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RHODE ISLAND CRIMINAL DEFENSE
A Practice Manual, 4th Edition
© John E. MacDonald
SUP. CT. R. CRIM. P. 33: New Trial
On motion of the defendant the court may grant a new trial to the defendant if required in the interest of justice. If trial was by the court without a jury, the court on motion of a defendant for a new trial may vacate the judgment, take additional testimony, and direct the entry of a new judgment. A motion for a new trial based on newly discovered evidence may be made only within three (3) years after the entry of judgment by the court, but if an appeal is pending, the court may grant the motion only on remand of the case. A motion for a new trial based on any other grounds shall be made within ten (10) days after the verdict or finding of guilty or within such further time as the court may fix during the ten-day period. A copy of the motion for a new trial shall be filed with the trial justice contemporaneously with its filing with the clerk of the court.
State v. Dame, 560 A.2d 330 (R.I. 1989). “First the trial justice must consider all material evidence in light of the charge to the jury. Using independent judgment, the trial justice must pass upon the weight and credibility of the evidence and accept or reject conflicting testimony. At that point all proper and appropriate inferences may be drawn from the evidence adduced at trial. The trial justice must then determine whether the evidence presented a controversy upon which reasonable minds could differ or whether the evidence failed to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. A new trial may be subsequently granted if the trial justice has reached a different conclusion form that of the jury and if it is specifically found that the verdict is against the fair preponderance of the evidence and fails to do substantial justice. The new trial motion must be denied, however, if the trial justice finds that the evidence is balanced or reasonable minds could differ.”
In ruling on a motion for new trial, the trial justice should “reflect a few sentences of the justice’s reasoning on each point.” State v. Banach, 648 A.2d 1363 (R.I. 1994).
“The United States Supreme Court has emphasized that not only must a juror be convinced of the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt but the government also must prove its case by proof beyond a reasonable doubt. Victor v. Nebraska, 114 S.Ct. 1239, 1242 (1994).
“Moreover it is critical that the moral force of the criminal law not be diluted by a standard of proof that leaves people in doubt whether innocent men are being condemned. It is also important in our free society that every individual going about his ordinary affairs have confidence that his government cannot adjudge him guilty of a criminal offense without convincing a proper fact finder of his guilt with utmost certainty.” In re Winship, 397 U.S. 358, 364 (1970).
In arguing that reasonable minds could not differ as to reasonable doubt, stress a very strong reasonable doubt standard as enunciated in State v. Mendoza, 709 A.2d 1030 (R.I. 1998):
“.the Due Process Clause protects the accused against conviction except upon proof beyond a reasonable doubt of every fact necessary to constitute the crime with which he is charged.the reasonable doubt standard is indispensable for it impresses on the trier of fact the necessity of reaching a subjective state of certitude of the facts in issue.It is also important in our free society that every individual going about his ordinary affairs have confidence that his government cannot adjudge him guilty of a criminal offense without convincing a proper fact-finder of his guilt with utmost certainty.”
Ineffective assistance of counsel is a post-conviction remedy.
Trial judge cannot sua sponte order a new trial on grounds not specifically requested by trial counsel.
There is no ‘new trial’ motion after a bench trial, only a request to vacate judgment, to hear additional testimony, or to order a new judgment.
State v. Salvatore, 763 A.2d 985, 990-91 (R.I.2001) “In deciding a motion for a new trial, the trial justice acts as a thirteenth juror and exercises independent judgment on the credibility of witnesses and on the weight of the evidence.” Quoting State v. Banach, 648 A.2d 1363, 1367 (R.I.1994).
When ruling on a motion for a new trial, the trial justice must perform three analyses:
The trial justice must consider the evidence in light of the charge to the jury, a charge that is presumably correct and fair to the defendant.
The trial justice should form his or her own opinion of the evidence. In doing so, the trial justice must weigh the credibility of the witnesses and the other evidence and choose which conflicting testimony and evidence to accept and which to reject.
The trial justice must determine by an individual assessment of the evidence and in light of the charge to the jury, whether the justice would have reached a different result from that of the jury. Id. at 991 (citing Banach, 648 A.2d at 1367).
State v. Adefusika, 989 A.2d 467 (R.I. 2010). If, following the trial justice’s three-part analysis of defendant’s motion for new trial, he “determines that he or she would have come to the same conclusion as that of the jury, ‘the analysis is complete and the verdict should be affirmed.’” Id. at 480 (quoting State v. Rivera, 839 A.2d 497, 503 (R.I. 2003)).
If the trial justice does not agree with the jury’s verdict, he or she undertakes a fourth step:
“[The trial justice] must determine whether the verdict is against the fair preponderance of the evidence and fails to do substantial justice. If the verdict meets this standard, then a new trial may be granted. However, the motion will be denied if the trial justice determines that the evidence and the reasonable inferences drawn therefrom are so nearly balanced that reasonable individuals could differ. Id. (quoting State v. Rivera, 839 A.2d 497, 503 (R.I. 2003)).
R.I.S.C. will not reverse a trial justice’s ruling on a motion for new trial absent a determination that “the trial justice committed clear error or that he overlooked or misconceived material evidence relating to a critical issue in [the] case.” Id. at 481.
State v. Champion, 873 A.2d 92 (R.I. 2005). Defendant argued that the trial judge extended the 10-day period within in which motions for a new trial must be filed when she specified the date of the first post-trial hearing. R.I.S.C. held that the comment was not a valid extension and as such, the motion was not properly before the court.
State v. Woods, 936 A.2d 195 (R.I. 2007). Defendant convicted of child molestation was not granted a new trial based on newly discovered evidence from a witness claiming that complainant admitted after trial that she lied about being molested. The trial justice found several inconsistencies in the new witness’s testimony that made it not credible, and found the verdict supported by the testimony at trial. R.I.S.C. affirmed.
When considering a motion for a new trial based on newly discovered evidence, the trial justice applies a two-prong test:
“The first prong encompasses a four-part inquiry, requiring that the evidence is (1) newly discovered since trial, (2) not discoverable prior to trial with the exercise of due diligence, (3) not merely cumulative or impeaching but rather material to the issue upon which it is admissible, (4) of the type which would probably change the verdict at trial.”
“Once this first prong is satisfied, the second prong calls for the hearing justice to determine if the evidence presented is credible enough to warrant a new trial.” Id. at 197 (quoting State v. Firth, 708 A.2d 526, 532 (R.I. 1998)).
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