When an appellate court reviews the denial of a R.I. Super. Ct. R. Crim. P. 33 motion in the context of a jury-waived trial, an appellate court applies the same deferential standard of review as would be applied to the trial court justice's factual findings on the merits. Such determinations are entitled to great weight and will not be disturbed unless the trial justice has overlooked or misconceived relevant and material evidence or was otherwise clearly wrong.
A 19-year-old female employee filed an action against defendant, her boss, for sexual assault. Defendant filed a motion for new trial, which was denied, and he was convicted, after a jury-waived trial, of first-degree sexual assault, digital penetration, and second-degree sexual assault, *** contact. On appeal, the court affirmed the denial of defendant's motion for a new trial based on newly discovered evidence but vacated the judgment and remand the case to the trial justice with directions for it to conduct an independent examination of the evidence adduced at trial, to make findings, and to determine whether the State has established, beyond a reasonable doubt, that defendant was guilty of the charged crimes based solely on physical force.
Did the trial court establish, beyond a reasonable doubt, that defendant was guilty of the charged crimes based solely on physical force?
The court found that the trial justice properly articulated the element of physical force as set forth in R.I. Gen. Laws § 11-37-1(2)(ii) (1956), but that it was not convinced that the trial justice's finding of guilt based on physical force was not so inextricably intertwined with the erroneous finding of force and coercion by implied threats that it constituted a separate and independent finding of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. The trial justice's finding that all of the ingredients were present in order for the defendant to overbear the will of the victim, either by his authority or by a modicum of physical force and his conclusion that all of the relevant hallmarks of force or coercion, both physical and psychological, were part and parcel of defendant's misconduct, caused the court concern. In light of the erroneous finding of force and coercion by implied threats, the court was uncertain about whether defendant was convicted based on a finding of force and coercion by physical force beyond a reasonable doubt that was separate and apart from the error.