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State v. Silva

Supreme Court of Rhode Island

January 4, 2019

Joseph Silva.

          Providence County P2/15-1636A Superior Court William E. Carnes, Jr. Associate Justice

          For State: Virginia M. McGinn Department of Attorney General

          For Defendant: Megan F. Jackson Office of the Public Defender

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


          Gilbert V. Indeglia, Associate Justice

         A jury in Providence County Superior Court found the defendant, Joseph Silva (Silva or defendant), guilty of reckless driving, in violation of G.L. 1956 § 31-27-4, which was count two of the original five counts of a criminal information brought against him. Following the jury verdict and the denial of the defendant's motion for a new trial, the trial justice sentenced him. The defendant filed his timely notice of appeal on May 17, 2017. This matter came before the Supreme Court on December 4, 2018, pursuant to an order directing the parties to appear and show cause why the issues raised on appeal should not be summarily decided. After reviewing their submitted memoranda, we are satisfied that cause has not been shown and further briefing or argument is therefore not required. For the reasons set forth herein, we affirm the judgment of conviction.


         Facts and Travel

         The events giving rise to this case occurred on November 13, 2014. There are two competing versions of what transpired on that day, both of which were presented at a four-day jury trial.[1] Devin Smith (Smith) testified for the state that he left a restaurant that afternoon and was driving his mother's car eastbound on Putnam Pike in Smithfield, with three friends in the vehicle, when he approached a red light next to a vehicle, later identified as defendant's, in the lane to his left. Smith testified that defendant asked him, through their open car windows, if Smith "wanted to see a frog leap." Smith testified that he was unsure what defendant meant, but responded by saying, "Whatever, Buddy[.]" When the light turned green, both vehicles continued down the road, and, Smith testified, defendant began swerving into Smith's lane three or four times, forcing Smith to swerve into the far right portion of the roadway, until they eventually reached the traffic light at Esmond Street. Smith testified that, at that light, he came to a stop in the "left only" lane and defendant was in the right "straight only" lane, to Smith's right. Additionally, Smith testified that, when the light turned green, he attempted to turn left onto Esmond Street, at which time defendant also turned left from his straight-only lane and struck Smith's car in the rear-passenger side, causing Smith to drive over a mulched area and into a gas station parking lot.

         Smith further testified that, as he drove to the exit of the gas station parking lot to pull back onto Putnam Pike, defendant again hit Smith's car, this time in the rear. Smith described that it was "not a bad hit" but "[j]ust, like, a tap." Smith also testified that, after he left the gas station, defendant followed him down Esmond Street and again hit the back of his car, this time at the intersection of Dean Avenue. Smith explained that, as he drove down Dean Avenue, he was in the right lane and defendant continued on the side of his car "trying to cut in front of [him] to slow [him] down." Smith testified that, at that point, defendant got out of his vehicle and "threw his hands up"; it looked to Smith as though defendant threw something at Smith's vehicle. Then, Smith explained, he put his car in reverse, drove home, told his mother what had happened, and called the police. Smith testified that his vehicle never struck defendant's vehicle. Finally, Smith testified regarding the details of the damage to his vehicle, and photographs depicting that damage were admitted into evidence.

         The state called Aaron Mazzulla (Mazzulla) to testify next. Mazzulla was one of the three passengers in Smith's vehicle during the incident; he was sitting in the back seat behind Smith. Mazzulla's account of the events corroborated Smith's testimony. William Achille (Achille), the gas station clerk on duty that night, also testified for the state and described that, at around 5:00 p.m., he saw two vehicles speed through the parking lot, stop at the furthest exit, and then get back onto the road. Achille also testified that he did not hear or see any collision take place at the station; rather, he merely heard "[a] little bit of beeping."

         The defendant also testified at trial. According to defendant, he was driving home from work when he stopped to pick up dinner for his children. When he left the restaurant, defendant testified, he was traveling on Putnam Pike when he approached a red light near the above-mentioned gas station, and he observed that his mirror had become dislodged and he heard "the sound of change hitting the door, or rocks or sand[.]" The defendant testified that, after his car was struck, he looked to his left and saw a car pulling into the gas station. Thereafter, defendant testified that he used his left directional and pulled into the gas station behind the vehicle because he "figured they knew they hit [his] vehicle, and that's why they were parking." The defendant stated that he pulled directly behind the vehicle, at which point the other vehicle reversed and struck defendant's vehicle, leaving a dent on the front driver's side above the headlight. Subsequently, the other vehicle pulled westbound onto Putnam Pike and took an immediate right onto Esmond Street. The defendant testified that he followed the vehicle as far as he could before losing it. He then returned to the gas station with the hope that someone had seen something or that a police officer would be there. The defendant denied any other interaction with Smith or his passengers.

         Both Smith and defendant reported their versions of the events to the Smithfield police department. After taking statements and investigating, the Smithfield police arrested defendant on November 20, 2014, and he was ultimately charged by information on May 28, 2015, with assault with a dangerous weapon, in violation of G.L. 1956 § 11-5-2 (count one); reckless driving, in violation of § 31-27-4 (count two); leaving the scene of an accident, in violation of G.L. 1956 § 31-26-2 (count three); falsely reporting a crime, in violation of G.L. 1956 § 11-32-2 (count four); and disorderly conduct, in violation of G.L. 1956 § 11-45-1(a) (count five). Prior to trial, the state dismissed count three pursuant to Rule 48(a) of the Superior Court Rules of Criminal Procedure.

         Subsequently, on April 20, 2017, defendant was convicted by a jury of count two, reckless driving, and acquitted of the remaining counts. The defendant filed a motion for a new trial, arguing that the evidence presented at trial was insufficient to convict him of reckless driving and further contending that the jury did not note the specific location where defendant's alleged reckless driving took place. On May 15, 2017, the trial justice denied defendant's motion for a new trial and sentenced defendant to one year at the Adult Correctional Institutions, the entirety of ...

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