information with regard to the alleged crime.'

The state argues that defendant's statements to Langlois were not compelled but, rather, they were volunteered freely and are, therefore, admissible into evidence. 1 The state cites only one case in support of this argument, United States v. Fioravanti, 412 F.2d 407 (3d Cir.), cert. denied 396 U.S. 837, 90 S.Ct. 97, 24 L.Ed.2d 88 (1969), and our research has disclosed no other supporting authority. 2 In that case defendant was arrested along with a Secret Service undercover agent. The agent's true identity was not disclosed at that point in order to preserve his undercover status. Once in the United States Marshall's detention room the defendant made admissions to the undercover agent. These statements were made in the course of conversation and not in response to any questions from the agent. The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit held that the admissions were admissible into evidence notwithstanding Miranda v. Arizona, supra, because the court concluded that the statements were volunteered. United States v. Fioravanti, supra at 413-14. We are unwilling to follow that holding, however, because the United States Court of Appeals postulated its conclusion upon the fact that the defendant's statements did not result from actual interrogation or questions posed to him. Id.

We attach no significance as to whether the agent in the cell asked questions of the duped defendant or not. United States v. Brown, 466 F.2d 493, 495 (10th Cir. 1972); Hancock v. White, 378 F.2d 479, 482 (1st Cir. 1967). To allow into evidence admissions made to an agent in the cell who made casual conversation with a defendant while carefully avoiding any questions regarding the specific crime under investigation, but to disallow that agent's testimony if he asked a question pertaining to a defendant's reason for being incarcerated, would be to play games with an individual's constitutional guarantees. This we will not do.

The mere presence of Langlois was an inducement to speak, and an inducement by a police officer. We see no significant difference between a uniformed police officer asking questions of defendant and Langlois' presence inside the cellblock with defendant. There was no knowing and intelligent waiver by defendant of his constitutional rights and one will not be presumed lightly. Johnson v. Zerbst...

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11 cases
  • State v. Innis, 75-333-C
    • United States
    • Rhode Island Supreme Court
    • July 29, 1981
    ...such evidence should be stricken because it is the result of an improper interrogation under the standards set forth in State v. Travis, 116 R.I. 678, 360 A.2d 548 (1976). At this point, we shall pause briefly to review that portion of the record adduced at trial which relates solely to a s......
  • Holyfield v. State
    • United States
    • Nevada Supreme Court
    • December 20, 1985
    ...Mahnke, 368 Mass. 662, 335 N.E.2d 660 (1975), cert. den., 425 U.S. 959, 96 S.Ct. 1740, 48 L.Ed.2d 204 (1976). Again, in State v. Travis, 116 R.I. 678, 360 A.2d 548 (1976), a police agent--longhaired, handcuffed, and dressed in "modtype" clothing--was led into the jail cellblock, where his h......
  • State v. Vargus, 75--236-C
    • United States
    • Rhode Island Supreme Court
    • April 22, 1977
    ...171 (1963). In the present case defendant's incriminating admission, in effect constituting a confession of guilt, see State v. Travis, R.I., 360 A.2d 548, 551 (1976), served to corroborate the circumstantial evidence adduced by the prosecution and, with its persuasive impact on the ultimat......
  • State v. Gelinas
    • United States
    • Rhode Island Supreme Court
    • August 5, 1980
    ...facts that defendant did not expect that uniformed police officers could hear what he said to his mother. See State v. Travis, 116 R.I. 678, 682-83, 360 A.2d 548, 551 (1976). Furthermore, defendant was not in a place where either he or society could demand that his conversation be kept priv......
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