Kent County Superior Court
For Plaintiff Bethany A. Laskowski, Esq.
For DefendantDaniel E. Ciora, Esq.
Before the Court is John Benoit's (Defendant) motion for a new trial. A jury found Defendant guilty of entering an apartment with intent to commit larceny in violation of G.L. 1956 § 11-8-3. Defendant's motion contends that the evidence was insufficient to sustain the conviction, and that the verdict was against the fair preponderance of the evidence. The Court instructed the jury that in order to find Defendant guilty of this offense, they had to find that the State proved beyond a reasonable doubt that Defendant had the intent to commit larceny at the time he entered the complaining witness' apartment.
The facts proven at trial are as follows: At approximately 10:00 a.m. on April 5, 2013, Christopher Gervais, the complaining witness, was sleeping in his bedroom. He woke up when he heard the distinct sound of his bedroom door being opened. He observed Defendant remove money from his wallet, which was sitting either on top of his dresser or in a drawer in the dresser. Mr. Gervais observed Defendant counting the money. After he confronted the Defendant, the Defendant left the apartment, and Mr. Gervais called the police. When the police arrived, Mr. Gervais was able to give a complete description of the Defendant. The police observed a person fitting that description sitting in a construction vehicle outside the apartment. The apartment complex in which Mr. Gervais' apartment is situated is owned by the Picerne Company (Picerne). According to Mr. Gervais, Picerne had hired a contractor to repair or replace windows and sliding glass doors in each apartment unit in the complex. Mr. Gervais testified that shortly before the date in question, he had received a note posted outside his unit indicating that on the day in question the contractor would be entering his apartment to complete work on the sliding glass door.
Standard of Review
It is textbook law that when considering a motion for new trial, the Court acts as the hypothetical thirteenth juror and exercises independent judgment as to the credibility of witnesses and the weight to be given to any evidence. "If, after conducting [such] independent review, the trial justice agrees with the jury's verdict or if the evidence is such that reasonable minds could differ as to the outcome, the motion for a new trial should be denied." State v. Kelly, 20 A.3d 655, 659 (R.I. 2011); see also State v. Gomez, 848 A.2d 221, 234 (R.I. 2004). '"If, however, the trial justice finds that the state has failed to sustain its burden of proof, a new trial must be ordered.'" Id. (quoting State v. Bergevine, 942 A.2d 974, 980 (R.I. 2008).
The State presented three witnesses, including complaining witness Mr. Gervais and the two responding police officers. One of the responding police officers testified that Defendant was arrested based on the description provided by Mr. Gervais. He also testified that Defendant admitted that he took cash from the apartment, but indicated he had returned what he took. This conviction rested primarily on the credibility of Mr. Gervais which, if believed by the jury, was sufficient to support a finding that Defendant had the requisite intent to commit larceny at the time he entered the apartment. Mr. Gervais testified that, based upon the notice he received from Picerne (the landlord and Defendant's employer), a contractor needed only to have access to the sliding glass door (which is not inside the bedroom). According to Mr. Gervais, the work on the bedroom windows was complete, and Picerne's notice indicated the workers only needed access to the sliding glass door on the date in question. Notwithstanding Defendant's knowledge of the location in the apartment where work was to be done that morning, Defendant entered Mr. Gervais' apartment between 9:00 a.m. and 10:00 a.m. with a key provided by the landlord and thereafter, opened the bedroom door, going immediately to the dresser where Mr. Gervais' wallet and cash were located. The opening of the bedroom door awoke Mr. Gervais, who testified that he observed Defendant move immediately to the dresser without acting as though he entered the bedroom to repair the windows therein. ...