Skip Maine state header navigation

Agencies | Online Services | Help
State v. Thomas St. Yves

Back to the Opinions page

MAINE SUPREME JUDICIAL COURT					Reporter of Decisions
Decision:	2000 ME 97
Docket:	Was-99-584
Argued:	April 4, 2000
Decided:	May 24, 2000




	[¶1]  Thomas St. Yves appeals from a judgment of conviction entered
in the Superior Court (Washington County, Kravchuk, J.) following a jury
verdict finding him guilty of manslaughter (Class A) in the death of Faith Ann
St. Yves, his infant daughter.  See 17-A M.R.S.A. § 203(1)(A) (Supp. 1999).{1}
St. Yves challenges the denial of his motion to suppress evidence of Faith's
remains and the sufficiency of the evidence.  We affirm the judgment.
	[¶2]  Denise St. Yves, the defendant's wife, gave birth to a daughter,
Faith Ann, on January 9, 1998.  At the hospital, Denise had identified herself
as "Ann Morin,"{2} and she declined to give the hospital her social security
number.  Denise was accompanied at the hospital by St. Yves and another
daughter, Katrina, then three and one-half years old.  Because Katrina was
still in diapers, was regularly pleading with the hospital staff for food, and
otherwise appeared to be a neglected child, hospital staff contacted the
Department of Human Services. 
	[¶3]  The Department referred the matter to Public Health Nursing,
who sent a nurse to attempt to contact the St. Yves family.  The address that
the St. Yveses had given the hospital turned out to be false, but by
January 30, the nurse finally located the St. Yveses' trailer.  On five separate
visits, however, no one answered the door. 
	[¶4]  The Department received another referral regarding the safety of
the St. Yves children from a food stamp worker on February 17, 1998. 
St. Yves had gone to the food stamp office seeking assistance for himself,
Katrina, and Faith.  While there, he indicated that Denise had left the home
altogether, leaving him to care for both children.  Asked where his children
were, St. Yves had stated that, in order to get the food stamps, he had left
them in the care of a person whom he had just met.  The food stamp worker
was so concerned that she made a referral to Child Protective Services.  The
worker told the Department that St. Yves was unkempt and agitated and
appeared to have mental health problems.  
	[¶5]  Upon this second referral, the Department assigned a child
protective services caseworker who attempted to contact the St. Yveses at
their home on February 19.  No one answered the door, but the caseworker
could hear a child inside.  After seeking and receiving assistance from the
Calais Police Department, the caseworker attempted to contact the
St. Yveses again that day without success.  The caseworker and police made
four additional unsuccessful attempts to check on the children over the next
few days. 
	[¶6]  The Calais police then discovered that Ann Morin was in fact
Denise St. Yves, and that there was an outstanding warrant for her arrest on
theft charges in New Hampshire.  A search warrant was obtained to allow
the police to enter the trailer to search for and arrest Denise.  The police
arrived, along with a caseworker, and after first requesting admission, began
prying open the door.  St. Yves opened the door and physically grappled
with the officer at the door.  To protect the officers during the search for
Denise, the one officer placed St. Yves in handcuffs and led him outside. 
St. Yves claimed that Faith was with "Ann" and the two were in New
Hampshire.  The police eventually located "Ann" (Denise) in the trailer and
placed her under arrest.  Contradicting her husband, she claimed that Faith
was not with her, but rather was with her grandparents in New Hampshire.
	[¶7]  During the arrest of Denise, the officers observed that the
St. Yveses' trailer was quite cold, and was filled with trash and dog urine and
feces.{3}  Katrina was found in these conditions wearing just a diaper and a
t-shirt, and was taken into emergency custody by the caseworker.  An animal
control officer who had accompanied the police took away two adult
Rottweilers and nine puppies.  The police took Denise to the station, leaving
one officer behind with St. Yves to determine where Faith was.  The
handcuffs had been removed, and St. Yves and the officer re-entered the
	[¶8]  As they sat at the kitchen table, the officer spoke to St. Yves, who
was alternatively very quiet or crying.  The chief of police returned shortly to
the trailer, and took part in questioning St. Yves about the whereabouts of
his infant daughter.  After a short time, St. Yves admitted that Faith was in
the trailer, and told them where to find her.  When they asked for his
consent to search the room indicated, St. Yves said "you'll never find it,"
went into that room, and returned with a closed box.  In the box was the
body of an infant girl.  It had been wrapped in a garbage bag and blankets
and had been placed in a box.  The baby had obviously been dead for days. 
After the officers received the box from St. Yves, they undertook no further
search until they had received a warrant.
	[¶9]  An autopsy was performed on Faith's body the next day.  The
medical examiner testified that, in her opinion, Faith had died from anoxic
brain injury; i.e., an injury to the brain caused by loss of oxygen.  According
to the medical examiner, this was consistent with suffocation caused by
holding an infant's mouth closed or by smothering her with blankets.  The
examiner also testified that an infant could remain alive but comatose for
some time after such an injury.  The examiner had found no evidence that
Faith had died from natural causes. 
	[¶10]  St. Yves was taken to the police station and was interviewed by
the State Police.{4}  St. Yves initially denied harming Faith, but eventually told
police that the baby's crying had led him to "retaliate."  He told the police
that he had tried to close Faith's mouth to stop her crying, and that on
several occasions he had placed Faith face down on a couch, covered her
with blankets, and pressed down until she stopped crying.  He admitted
that, after she died, he wrapped her body in plastic, but he asserted that
Denise had placed her in the box.  He then turned down the heat in the
room where the body lay in order to prevent decomposition. 
	[¶11]  Denise agreed to testify against St. Yves after pleading guilty to
hindering apprehension or prosecution and to abuse of corpse.  According to
Denise it was St. Yves who had insisted that she check into the hospital
under a fictitious name.  She said that St. Yves had not allowed her to care
for Faith, and that he alone fed, changed, and comforted the infant.  One
morning he told her Faith was dead and asked her to help him hide Faith's
body.  Denise assisted St. Yves as they placed the body in a box.  She agreed
that he placed the box in the front room and turned off the heat.
	[¶12]  St. Yves was ultimately arrested and indicted for manslaughter
and abuse of corpse.  He filed a motion to suppress the evidence of Faith's
body as well as the statements he made at his trailer and at the police
station.  After hearing, the court found that all of St. Yves's statements were
voluntary within the meaning of State v. Caouette, 446 A.2d 1120 (Me.
1982), and that St. Yves was not in custody when he was at the police
station.  It concluded, however, that the statements by St. Yves at his trailer
were made under conditions which required that he be notified of his
Miranda rights.{5} 
	[¶13]  With regard to the evidence of the baby's body, the court found
that the discovery of the body was inevitable, and alternatively, that exigent
circumstances existed which allowed the police to search the trailer for the
missing infant.  Accordingly, the court denied the motion to suppress the
evidence of Faith's body, denied the motion to suppress the statements
St. Yves made at the police station, but granted the motion to suppress the
statements he made at his trailer while in a custodial setting. 
	[¶14]  Before trial, St. Yves moved for a transfer of venue, which was
granted after jury voir dire revealed that many of the potential jurors were
familiar with the case.  The trial was held at the Sagadahoc County
Courthouse, where the evidence recounted above was presented to the jury. 
The jury returned a guilty verdict on the single charge of manslaughter. 
Following the entry of judgments of conviction and sentencing, St. Yves filed
this appeal.
	[¶15]  St. Yves appeals from the order on his motion to suppress only
with respect to the remains of Faith's body.  He contends that Faith's body
should have been suppressed as the "fruit of the poisonous tree" because
she was found as the result of a custodial interrogation performed in
violation of Miranda.  See Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 444 (1966);
Wong Sun v. United States, 371 U.S, 471, 488 (1963) (holding that
narcotics seized as fruit of an illegal entry and arrest must be suppressed).  
	[¶16]  The Supreme Court has held, however, that the fruit of the
poisonous tree doctrine only applies to evidence seized as a result of a
violation of constitutional rights, and does not apply when the error on the
part of law enforcement is merely technical or administrative, such as an
error in the administration of Miranda warnings.  "If errors are made by law
enforcement officers in administering the prophylactic Miranda procedures,
they should not breed the same irremediable consequences as police
infringement of the Fifth Amendment itself."  Oregon v. Elstad, 470 U.S.
298, 309 (1985).  Thus, the courts have begun to engage in an analysis of
"technical" versus "constitutional" errors on the part of law enforcement. 
See, e.g., United States v. Byram, 145 F.3d 405, 409-410 (1st Cir. 1998). 
Here, although the court determined that St. Yves's statements were
voluntary, it concluded that he should have been given Miranda warnings. 
The State, therefore, argues that the fruit of the poisonous tree doctrine
should not be applied to result in the suppression of the evidence. 
	[¶17]  We need not consider whether and to what extent we would
determine the Miranda violation at issue to have constituted a mere
technicality, however, because the evidence is otherwise admissible under
the inevitable discovery doctrine.{6}  The court determined that because the
warrantless search was justified under the doctrines of "inevitable
discovery" or "exigent circumstances" the violation of the Miranda
requirements did not require suppression.  We agree with the court that the
child's body would have been discovered by the police even without
St. Yves's statements. 
	[¶18]  For the inevitable discovery exception to the exclusionary rule
to apply, the prosecution must establish, by a preponderance of the
evidence, that Faith's body "'inevitably would have been discovered by lawful
means.'"  State v. Storer, 583 A.2d 1016, 1020 (Me. 1990) (quoting Nix v.
Williams, 467 U.S. 431, 444 (1984)).{7}  We review a finding that evidence
would inevitably have been discovered for clear error.  Cf. Storer, 583 A.2d
at 1020.
	[¶19]  At the time that St. Yves retrieved Faith's body and delivered it
to the officers, the police lawfully knew that:  (1) Denise had given birth to
an infant daughter, Faith, under an assumed name; (2) although St. Yves had
very recently sought food stamps to support the infant as well as himself and
Katrina, the baby was nowhere to be seen; (3) St. Yves's older child, Katrina,
had herself not been well cared for-she was found dressed only in a diaper
and t-shirt in the cold trailer, and was unfed and neglected; (4) at the food
stamp office, St. Yves had been disheveled, confused, and had given an
implausible explanation regarding who was caring for the children in his
absence; (5) a visiting nurse and caseworker, attempting several times to
contact the family at their home, had heard a child's voice but had been
unable to get an adult to answer the door; (6) the trailer was cold and was
full of refuse, dog feces, and urine; and (7) St. Yves and Denise had given
conflicting statements regarding Faith's whereabouts and refused to tell the
police where she could be located so that they could verify her safety.{8} 
	[¶20]  From these facts, the court concluded that the police would
have immediately investigated Denise's claim that Faith was with her
grandparents in New Hampshire.  Once they determined that she was not
there or were not able to locate the grandparents, they would have had
probable cause sufficient to seek and obtain a warrant to search the trailer. 
The court concluded that, in a search of the trailer for Faith, her body would
inevitably have been found.  
	[¶21]  On the record before us, the court's conclusion is not clearly
erroneous.  When the State has demonstrated "that the evidence would have
been obtained inevitably and, therefore, would have been admitted
regardless of any overreaching by the police, there is no rational basis to
keep that evidence from the jury in order to ensure the fairness of the trial
proceedings. . . .  Indeed, suppression of the evidence would operate to
undermine the adversary system by putting the State in a worse position
than it would have occupied without any police misconduct."  Nix v.
Williams, 467 U.S. at 447.{9} 
	[¶22]  Because the Calais police would certainly have searched the
trailer, with a lawfully obtained warrant, immediately upon determining that
Faith Ann's presence with her grandparents could not be confirmed, they
would have discovered her body in that search, independent of the evidence
obtained from St. Yves.  Thus, "[f]airness can be assured by placing the State
and the accused in the same positions they would have been in had the
impermissible conduct not taken place," id. and, therefore, the court did
not err in determining that the inevitable discovery doctrine saved the
evidence from suppression as fruit of the poisonous tree.
	[¶23]  Finally, we conclude that the evidence was sufficient for a
rational jury to have concluded that the State met its burden in proving
beyond a reasonable doubt each element of the crime of manslaughter.  See
State v. Clarke, 1999 ME 141, ¶ 12, 738 A.2d 1233, 1235.
	The entry is:
Judgment affirmed.
Attorneys for State: Andrew Ketterer, Attorney General Donald W. Macomber, Asst. Attorney General (orally) Lisa P. Marchese, Asst. Attorney General 6 State House Station Augusta, ME 04333-0006 Attorneys for defendant: Julio DeSanctis III, Esq. Laurie Ann Miller, Esq., (orally) Downeast Law Offices, P.A. P O Box 190 Orrington, ME 04474
FOOTNOTES******************************** {1} . St. Yves was also convicted, on his plea of guilty, of abuse of corpse, 17-A M.R.S.A. § 508(1) (1983) (Class D). He does not challenge that conviction. On the manslaughter conviction, he was sentenced to 25 years, all but 20 years suspended, followed by 6 years probation, concurrent with a 364-day sentence for abuse of corpse. His motion for leave to appeal sentence was denied. See State v. St. Yves, No. SRP-99-63 (Feb. 10, 2000). {2} . Or "Ann Moran." {3} . The officers testified that the smell was so overpowering they had to leave the trailer to breathe fresh air. {4} . The jury heard tapes of the interview. This was actually the second interview with St. Yves, held February 27, 1998, the day after Faith's body had been discovered. Between the two interviews, the autopsy was performed on Faith's body. St. Yves had spoken to police on the previous evening, and had spent the night in an unlocked cell because he had nowhere else to go. After leaving in the morning, St. Yves returned and was interviewed again. The court decline to suppress statements made by St. Yves made during either interview and that ruling is not challenged. {5} . Specifically, the court found that the cumulative circumstances-that the conversation was initiated by the officers, that St. Yves had initially been handcuffed, that his home had been searched, that the officers had indicated to St. Yves that they believed he was involved in Faith's disappearance, and that the interview was lengthy-was a "restraint on freedom of movement of the degree associated with a formal arrest." Stansbury v. California, 511 U.S. 318, 322 (1994) (internal quotations omitted). The State does not appeal from the court's order suppressing these statements. {6} . Statements made under circumstances that a court has found to be entirely voluntary are not statements obtained as a result of any infringement of the defendant's Fifth Amendment rights. See United States v. Mandujano, 425 U.S. 564, 587 n.3 (1976) (quoting Bram v. United States, 168 U.S. 532, 542-43 (1897)). Because the court did not address whether the absence of Miranda warnings had a coercive effect on the statements made at the trailer, we do not address the issue here. {7} . In Nix v. Williams, Williams was found guilty of the murder of a ten-year-old girl. See Nix v. Williams, 467 U.S at 438. An organized search for the child's body, involving some 200 volunteers over two counties in Iowa, was underway when a police officer spoke to Williams in violation of his Sixth Amendment right to counsel. See Brewer v. Williams, 430 U.S. 387, 404, 405 (1977). Williams then led the police to the body, which was two and one-half miles from the nearest search team, but "essentially within the area to be searched." Nix v. Williams, 467 U.S at 436. The Supreme Court, adopting the "inevitable discovery" rule and rejecting any requirement of a showing of "good faith" by the police, held that it was not error, on these facts, for the trial court to conclude the body would inevitably have been discovered. See id. at 449-50. {8} . Had the police chosen to search the trailer for the child, they would have been justified in doing so under the "exigent circumstances" doctrine, even prior to final confirmation that she was not in New Hampshire. When a vulnerable infant is missing under circumstances such as these, the police have an obligation to act assertively in locating her. "Exigent circumstances exist when there is a compelling need to conduct a search and insufficient time in which to secure a warrant." State v. Dube, 655 A.2d 338, 340 (Me. 1995) (citing State v. Smith, 593 A.2d 210, 212 (Me. 1991)). That compelling need to search is present when there is reasonable cause to believe that a person is in imminent danger of death or serious bodily harm. See United States v. Shannon, 21 F.3d 77, 81-82 (D.C. Cir 1994); State v. Stevens, 806 P.2d 92, 99-100 (Or. 1991); Coker v. State, 297 S.E.2d 68, 71 (Ga. Ct. App. 1982). {9} . For another example of the application of the inevitable discovery doctrine, see United States v. Zapata, 18 F.3d 971 (1st Cir. 1994), where the First Circuit held that certain contraband actually discovered as the result of an invalid consent search would have been inevitably discovered by lawful means. Id. at 978. Because the car in which the contraband was found was unregistered and uninsured, it "could not lawfully be driven on a public highway, [and] the state police surely would have impounded it." Id. Thus, because standard police procedure was to perform a routine inventory search on the impounded vehicle, the court held that the contraband would surely have been found by lawful means. See id.