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State v. Oliveira

Supreme Court of Rhode Island

November 21, 2018

State
v.
James Oliveira.

          Providence County Superior Court No. P1/04-3386A Associate Justice Daniel A. Procaccini

          For State: Jane M. McSoley Department of Attorney General

          For Defendant: Lara E. Montecalvo, Alec Miran

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

          OPINION

          Maureen McKenna Goldberg Associate Justice

         This case came before the Court on October 3, 2018, pursuant to an order directing the parties to appear and show cause why the issues raised in this appeal should not be summarily decided. The defendant, James Oliveira, appeals from a Superior Court order that denied his motion to reduce a sentence, filed in accordance with Rule 35 of the Superior Court Rules of Criminal Procedure. After a thorough review of the record and consideration of the parties' arguments, we conclude that cause has not been shown and that the appeal may be decided without further briefing or argument. For the reasons set forth herein, we affirm the order of the Superior Court denying defendant's motion to reduce sentence.

         Facts and Travel

         The facts of the underlying case are set forth in detail in State v. Oliveira, 961 A.2d 299 (R.I. 2008) (Oliveira I), and State v. Oliveira, 127 A.3d 65 (R.I. 2015) (Oliveira II). Accordingly, the Court recites only those facts relevant to this appeal.

         On October 29, 2004, a grand jury indicted defendant on two counts of first-degree child molestation sexual assault, in violation of G.L. 1956 § 11-37-8.1, for sexually assaulting his six- year-old grandson by anal penetration. On September 19, 2006, a Superior Court jury convicted defendant on one count of first-degree child molestation sexual assault and acquitted defendant on the second count. The trial justice sentenced defendant to sixty years' imprisonment, with forty years to serve and the remainder suspended, with probation. This conviction was vacated on appeal, and the case was remanded for a new trial. Oliveira I, 961 A.2d at 319. At a second trial, before a different trial justice, defendant again was convicted on one count of first-degree child molestation sexual assault. He was sentenced to life imprisonment, and this Court affirmed the conviction. Oliveira II, 127 A.3d at 85.[1]

         Subsequently, defendant filed a Rule 35 motion to reduce the sentence, on the ground that the life sentence imposed after the second trial was unconstitutional. The defendant argued that it was improper for a second trial justice to depart from the original forty-year term to serve due to defendant's disciplinary record at the Adult Correctional Institutions. The defendant also argued that the trial justice erred because, while he commented upon defendant's disciplinary record, the trial justice failed to make clear "that [the record] was the reason why he imposed a life sentence." The state disagreed, and argued in opposition to the motion to reduce that there was ample evidence in the record to support the trial justice's sentencing decision, including conduct by defendant that occurred after the first conviction was vacated.

         In denying defendant's Rule 35 motion, the trial justice acknowledged that, although he "could have been more explicit in using * * * direct language" when departing from defendant's first sentence and imposing a life sentence following his second conviction, this omission was not fatal to his sentencing decision. The trial justice found that the fourteen disciplinary infractions that defendant had committed between defendant's first conviction and his second trial were "very disturbing" because every infraction "fell into the moderate to high category of disciplinary violations according to the Department of Corrections Code of Conduct." The trial justice also explained that, during the sentencing hearing, he had "clearly characterized that collection of infractions as demonstrating * * * that this defendant, in the [c]ourt's view, was antisocial, disrespectful of authority, rules, and boundaries." Finally, the trial justice recounted his sentencing remarks about the impact this crime has had on the young complainant's life. The defendant's grandson was six years of age at the time of the offense.

         The defendant timely appealed.

         Standard of Review

         A motion to reduce a sentence under Rule 35 "is essentially a plea for leniency[.]" State v. Rivera, 64 A.3d 742, 745 (R.I. 2013) (quoting State v. Chase, 9 A.3d 1248, 1253 (R.I. 2010)). "The motion is addressed to the sound discretion of the trial justice, who may grant it if he or she decides on reflection or on the basis of changed circumstances that the sentence originally imposed was, for any reason, unduly severe." State v. Mlyniec, 78 A.3d 769, 771 (R.I. 2013) (quoting State v. Mendoza, 958 A.2d 1159, 1161 (R.I. 2008)). We have a "strong policy against interfering with a trial justice's discretion in sentencing matters," and thus "our review of a trial justice's ruling on a Rule 35 motion is extremely limited." Rivera, 64 A.3d at 745 (quoting State v. Snell, 11 A.3d 97, 101 (R.I. 2011)). Accordingly, we will interfere with that discretion only in "rare instances when the ...


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