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State v. Medina

Supreme Court of Rhode Island

January 6, 2020

State
v.
Josephine L. Medina.

          Providence County Superior Court (P2/16-1805ADV) Sarah Taft-Carter Associate Justice

          For State: Virginia M. McGinn Department of Attorney General

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

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

          OPINION

          Gilbert V. Indeglia, Associate Justice

         After a trial in Providence County Superior Court, a jury found the defendant, Josephine Medina, guilty of one count of domestic assault with a dangerous weapon, in violation of G.L. 1956 §§ 11-5-2, 12-29-5. On appeal, the defendant contends that the trial justice erred by granting two of the state's motions in limine, which precluded the jury from (1) hearing evidence of the victim's arrest for gun charges and (2) viewing videos of the victim having engaged in acts of violence. This case came before the Supreme Court on December 4, 2019, 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 carefully 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 Travel

         On June 17, 2016, the state filed a criminal information against defendant alleging that, on April 3, 2016, she assaulted Emily Correa, her half-sister, with a knife. At trial, Correa testified that she and defendant had enjoyed a close relationship, would always "hang out," and even lived together along with the father of Correa's son, Garen Bartlett. However, Correa testified that her relationship with defendant soured after Bartlett kicked Correa out of the house and engaged in a relationship with defendant.

         According to Correa, on April 3, 2016, she called Bartlett to get money for diapers and wipes for their son, and they agreed to meet. After she determined Bartlett's location, Correa obtained a ride from Corina Walker, who was like a sister to Correa, to meet him. Correa testified that, when she and Walker arrived at the location, Bartlett pulled up behind them, driving defendant's vehicle. Correa testified that she got out of Walker's car, approached the driver's side of defendant's vehicle, and opened the door to ask Bartlett for the money. When she approached defendant's vehicle, she noticed defendant sitting in the front passenger's seat. Correa testified that she saw defendant reach toward the center console and retrieve a black case. She further testified that defendant then pulled the case open and threw it into her vehicle. Correa testified that she reached into the car to see what the object was; and that, by the time she turned around, defendant had exited the car, run around the back of it, and was standing approximately a foot away from Correa when she stabbed Correa in the chest. Correa testified that she held her chest and tried to run, but that defendant continued to swing the knife, and that defendant cut Correa's left wrist as she was rushing at Correa. Correa testified that defendant eventually stopped chasing her with the knife, but only after Walker helped Correa back into Walker's car.

         Although defendant did not testify at trial, her recorded interview with the police was admitted into evidence as a full exhibit. In her interview, defendant admitted that she stabbed Correa, but claimed that her action was in self-defense because Correa had rushed at her and wielded a knife of her own. According to defendant, Correa initially attacked Bartlett while he sat in the driver's seat of her vehicle, then tried to reach over Bartlett to attack defendant. The defendant told police that she then got out of the vehicle, and Correa rushed at her. According to defendant, Correa saw defendant's knife, but she attempted to stab defendant anyway; however, according to defendant she stabbed Correa first. The defendant further claimed that Correa hated her and had reason to attack her because Correa blamed defendant for "snitching on her," which had led to the previous arrest of Correa and Bartlett for gun and drug charges.

         Prior to trial, the state filed a motion in limine regarding Correa's prior contacts with police and her criminal convictions. The state acknowledged that Correa had a conviction for possession of a controlled substance and conspiracy to violate the Controlled Substances Act, but it sought to prevent the portion of defendant's statement wherein she indicated to police that the drug for which Correa was convicted of possessing was heroin. The state also sought to preclude the jurors from learning that Correa had been arrested on gun-related charges. The state argued that any mention of guns was irrelevant because Correa did not plead to any gun charges, nor had she been convicted of any-only Bartlett had pled to those charges. The state further noted that Correa did not use a gun in this incident.

         In opposition to the motion in limine, defendant argued that the gun charges against Correa were relevant to defendant's claim of self-defense; specifically, regarding Correa's alleged bias toward defendant and defendant's state of mind and motive for stabbing Correa. According to defendant, Correa believed that defendant had "snitched" and caused Correa and Bartlett to be charged with the gun crimes. However, the trial justice granted the state's motion, finding significance in the fact that Bartlett "pled to the specific gun charges and [Correa] didn't" and that "this [wa]s not a gun case[.]" The trial justice further found that the record of the drug conviction itself was admissible, but she noted that the defense could not "use the word heroin or the term heroin."[1] The trial justice also found that defendant would be permitted to question Correa at trial regarding "the issue of snitching[, ]" motive, and bias toward defendant through her conviction for drug charges alone.

         The state also filed a motion in limine to preclude defendant from introducing into evidence three videos that had been posted to Facebook that showed Correa engaged in prior acts of aggression. The state contended that the videos were inadmissible under Rule 403 of the Rhode Island Rules of Evidence because they were needless, cumulative, and inflammatory, and that any probative value to defendant was outweighed by unfair prejudice. The state claimed that Correa was expected to testify that she had carried a knife on prior occasions, that she had been arrested in December 2015 with a knife in her possession, had stabbed someone before, and that she had fought with others. Moreover, the state argued that, in accordance with this Court's holding in State v. Tribble, 428 A.2d 1079 (R.I. 1981), defendant had to prove she was aware of each of these acts of aggression prior to the incident in question and that that would "turn into a minitrial within a trial, just to prove when each video was taken, [and] when the defendant learned of the acts depicted in each video[.]" ...


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