RHODE ISLAND CRIMINAL DEFENSE A Practice Manual – MOTION FOR JUDGEMENT OF ACQUITTAL & FOR NEW TRIAL

RI Criminal Defense Practice Manual CoverRHODE ISLAND CRIMINAL DEFENSE
A Practice Manual, 4th Edition
© John E. MacDonald

MOTION FOR JUDGEMENT OF ACQUITTAL & FOR NEW TRIAL

SUP. CT. R. CRIM. P. 29: Motion for Judgment of Acquittal and Motion to Dismiss

Motion for Judgment of Acquittal.
Motion Before Submission to Jury. Motions for directed verdict are abolished and motions for judgment of acquittal shall be used in their place. The court on motion of a defendant or on its own motion shall order the entry of judgment of acquittal of one or more offenses charged in the indictment, information, or complaint, after the evidence on either side is closed, if the evidence is insufficient to sustain a conviction of such offense or offenses. If a defendant’s motion for judgment of acquittal at the close of the evidence offered by the State is not granted, the defendant may offer evidence without having reserved the right.
Reservation of Decision on Motion. If a motion for judgment of acquittal is made at the close of all the evidence, the court may reserve decision on the motion, submit the case to the jury, and decide the motion either before the jury returns a verdict or after it returns a verdict of guilty or is discharged without having returned a verdict.
Reservation of Decision on Motion. If a motion for judgment of acquittal is made at the close of all the evidence, the court may reserve decision on the motion, submit the case to the jury, and decide the motion either before the jury returns a verdict or after it returns a verdict of guilty or is discharged without having returned a verdict.
State v. Sundel, 402 A.2d 585 (1979). “In considering a defendant’s motion, the trial justice must view the evidence and the reasonable inferences of which it is susceptible in the light most favorable to the state; and the motion should be granted if the evidence, so viewed and without regard to either its weight or credibility, is not sufficient to warrant a jury in finding that guilt has been established beyond a reasonable doubt.”

State v. Diaz, 654 A.2d 1195 (R.I. 1995). The denial of a motion for judgment of acquittal is preserved for appeal only if the defense rests its case at that point or if the motion is renewed by the defense at the conclusion of all the evidence.

State v. Grullon, 371 A.2d 265 (1977). When defendant’s motion for acquittal at the close of the state’s case is denied, and defendant proceeds to present his or her own evidence, the motion is preserved for appellate review only if defendant renews the motion at the close of the presentation of all the evidence.

State v. Reyes, 984 A.2d 606 (R.I. 2009). Defendant’s failure to move for judgment of acquittal at the close of the state’s case did not foreclose appellate review of his motion for judgment of acquittal filed at the close of the defense case.

State v. McKone, 673 A.2d 1068 (R.I. 1996). “Judges do not return verdicts, juries do, and there is no jury available to a trial justice in a jury-waived trial that can respond to any order of verdict direction. Our long established trial procedure practice has been, and remains, that in jury-waived trials in this state, the appropriate motion by which a defendant may challenge the legal sufficiency of the state’s trial evidence at the close of the state’s case is by motion to dismiss.”

State v. Oliveira, 882 A.2d 1097 (R.I. 2005). Defendants motioned for judgment of acquittal on first degree felony murder charges arguing that the evidence could not prove defendants’ participation (or attempted participation) in felony manufacture, sale, delivery, or other distribution of a controlled substance as required by the felony murder statute. Rather, defendant argued, the evidence supported an attempt to purchase, obtain, acquire, or receive a substantial quantity of a controlled substance with intent to deliver. Trial court denied but R.I.S.C. vacated defendants’ conviction on that count.

The issue was whether attempted possession with intent to deliver satisfied the statutorily required predicate offense of manufacture, sale, delivery, or other distribution. In the absence of a clear and unambiguous statutory language, “the policy of lenity in the construction of criminal statutes requires that the less harsh of two possible meanings be adopted.” Id. at 1110.
State v. Disla, 874 A.2d 190 (R.I. 2005). Trial justice denied defendant’s Rule 29 motion and he was convicted of delivery of a controlled substance and conspiracy to deliver. R.I.S.C. vacated defendant’s conspiracy conviction.

When renewing a Rule 29 motion following the state’s rebuttal witness, defense counsel did not specify the grounds for objection, but merely assented when the court asked, “same grounds?” Although in this case the nature of the objection was clear to the trial court, R.I.S.C. cautioned that counsel should “specify clearly for the record the nature of their objections or motions to preserve their clients’ rights on appeal.” Id. at 196.
Although the state conceded that defendant’s motion should have been granted, R.I.S.C. was obligated to conduct a thorough, independent review of the evidence. “‘It is the uniform practice of this Court to conduct its own examination of the record in all cases where the . [state] confesses that a conviction has been erroneously obtained.’” Id.
State v. Andreozzi, 798 A.2d 372 (R.I. 2002). Defendant convicted of simple assault appealed the trial justice’s denial of his Rule 29 motion. R.I.S.C. affirmed.

Although defendant moved for a judgment of acquittal at the close of the state’s case, he failed to renew his motion at the close of the evidence. Thus, defendant failed to preserve the issue for appeal.
State v. Rieger, 763 A.2d 997 (R.I. 2001). Trial court denied defendant’s motion for judgment of acquittal although a medical examiner testified that the complainant’s injury could not have happened the way he testified. R.I.S.C. affirmed.

Although the trial court found the medical examiner’s testimony ‘compelling,“ R.I.S.C. noted that “a victim’s testimony alone is sufficient to sustain a conviction, and we have affirmed a trial justice’s determination that a jury could find a defendant guilty solely on the basis of such evidence.” Id. at 1001.
State v. Berroa, No. 2008-53-C.A., 2010 WL 4276647, at *4 (R.I. Nov. 1, 2010). In bench trial proceeding, the trial judge erred by not granting defendant’s motion to dismiss his drug possession and conspiracy charges following the presentation of the state’s case. The defendant was arrested with two other individuals, both possessing cocaine, but none was found on defendant’s person. The focus on the defendant originated from the tip of an information, whose information about defendant proved to have numerous inaccuracies. Therefore, evidence was not sufficient to establish constructive possession of drugs or a conspiracy between the parties, even in the light most favorable to the state.

A finding of guilt based on circumstantial evidence “will be warranted only if those facts and circumstances, taken together, are not only consistent with the hypothesis that defendant was guilty, but also are inconsistent with any reasonable hypothesis that he was innocent.. If [the] pyramiding of inferences becomes speculative, [then] proof of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt will not be found.” Id. at *4, *7.

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