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State v. Dalton

Supreme Court of Rhode Island

November 27, 2018

James Dalton.

          Newport County Superior Court (N2/16-192A) Associate Justice Stephen P. Nugent

          For State of Rhode Island: Christopher R. Bush Department of the Attorney General

          For Defendant: Angela M. Yingling Office of the Public Defender

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



         The defendant, James Dalton, appeals from a Superior Court judgment of conviction on one count of second-degree sexual assault, for which the trial justice sentenced the defendant to ten years, with the entirety of the sentence suspended, with probation. On appeal, the defendant asserts that the trial justice erred when he allowed testimony by the responding officer in which he commented on the complaining witness's credibility, arguing that this testimony was impermissible bolstering or vouching of the witness's credibility. 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

         On the morning of September 5, 2015, Jonathan, [1] his girlfriend Amanda, and eight to ten friends drove from Connecticut to Newport to celebrate Amanda's birthday. At the time, twenty-four-year-old Jonathan worked part-time as security at a hospital, attended school for HVAC technician training, and was a member of the Army National Guard. When the group of friends left for Newport at around 8 a.m., Jonathan had just ended a shift at the hospital, which had started at midnight.

         The group arrived in Newport around 11 a.m. and went to lunch at a local restaurant. After lunch, the group split up; the women went shopping, and the men went to an Irish pub a couple of blocks away. A few hours later, the group convened again and decided to drive to a nearby beach. Amanda drove Jonathan and three other friends. On the way, Jonathan and Amanda quarreled. Jonathan testified that, when the car stopped at a red light, he "exited the vehicle to cool down." Not familiar with the area, he started walking "aimlessly" because he did not know where he was and then stopped at a liquor store and bought a beer and a "nip" of alcohol.

         Around 3 p.m., Jonathan sat down to cool off in a park. Jonathan testified that families and dogs were running around in the park and people were playing tennis at courts nearby. He drank the nip and the beer, which brought his total alcohol consumption that day to approximately six drinks. Tired from his late-night hospital security shift, Jonathan pulled his hat over his head and fell asleep under a tree.

         When Jonathan woke up, it was nighttime. He explained that he felt a bit hazy at first, but that he quickly became clearheaded. Jonathan testified that when he awoke, a man was hovering over him with his hands down Jonathan's shorts, fondling Jonathan's genitals and muttering repeatedly, "Yeah, motherfucker." At trial, Jonathan identified defendant as the man who had touched him in the park.

         Jonathan testified that he pushed defendant away from him. As he shoved defendant, Jonathan saw that defendant had been touching his genitals, with his hands in his own pants, while fondling Jonathan.[2] Jonathan testified that defendant began to run away from him, towards the tennis courts. Jonathan tackled defendant to the ground, punched him in the head several times, and yelled, "Call the cops." Jonathan testified that defendant was trying to talk to him, telling Jonathan that he was just trying to wake him up. Two people playing tennis at the nearby court heard Jonathan and called the police.

         A few minutes later, the police arrived, one of whom was Russell Carlone, who was at that time a captain with the Newport Police Department.[3] Jonathan told the police officers what had happened at the park, and he was brought to the police station to write a witness statement. Carlone testified that, when he and a fellow police officer first arrived at the scene, he initially heard yelling, and then as he got closer, he observed a younger man holding down an older man. As the officers approached the two men, Carlone testified, the younger man was "very, very upset" and was "crying and screaming[.]" Carlone and the other officer separated the two men. Carlone spoke with Jonathan. Carlone testified that Jonathan said repeatedly, "He touched me." When Carlone asked Jonathan what happened, Jonathan said he was sleeping in the park and woke up to defendant "on top of him" with "his hand down his pants" and said continually, "Oh yeah, mother[fucker]."

         Carlone also questioned defendant at the scene. From that conversation, Carlone learned that defendant had seen a person lying down in the park, left his car to check on the person, tried giving the person verbal commands, and when that was unsuccessful, tried to wake the person by shaking him. The defendant also told Carlone that, when Jonathan woke up, Jonathan attacked defendant, placed him in a headlock, and pinned him to the ground. The defendant, in his conversation with Carlone, denied touching Jonathan inappropriately or putting his hands down Jonathan's pants. After speaking to defendant, Carlone asked Jonathan to tell his story once again. Carlone testified that ...

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