State v. Rogers

Decision Date29 September 1980
Docket NumberNo. 78-69-C,78-69-C
PartiesSTATE v. Joe Willie ROGERS. A.
CourtRhode Island Supreme Court

Page 1363

420 A.2d 1363

Joe Willie ROGERS.
No. 78-69-C.A.
Supreme Court of Rhode Island.
Sept. 29, 1980.

Page 1364

Dennis J. Roberts, II, Atty. Gen., Joel D. Landry, Asst. Atty. Gen., for plaintiff.

John A. MacFadyen, III, Paula Rosin, Asst. Public Defenders, for defendant.


MURRAY, Justice.

The defendant was charged by indictment on October 13, 1976, with one count of kidnapping and with one count of rape. A Superior Court jury returned verdicts of guilty on each count. On this appeal, the defendant contends that the trial justice in two instances impermissibly influenced the jury and thus deprived him of his right to a fair trial.

The trial commenced on March 2, 1977, with the testimony of the complaining witness (complainant). She testified that in the late evening of August 21, 1976, she walked alone from Cranston for about an hour to a friend's house in South Providence. After finding no one at her friend's home, she left and began walking back to her residence in Cranston. The complainant testified that while she was walking on Broad Street, a car pulled up and a man jumped out of the car. Her testimony indicates that the man grabbed her, forced her into his car, and proceeded to drive to a nearby apartment building. She then detailed how the man forced her to accompany him into an apartment and to have sexual intercourse with him without her consent. At the trial, complainant identified defendant as the man who had accosted her that evening. The state presented other witnesses who in various ways tended to corroborate complainant's testimony. The defendant presented no evidence. His defense was directed toward impeaching the complainant's credibility and her identification of defendant as the man who had raped her.

The state rested its case on Friday afternoon, March 4, 1977, and the trial justice excused the jury until the following Monday. In an ensuing conference in chambers, defense counsel moved for a judgment of acquittal on each count. The court denied defendant's motions but gave no reasons for its denial because defendant had not rested his case. On Monday morning outside the jury's presence, defense counsel informed the court that defendant and he, as a result of consultation over the weekend recess, had decided to present no witnesses and that defendant was consequently ready to rest before the jury. While in chambers, defense counsel also renewed his motions for judgments of acquittal on each count. In light of defendant's announced intention to rest before the jury, the trial justice then explained his reasons for denying defendant's motions to acquit.

Following that colloquy in chambers, the trial justice requested the sheriff to escort the jury into the courtroom. After the jury entered, defendant formally rested before them. Immediately thereafter, the trial justice and defense counsel entered into the following exchange in the jury's presence:

"THE COURT: Do you press your motions, Mr. Casparian?

"MR. CASPARIAN: Yes, your Honor, the motions previously made to your Honor, I renew them at this time, if the Court, please.

"THE COURT: Motions for judgment of acquittal on both counts are denied."

Defense counsel objected and, at an ensuing bench conference out of the jury's earshot, moved for a mistrial based on the trial justice's express denial of defendant's motions for acquittal in the jury's presence. Defense counsel moved alternatively that if the motion to pass were denied, a cautionary instruction be given to the jury. The trial justice reserved decision on defendant's

Page 1365

mistrial motion and stated that if at the appropriate time he felt he could not grant a sufficient cautionary instruction, he would then rule on the motion to pass. After further brief proceedings, defense counsel requested a recess during which he renewed his motion for a mistrial, arguing that the court's remarks before the jury were manifestly prejudicial to defendant. Defense counsel also withdrew his earlier alternative request for a cautionary instruction and asserted that any cautionary instruction would be objectionable. The court denied defendant's motion, and both sides proceeded with their closing arguments to the jury. Before instructing the jury, the trial justice permitted defendant an opportunity to request a cautionary instruction. The defendant rejected the opportunity and moved once again for a mistrial. The trial justice denied that motion also.

On this appeal defendant argues that the trial justice's refusal to pass the case deprived him of his constitutional rights to a fair trial. Referring to the opinion in Quercia v. United States, 289 U.S. 466, 53 S.Ct. 698, 77 L.Ed. 1321 (1933), defendant reminds us that "(T)he influence of the trial judge on the jury 'is necessarily and properly of great weight' and 'his lightest word or intimation is received with deference, and may prove controlling.' " Id. at 470, 53 S.Ct. at 699, 77 L.Ed. at 1325. The defendant claims that the jury at his trial probably perceived the court's denial of his motions for acquittal to mean that the trial justice thought he was guilty. Proceeding on the premise that no statement made before a jury could be so damaging as one implying that the trial justice believes that a defendant is guilty, defendant concludes that the trial justice's remarks irreparably influenced the jury's deliberations to his prejudice. In added support of his claim, defendant refers us to the cases of State v. Hull, 106 R.I. 285, 258 A.2d 791 (1969) and State v. Harris, 89 R.I. 202, 152 A.2d 106 (1959), where we stated that a trial justice invades the province of the jury if he conveys to the jury his impressions of the weight they should give to any of the testimony. He argues that denial of his motions for judgment of acquittal within the hearing of the jury is tantamount to the practice that we denounced in those cases. The defendant's position both at trial and now on appeal is that "there was no way to dispel the prejudicial effect of the open court denial, and that a cautionary instruction would compound the harm already done."

Courts have recognized that a trial justice should, in accord with the preferred practice, hear and dispose of motions for judgment of acquittal outside the jury's presence. United States v. DiHarce-Estrada, 526 F.2d 637, 641 (5th Cir. 1976); Tanner v. United States, 401 F.2d 281, 285 (8th Cir. 1968); cert. denied, 393 U.S. 1109, 89 S.Ct. 922, 21 L.Ed.2d 806 (1969); United States v. Coke, 339 F.2d 183, 185-86 (2d Cir. 1964). In United States v. Coke, 339 F.2d 183 (2d Cir. 1964), before disposing of the defendant's motion for judgment of acquittal, the trial judge had repeatedly directed disparaging remarks and rebukes at defense counsel, which behavior "undoubtedly gave the jury the impression that the defendant's case was of little substance and was not worthy of very much attention." Id. at 185. Following those repeated comments and observations, the trial judge abruptly denied the defendant's acquittal motion. The reviewing court concluded that the abrupt denial of the defendant's acquittal motion "may well have implied that the defense was incompetent and a sham and that the jury should convict." Id. at 186. Under those circumstances it ruled that the trial judge's perfunctory cautionary instructions were insufficient to accord the defendant a fair trial. In United States v. DiHarce-Estrada, 526 F.2d 637, 641 (5th Cir. 1976), the court declined to create a broad rule. Rather, it ruled in light of a record "fraught with error" that "when combined with the disparaging remarks made to defense counsel...

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6 cases
  • State v. Souza
    • United States
    • Rhode Island Supreme Court
    • February 10, 1981
    ...supplemental charges, may depend upon the length of deliberation and the questions that have been asked by the jurors. See State v. Rogers, R.I., 420 A.2d 1363 (1980). These circumstances may not be determined in advance and may require a response by the trial justice which is not susceptib......
  • State v. Rodriguez
    • United States
    • Rhode Island Supreme Court
    • May 14, 2003
    ...charges, may depend upon the length of deliberation and the questions that have been asked by the jurors." Id. (citing State v. Rogers, 420 A.2d 1363, 1367-68 (R.I.1980)). (Emphasis With these guideposts in mind, we begin our analysis of this particular Allen charge by underscoring what def......
  • Kurczy v. St. Joseph Veterans Ass'n, Inc.
    • United States
    • Rhode Island Supreme Court
    • April 15, 2003
    ...similar supplemental instructions reminding jurors of their oath and duty to consider the evidence impartially. See State v. Rogers, 420 A.2d 1363, 1367-68 (R.I. 1980). 11. After all, as we noted in State v. Vega, 789 A.2d 896, 898 (R.I.2002), a myriad of reasons might prevent a retrial: fo......
  • Mayfield v. State
    • United States
    • Maryland Court of Appeals
    • September 1, 1984
    ...79 Ill.App.3d 440, 34 Ill.Dec. 792, 796, 398 N.E.2d 615, 619 (1979). State v. Jones, 558 S.W.2d 233 (Mo.App.1977); State v. Rogers, 420 A.2d 1363, 1367-1368 (R.I.1980); State v. Smith, 564 P.2d 1194, 1201 We believe that it would be sheer speculation to conclude that, when a jury becomes de......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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