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State v. Reynolds

Supreme Court of Maine

August 21, 2018

STATE OF MAINE
v.
JAMES A. REYNOLDS

          Argued: June 13, 2018

          Rory A. McNamara, Esq. (orally), Drake Law, LLC, Berwick, for appellant James A. Reynolds

          Andrew S. Robinson, District Attorney, and Alexandra W. Winter, Asst. Dist. Atty. (orally), Office of the District Attorney, South Paris, for appellee State of Maine

          Panel: SAUFLEY, C.J., and ALEXANDER, MEAD, GORMAN, JABAR, HJELM, and HUMPHREY, JJ.

          JABAR, J.

         [¶1] James A. Reynolds appeals from a judgment of conviction for four counts of gross sexual assault (Class A), 17-A M.R.S.A. § 253(1)(B) (Supp. 1997);[1] five counts of unlawful sexual contact (Class C), 17-A M.R.S.A. §255(1)(C) (Supp. 1997);[2] and two counts of sexual abuse of a minor (Class C), 17-A M.R.S.A. § 254(3)(A) (Supp. 2001), [3] entered in the trial court (Oxford County, Clifford, /.) after a jury trial. Reynolds contends that (1) the court erred in denying his motion for judgment of acquittal on eight of the eleven counts because "a rational jury could not have unanimously found that those counts were supported by evidence of particular instances of sexual acts or contact"; (2) he was unfairly prejudiced by the court's admission into evidence of uncharged sexual abuse; and (3) the court erred in denying his motion for judgment of acquittal as to the 1997 and 1998 unlawful sexual contact charges because those charges were subject to a six-year limitations period and the State failed to commence prosecution within that time period. We disagree and affirm the judgment.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Preliminary Proceedings

         [¶2] In December 2016, Reynolds was indicted on four counts of gross sexual assault, 17-A M.R.S.A. § 253(1)(B); six counts of unlawful sexual contact, 17-A M.R.S.A. § 255(1)(C); and two counts of sexual abuse of a minor, 17-A M.R.S.A. § 254(3)(A). The indictment alleged a period of ongoing abuse against the victim on or about April 1 of every year from 1997 to 2002. In Count 1 through Count 8, Reynolds was charged with committing one count of gross sexual assault and one count of unlawful sexual contact against the victim on or about April 1 of every year from 1997 to 2000. In Count 9 through Count 12, Reynolds was charged with committing one count of sexual abuse of a minor and one count of unlawful sexual contact against the victim on or about April 1 of 2001 and 2002.[4]

         B. Motion In Limine Proceedings

         [¶3] After jury selection in June 2017, the State moved in limine, pursuant to M.R. Evid. 404(b), to permit the admission of evidence of uncharged sexual abuse alleged to have taken place outside of Oxford County. According to the State, evidence of this conduct was admissible to "demonstrate [Reynolds's] opportunity to commit the sexual abuse, the relationship between the parties, as well as the intent to commit the ongoing abuse." Reynolds opposed the motion, arguing that admission of the alleged abuse violated both Rule 404(b) and M.R. Evid. 403.

         [¶4] A hearing on the motion in limine was held before trial on July 17, 2017. The State clarified that although the "[t]he majority of the sexual abuse occurred in an apartment in . . . Paris [Oxford County]," incidents also occurred "on the road and while out camping. And so the [S]tate would like to make reference to those in [its] testimony." Reynolds continued to argue against the admissibility of the uncharged abuse, contending that "[the victim] is claiming about 100 incidents, 80 percent of those happened at the house, at the apartment. . . . What is the purpose of bringing in uncharged incidents?" The court concluded that the proposed evidence was properly admissible under Rule 404(b) pursuant our decision in State v. DeLong, 505 A.2d 803, 805-06 (Me. 1986), because it was probative to demonstrate that "the relationship between the parties is that this defendant... considered this, you know, his - his sexual toy. I mean he did this - he did this as a matter of course wherever he went." However, in order to limit the prejudicial effect of these uncharged incidents, the court specified that the victim would not be permitted to describe the uncharged conduct "in detail."

         [¶5] Reynolds preserved his objection to the evidence pursuant to Rule 403, claiming the unfair prejudice created by that evidence substantially outweighed its probative value. However, after Reynolds was given the opportunity to request a limiting instruction regarding the proper use of the uncharged conduct, he stated that he did not wish to do so. Specifically, in response to the court's statement, "You're entitled to [a limiting instruction] ... [a]nd you affirmatively waive that," Reynolds replied, "Yes."

         C. Factual History

         [¶6] The case then proceeded to trial. Viewing the trial record in the light most favorable to the State, the jury could rationally have found the following facts beyond a reasonable doubt. See State v. Haag, 2012 ME 94, ¶ 2, 48 A.3d 207. The victim was born in April 1987 and was nine years old when she first met Reynolds, who was born on March 30, 1969. At the time, the victim was living with her grandparents in Oxford, but she subsequently moved into an apartment in South Paris with her mother, brother, and Reynolds.

         [¶7] The victim was sexually abused by Reynolds for "most of [her] childhood." The first incident occurred when she was nine and Reynolds touched her genitals while he was driving with her in his work vehicle.[5] From that point on, Reynolds touched her genitals weekly, "more times than [she] can count," until she was sixteen. Starting when the victim was ten years old, Reynolds also forced her to put her hands on his genitals. The abuse typically began by Reynolds saying "something like he wanted to play[, ] and then just do what he wanted from there." The abuse occurred after the victim got home from school but before her mother got home from work, or on weekend mornings when her mother was either at work or grocery shopping.

         [¶8] When the victim was ten years old, Reynolds forced her to put her mouth on his genitals while they were alone in the South Paris apartment. Starting when she was twelve years old, Reynolds removed the victim's pants and put his tongue on her genitals. Also when the victim was twelve, Reynolds touched her genitals with his genitals.

         [¶9] In addition to her testimony regarding specific incidents of abuse, the victim also testified that Reynolds either (1) touched her genitals with his hand or mouth; or (2) forced her to touch his genitals with her hand or mouth on a weekly basis until she was sixteen years old.

         [¶10] At no time were the victim and Reynolds married. When the abuse began, Reynolds told her that she would be in trouble if she said anything, and she never told anyone about the abuse while it was happening. In ...


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