Last week, a District Court Judge ruled in my client’s favor that the defendant’s statement to the police at the scene of a stop was inadmissible, resulting in the dismissal of DUI charges.
In the matter before the court, a police dispatch aired that a car with a specific RI tag was operating on a major street in the City of Providence and the unidentified driver was “possibly intoxicated.” No further description or details were provided over the broadcast as to any particular impaired driving. No description of the driver was provided either. The police came upon the car as described on a side street. When they arrived, the accused was standing barefoot, about five to ten feet out from the driver’s side door, which was open, and was listening to music. The car was at a complete stop, was idling and was half in the roadway and half on the sidewalk. The police engaged the suspect in conversation and he eventually admitted to the police that he had been operating the vehicle. He did not say where nor how recently he had operated the vehicle. The police performed the standard field sobriety tests at the scene, which the accused allegedly failed. He was then arrested and brought to the station where his BAC registered over .15, well above the legal limit of .08.
I filed a motion to suppress the out of court statement. I first relied on St v. Halstead 414 A.2d 1138 (RI, 1980). In that case, the Rhode Island Supreme Court ruled that an out of court statement cannot be introduced unless there is some competent, independent and admissible evidence of “corpus delecti”- that is, the confession only comes in as evidence of guilt in a DUI trial to show operation, when there is some other additional, competent, admissible, and independent evidence that the police gathered during their investigation to prove that the car in question was being “operated” in an impaired manner and that the accused was in fact operating the car. Independent evidence of “mere possession” of the vehicle is insufficient to establish “corpus delicti” in DUI cases. See, St v. Capuano 591 A.2d 359 (RI, 1991); RIGLS’ Section 31-27-2(a). I emphasized that all the police had in this matter was evidence that the client was at most in “mere constructive possession” of his car. I also argued that the broadcast was inadmissible hearsay on the issue of operation and thus, was not competent evidence of operation. Moreover, the broadcast, did not detail any impaired operation such as speeding, crossing over lanes of travel and the like. I also noted to the court that the “bolo” talked in terms of “possibly” impaired, when the law required “probable” impairment for arrest purposes.
After argument, the court granted the motion to suppress based on my arguments and the case was dismissed.
- Steven J. Deluca, Esq.