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State v. Gomez

Supreme Court of Rhode Island

June 5, 2015

State
v.
Reynaldo Gomez

Page 217

Providence County Superior Court. (P2/11-3244A). Associate Justice Sarah Taft-Carter.

For State: Jane M. McSoley, Department of Attorney General.

For Defendant: Catherine Gibran, Office of the Public Defender.

Present: Suttell, C.J., Goldberg, Flaherty, Robinson, and Indeglia, JJ.

OPINION

Page 218

Paul A. Suttell, Chief Justice

The defendant, Reynaldo Gomez, appeals fro a Superior Court judgment of conviction after having been found guilty by a jury of second-degree sexual assault

Page 219

in violation of G.L. 1956 § 11-37-4(2).[1] On appeal, the defendant contends that the trial justice erred in: (1) denying his motion for judgment of acquittal; [2] (2) denying his motion for a new trial; and (3) allowing the complaining witness's statements to the police officer at the scene into evidence under the excited-utterance exception to the hearsay rule. This case came before the Supreme Court pursuant to an order directing the parties to appear and show cause why the issues raised in this appeal should not be summarily decided. After considering the parties' written and oral submissions and reviewing the record, we conclude that cause has not been shown and that this case may be decided without further briefing or argument. For the reasons set forth in this opinion, we affirm the judgment of the Superior Court.

I

Facts and Procedural History

The incident giving rise to defendant's conviction occurred in the early evening of September 13, 2011 in Smithfield, Rhode Island at the Blackbird Farm Stand. Following this incident, defendant was charged by a criminal information, filed in Superior Court on November 29, 2011, with one count of second-degree sexual assault pursuant to § 11-37-4. A jury trial in Superior Court took place over five days in July 2013. The following facts chronicling the unfortunate events that unfolded at the Blackbird Farm Stand came to light at trial. The Blackbird Farm Stand is a small stand or, as it was described at trial, approximately " twice the size of the top of the [trial court] clerk's desk," with only three windows and one door. The stand offers customers a selection of goods, such as meat, produce, vegetables, cheese, and milk. Inside the farm stand, in addition to the goods, there was a refrigerator and a counter with a single stool behind it.

On September 13, 2011, Jessica[3] was the cashier at the Blackbird Farm Stand perched behind the counter on that lone stool. She was the sole employee working at the farm stand that day; however, she testified that the farm owner or the owner's son would typically check on her approximately every two hours. She was eighteen years old at the time, working part-time at the farm stand as a cashier. Jessica had been on the job for about a month.

Page 220

She testified that a male customer, defendant, walked into the farm stand at about 5:30 that evening. Jessica, however, explained that she did not notice him immediately because she had her back to the door while she restocked the refrigerator. In her testimony, Jessica stated that, when she turned around to get additional produce, it was the first time she noticed the customer behind her. At trial, she described him as being " about a foot or two" away from her. Further, she testified, " he didn't say a word, he didn't even say anything, which kind of spooked me I guess. * * * [N]ormally customers would say something like 'Hi' or 'How are you?'" Jessica explained that she turned around and said: " Hi. Can I help you with anything?" She testified that in response defendant did not answer her question, but rather he asked her if she spoke Spanish. Next, defendant inquired about where the food products, such as the corn, came from.

After this exchange, defendant stepped outside the farm stand. Jessica testified that when defendant went outside, " I felt weird, I just didn't feel right." She explained that " I had a bad feeling -- in my stomach, I just -- I don't particularly like to be alone at that time." She indicated in response to the state's question at trial that she felt nervous at that time. Jessica also testified that a female customer entered the Blackbird Farm Stand and purchased some items during this time. Jessica did have a cell phone with her that day. She explained at trial, however, that because her prepaid phone was out of minutes she could use it only to text. After the female customer departed, defendant came back into the farm stand. The defendant asked Jessica, " [d]o you have a husband or a boyfriend?" Jessica testified that she said " no," which was a response that " just came out." To that response defendant replied: " [y]ou're very beautiful and I like you. I have a crush on you." Jessica replied with a " thanks," which she described at trial as being uttered in a " very sarcastic, kind of angry, mean way." Jessica detailed that these comments " made me feel worse than I did when he went in there. I felt like just -- I just had a bad feeling." She indicated that she felt uncomfortable, nervous, and scared. In her testimony, she elaborated that, " I was just afraid that anything could happen. * * * I was just afraid that he would ask me more odd questions and he would come behind the counter or even just lock the door, I don't -- I don't know."

At that time, the counter stood between defendant, who was standing in front of it, and Jessica, who was sitting behind it. The defendant appeared to want to purchase some corn. Jessica testified: " I was trying to just hurry up, I wanted to go home, it was six o'clock, so I was just -- I was like '[a]re you looking for anything else?'" She stated that defendant perused the bread stand, located at the right corner of the counter, selecting a package of bread to add to his items for checkout. Jessica described that, while ringing up defendant's order, defendant moved to the side of the counter. After cashing out the corn, Jessica testified that she " s[aw] him closer." She explained that " I cashed out the bread, and before I know it, he's like not even a foot away from me." At trial, she expressed that a customer at the farm stand had never before come that close to her. Jessica testified that, while she continued to total the cost of his order, defendant " put[] his hand on [her] inner thigh." She was wearing a pair of shorts and was seated atop the stool behind the counter. Jessica explained at trial that, in response, she " said '[n]o' and I pushed [his hand] away." She testified further that she " felt like I was going to throw up," was " scared," and " wanted to cry." She also

Page 221

indicated that she noticed defendant was " aroused" at that time.

There was no one else around at the farm stand. Jessica testified that defendant then touched her again when he " swept [her] vagina over her shorts." She stated that she then got the price of his order, which she told him three times, and then she " told him that I was [fourteen] as a defense to make him somewhat scared that, you know, maybe I'm a minor, maybe you shouldn't do that, but that was a defense." According to Jessica, defendant responded " [o]kay, okay, I'm sorry, you're very beautiful." She explained that defendant paid in cash and " left in a hurry" because he must have seen another customer arrive. Jessica detailed that next she went to the window and grabbed a marker to write down defendant's license plate on her hand. When questioned about how she felt at that time, she indicated that she felt " shocked" and also " felt relieved at the same time because he left." She also indicated that she was upset, crying, and shaking.

A second witness, Michael Lamoureux, testified that he decided to deviate from his usual work-to-home routine that day with a stop at the Blackbird Farm Stand. This was Mr. Lamoureux's first visit to the farm stand. He had driven past the Blackbird Farm Stand twice a day for years, but he finally decided to stop and support the local farmer. In his testimony at trial, Mr. Lamoureux described that, when he pulled into the parking lot, he noticed a red Pontiac parked right in front of the farm stand. Mr. Lamoureux was the next customer to enter the farm stand after defendant's hasty departure. Jessica explained that she had never met Mr. Lamoureux previously, but after he asked her if she was all right, she explained what had happened. She told him that she had just been assaulted. Mr. Lamoureux testified that " [Jessica] seemed very upset, she was visibly shaken and physically shaking when I entered the building."

Mr. Lamoureux explained that he immediately went outside and got a description of the car and license plate, as well as a " cursory description" of the driver of the vehicle. At the time of trial, Mr. Lamoureux stated that he was employed as a sales executive at a computer company, but that he had the background and training of a military police officer. Mr. Lamoureux explained that he utilized his military training in taking quick action to secure these descriptions and dial 9-1-1. The police arrived at the Blackbird Farm Stand approximately ten minutes later.

Jessica spoke briefly with Officer Michael Proulx of the Smithfield Police Department inside the farm stand. Officer Proulx testified at trial that Jessica's demeanor at that time was " [u]pset, trembling, tearful." When Officer Proulx questioned Jessica at the scene, she told him that she had just been assaulted. Defense counsel lodged an objection at this response, which was initially sustained. However, the trial justice entertained brief discussion at sidebar and then overruled that objection after determining that Jessica's response qualified as an excited utterance. Officer Proulx next inquired of Jessica as to who had perpetrated the assault. In response, Officer Proulx testified that Jessica provided him with defendant's license plate number that she had written on her hand. Officer Proulx explained that he immediately went back to his cruiser and ran the license plate number. Officer Proulx also recounted Jessica's description of the vehicle as ...


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