State v. Salmons

Docket Number21-0424
Decision Date03 November 2023
PartiesState of West Virginia, Plaintiff below, Respondent, v. Candice T. Salmons, Defendant below, Petitioner.
CourtWest Virginia Supreme Court
MEMORANDUM DECISION

The Petitioner, Candice T. Salmons,[1] appeals from the final order of the Circuit Court of Wyoming County entered on April 21 2021, sentencing her to terms of imprisonment of one to fifteen years for her Burglary conviction, one to ten years for her Grand Larceny conviction, and one to five years for her Conspiracy to Commit Burglary conviction with the sentences to run concurrently. On appeal, the Petitioner contends that the circuit court erred in denying her motions for judgment of acquittal on all three convictions.

After considering the parties' written and oral arguments, as well as the record on appeal and the applicable legal authorities, this Court finds no substantial question of law and no prejudicial error. For these reasons, a memorandum decision affirming the circuit court's order is appropriate under Rule 21 of the Rules of Appellate Procedure.

Facts[2]

On Thanksgiving night 2015, Jerry Goins, Jr.,[3] resided with his parents, Melissa and Jerry Goins, Sr., in a house the parents owned. The elder Goins were out-of-town on a holiday trip. Jerry had imbibed considerably throughout Thanksgiving Day. Being alone, he decided to go to the Petitioner's nearby house that evening where he found the Petitioner and David Laney. Jerry informed the pair that his parents were not home and invited them to return with him to the Goins' house to play pool and drink. They accepted Jerry's invitation, even though Ms. Goins had banished the Petitioner from the Goins' home. She believed that the Petitioner had taken belongings from her residence on more than one occasion.

While Mr. Laney was shooting pool with Jerry at the Goins' house, the Petitioner was "in and out" of the billiard room, claiming a stomachache. The visit lasted approximately two hours and ended shortly after Jerry caught the Petitioner looking through Ms. Goins' bedroom closet. The Petitioner told Mr. Laney she was ready to go home, and they left.

The next day, Jerry noticed that cabinet doors in the Goins' house were open. Only the Petitioner and Mr. Laney had access to the Goins' home from the time Jerry's parents left on their trip until they returned.

Upon returning home, Ms. Goins told Mr. Goins that someone had been in their house because "[t]hings was a little bit disarrayed." Ms. Goins also discovered some of her belongings were missing. Ms. Goins, who had worked in retail for twenty-years, estimated the total value of the missing items was $17,000. Trooper Shifflett testified that Ms. Goins estimated the value of the goods alleged to have been stolen from her exceeded $1000.

In December of 2015, the Petitioner sold some purses, make-up and a bracelet, items purloined from Ms. Goins' house during the November burglary, to Tina Riffe. Mr. Laney was present during the sale, and, in fact, the Petitioner and Mr. Laney were in Mr. Laney's car during the sale. The day after selling the purses, the Petitioner contacted Ms. Riffe and told her not to be seen with them as they had been stolen from the Goins' residence.

After the State rested its case, the Petitioner moved for judgments of acquittal on all three counts. The circuit court denied all three motions. The Petitioner rested without calling any witnesses. The jury convicted on all three counts. The Petitioner appeals arguing there was insufficient evidence to support the jury's verdicts.

Standards of Review

The Petitioner sought motions for judgment of acquittal at the close of the State's case.[4] Under Rule 29(a) of the West Virginia Rules of Criminal Procedure, "[t]he [circuit] court on motion of a defendant or of its own motion shall order the entry of judgment of acquittal of one or more offenses charged in the indictment or information after the evidence on either side is closed if the evidence is insufficient to sustain a conviction of such offense or offenses." We have explained that "[t]he Court applies a de novo standard of review to the denial of a motion for judgment of acquittal based upon the sufficiency of the evidence." State v. Juntilla, 227 W.Va. 492, 497, 711 S.E.2d 562, 567 (2011) (per curiam). We review the circuit court's denial of the motion using the same standard as used by the circuit court, which in turn is identical to the standard employed to measure the sufficiency of evidence supporting a guilty verdict. In determining whether there was sufficient evidence to support a guilty verdict, West Virginia employs the standard set forth in Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 407 (1979). See State v. LaRock, 196 W.Va. 294, 303, 470 S.E.2d 613, 622 (1996) (observing that this Court had adopted the Jackson standard).

"The opinion of the Court in Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307 (1979), makes clear that it is the responsibility of the jury-not the court-to decide what conclusions should be drawn from evidence admitted at trial." Cavazos v. Smith, 565 U.S. 1, 2 (2011) (per curiam). Thus, "the relevant inquiry is whether, after viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution, any rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime proved beyond a reasonable doubt." Syl. Pt. 1, in part, State v. Guthrie, 194 W.Va. 657, 461 S.E.2d 163 (1995). "An appellate court does not reweigh the evidence presented in the court below[,]" State v. Thompson, 220 W.Va. 246, 254, 647 S.E.2d 526, 534 (2007) (per curiam), because "the Jackson inquiry does not focus on whether the trier of fact made the correct guilt or innocence determination, but rather whether it made a rational decision to convict or acquit." Herrera v. Collins, 506 U.S. 390, 402 (1993) (emphasis in original).

Because Jackson only "'involves a very low threshold to sustain a conviction[,]'" United States v. King, 78 M.J. 218, 221 (C.A.A.F. 2019) (citation omitted), a defendant asserting that there was insufficient evidence faces a "'a tough sell, an uphill battle, and a daunting hurdle[.]" United States v. Florentino-Rosario, 459 F.Supp.3d 345, 354 (D.P.R. 2020) (cleaned up) (collecting cases), aff'd, 19 F.4th 530 (1st Cir. 2021). As explained in Guthrie:

A criminal defendant challenging the sufficiency of the evidence to support a conviction takes on a heavy burden. An appellate court must review all the evidence, whether direct or circumstantial, in the light most favorable to the prosecution and must credit all inferences and credibility assessments that the jury might have drawn in favor of the prosecution. The evidence need not be inconsistent with every conclusion save that of guilt so long as the jury can find guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Credibility determinations are for a jury and not an appellate court. Finally, a jury verdict should be set aside only when the record contains no evidence, regardless of how it is weighed, from which the jury could find guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

Syl. Pt. 3, in part, Guthrie, 194 W.Va. 657, 461 S.E.2d 163. "This standard is a strict one" and "a jury verdict will not be overturned lightly." Id. at 667-68, 461 S.E.2d at 173-74. "[A]ppellate reversal on grounds of insufficient evidence . . . will be confined to cases where the prosecution's failure is clear." Burks v. United States, 437 U.S. 1, 17 (1978). As the United States Supreme Court has explained, a reviewing court can only reverse a jury's finding of guilt under Jackson when "that finding was so insupportable as to fall below the threshold of bare rationality." Coleman v. Johnson, 566 U.S. 650, 656 (2012) (per curiam). Thus, granting a judgment of acquittal (or reversing a conviction for insufficient evidence) is only appropriate when "there is no evidence from which the jury could find guilt beyond a reasonable doubt." State v. Zuccaro, 239 W.Va. 128, 145, 799 S.E.2d 559, 576 (2017) (emphasis in original).

With these standards in mind, we now turn to the Petitioner's challenges to her convictions and, finding them meritless, we affirm the jury's verdicts.[5]

Burglary

Because this crime occurred in 2015, the 1993 version of the burglary statute, West Virginia Code § 61-3-11(a), applies. See 22 C.J.S. Criminal Law: Substantive Principles § 1 (2016) ("Ordinarily . . . an accused should be tried under the statute in effect at the time of the commission of a crime."). The 1993 version of our burglary statute provided, in pertinent part,

If any person shall, in the nighttime, break and enter, or enter without breaking, or shall, in the daytime, break and enter, the dwelling house, or an outhouse adjoining thereto or occupied therewith, of another, with intent to commit a crime therein, he shall be deemed guilty of burglary.

The Petitioner contends that "the only evidence that [she] unlawfully or feloniously broke or entered into the Goins' home was the testimony of Jerry Goins Jr., who stated that he without any previous arrangement went next door and invited Petitioner and Mr. Laney over to his home." We take this as an assertion that as an invited guest in the Goins' home, the Petitioner could not have been convicted of burglary. This contention is without merit as it flies directly in the face of our holding that "[t]he statutory requirement of entry is . . . fulfilled when a person with consent to enter exceeds the scope of the consent granted." Syl. Pt. 1, in part, State v. Plumley, 181 W.Va. 685, 384 S.E.2d 130 (1989).

In this case, Jerry invited the Petitioner and Mr. Laney into the Goins' house to drink and play pool-not to steal. The jury could have found, based on the evidence, that the Petitioner had an intent to steal before...

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