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State v. Charles Watson

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MAINE SUPREME JUDICIAL COURT					Reporter of Decisions
Decision:	2000 ME 77
Docket:	Pen-99-495 & Pen-99-727	
Submitted
on Briefs:	March 29, 2000	
Decided:	May 3, 2000	

Panel:WATHEN, C.J., and RUDMAN, DANA, SAUFLEY, ALEXANDER, and CALKINS, JJ.   





STATE OF MAINE v. CHARLES WATSON


WATHEN, C.J.


	[¶1]  This is a consolidated appeal.  Defendant, Charles Watson,
appeals from a judgment entered in the Superior Court (Penobscot County,
Mills, J.) on a jury verdict finding him guilty of endangering the welfare of a
child (Class D), 17-A M.R.S.A. § 554 (1983 & Supp. 1999). The State
appeals, pursuant to 15 M.R.S.A. § 2115-A(2) (1983) and M.R. Crim. P. 37B,
from the subsequent order entered in the court granting defendant's motion
for judgment of acquittal.  Because defendant's motion was untimely, we
vacate the judgment of acquittal.  Finding sufficient evidence to support the
jury's verdict, we affirm the judgment of conviction for endangering the
welfare of a child.
	[¶2]  The facts may be summarized as follows:  A witness, Robin
Myers, testified that she met her mother at the Hogan Road Shop 'n Save
around 9:30 a.m. Saturday morning, February 20, 1999, to drop off her six-
year-old daughter with her mother for the weekend.  She and her mother
talked in their cars for approximately ten to fifteen minutes.  During that
time, Robin did not notice anyone entering or exiting a white Honda parked
next to her. After talking with her mother, Robin exited her car to get her
daughter out and send her with her grandmother.  When she did, she
noticed that a baby was in the white Honda screaming.  She also noticed that
the baby did not have a winter coat on and that the car was unlocked.
Robin's children were dressed in winter coats. Robin's mother was wearing
a down jacket and had the heater on in her car that morning.  Robin called
her mother over to see the baby and then called 911 to report it. 
	[¶3]  A police officer arrived approximately five minutes later.  He
observed that a baby was in the car and that Robin was upset and wanted to
get the baby out to get it warm.  The officer was on the driver's side and
tried the driver's side doors, but found them locked.  Approximately four
minutes after the officer arrived, defendant, Charles Watson, walked out of
the store to his car, looked at the officer, opened the passenger side back
door to put  groceries in, and closed the door.  At that point, the officer
asked defendant if he was the owner of the vehicle and the baby's parent.
Defendant responded yes.  Having observed defendant opening the back
door without a key, he asked defendant if he often left his baby unattended
in an unlocked car. Defendant responded that he did sometimes when he
was shopping and that he never left her in a locked car.  The officer then
instructed defendant to follow him to the police station.  The officer
testified that he was wearing winter clothing and had his heater on.  The
supervising officer on duty on February 20 testified that it was cold and
windy that day.
	[¶4]  A criminal complaint was filed against defendant for violating
17-A M.R.S.A. § 554 by recklessly endangering the health, safety or welfare
of a child being less than one year of age, by violating a duty of care or
protection.  Defendant requested a jury trial and the matter was transferred
to Superior Court.  After the jury found defendant guilty, the court entered a
judgment of conviction and imposed a sentence on July 13, 1999. 
Defendant filed a motion for judgment of acquittal on July 26, 1999, and a
notice of appeal on August 10, 1999.  On November 16, 1999, the court
granted defendant's motion for judgment of acquittal.  The State filed a
motion for reconsideration, the court denied the motion, and the State
appeals.  We consolidated the two appeals.
I. Judgment of Acquittal
	[¶5] The State contends in its appeal that defendant's motion for
judgment of acquittal was not timely filed and thus that the Superior Court
lacked authority to act on the motion. We agree.  The time for filing a motion
for judgment of acquittal is controlled by M.R. Crim. P. 29, which provides in
pertinent part as follows:
If the jury returns a verdict of guilty, or is discharged without
having returned a verdict, a motion for judgment of acquittal
may be made or renewed within 10 days after the jury is
discharged or within such further time as the court may fix
during the 10 day period.
M.R. Crim. P. 29(b). The jury in this case was discharged and the judgment
was entered on July 13, 1999. A motion for judgment of acquittal should
have been filed no later than Friday, July 23, 1999. Defendant filed his
motion for judgment of acquittal on Monday, July 26, 1999. Defendant,
therefore, did not timely file his motion.  Although certain time limits may
be extended if the failure to act was the result of excusable neglect, a court
may not extend the time for taking action under certain rules, including
Rule 29, "except to the extent and under the conditions stated in them."
M.R. Crim. P. 45(b).    Pursuant to Rule 29, an extension for filing the motion
can only be granted  within the ten-day period.  Therefore, in this case the
court lacked authority to grant the motion for judgment of acquittal because
it was not timely filed. 
	[¶6]  Moreover, the court also lacked authority to act on the motion
once the appeal was docketed in this Court. The Superior Court's
jurisdiction to act after a case is appealed to us is controlled by M.R. Crim. P.
37(d), which provides in pertinent part as follows: 	
Upon receipt of the certified copies of the notice of appeal
and the docket entries [from the Superior Court] the Clerk of
the Law Court shall forthwith docket the appeal . . . .

	The Superior Court shall take no further action pending
disposition by the Law Court of an appeal from a judgment of
conviction except:  The appointment of counsel for an
indigent defendant; the granting of a stay of execution and
the fixing or revocation of bail pending appeal; proceedings
either for a new trial or for the correction or reduction of
sentence under Rule 35(a) or (c); and other action necessary
for prosecution of the appeal as provided by these rules.
M.R. Crim. P. 37(d).  The appeal was docketed in August, 1999, and the
Superior Court did not enter the judgment of acquittal until November 16,
1999.  Under the terms of the rule, the Superior Court lacked authority to
act on the motion.  
II. Validity of Statute and Sufficiency of Evidence
	[¶7]  Defendant argues that the statute under which he was charged
is void for vagueness because it does not inform the public that leaving a
child in a car unattended constitutes endangering the welfare of a child.  We
have, however, previously upheld the constitutionality of section 554. See
State v. Bachelder, 565 A.2d 96, 97 (Me. 1989) (finding mother guilty of
endangering the welfare of a child for failure to provide adequate
supervision, food, clothing and shelter).  We have held that the language of
the statute "furnishes a sufficient standard to withstand constitutional
attack, because a reasonable person of ordinary intelligence can understand
what conduct is prohibited."  Id. (citations omitted).
	[¶8]  Defendant also argues that there was insufficient evidence.  We
review the evidence in the light most favorable to the State to determine
whether the factfinder rationally could have found beyond a reasonable doubt
every element of the offense charged. See State v. Marden, 673 A.2d 1304,
1311 (Me. 1996) (citations omitted).  Credibility and weight of the evidence
is within the province of the jury as the factfinder.
	[¶9] Section 554 provides in pertinent part as follows:
1.  A person is guilty of endangering the welfare of a child if
that person:

	. . . .

C.  Otherwise recklessly endangers the health, safety, or
welfare of a child under 16 years of age by violating a duty of
care or protection.
17-A M.R.S.A. § 554 (1983 & Supp. 1999).  As the court instructed the jury,
the test of recklessness is whether the jury could have found beyond a
reasonable doubt that defendant consciously disregarded the risk of harm to
his child and that the disregard of that risk, viewed in light of the nature
and purpose of his  conduct and the circumstances known to him,  involved
a gross deviation from the standard of conduct that a reasonable and prudent
person would observe in the same situation. See 17-A M.R.S.A. § 35(3)
(1983); see also State v. Wilder, 2000 ME 32, ¶¶ 27,  __ A.2d __. 
	[¶10]  Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the State,
the jury had competent evidence that defendant left his three and one-half
month old baby unattended and lightly clad in an unlocked car for as long as
twenty-five minutes.  The car was in a shopping center parking lot in the
middle of winter and that the temperature was cold at the time. The jury
also heard defendant's testimony that he consciously considered as his only
options bringing his daughter into the store and carrying her or putting her
in a shopping cart without a built-in child seat or leaving her in the car.  He
stated  that he felt she was safest in the car.
	[¶11]   From this competent evidence, the jury rationally could have
found beyond a reasonable doubt that defendant had a duty to protect his
daughter and that leaving her unattended for twenty-five minutes in an
unlocked car in a shopping center parking lot on a cold winter day violated
that duty.  The jury rationally could have found that defendant consciously
disregarded the risks attendant upon leaving the child unattended in a car
under these circumstances; and that defendant's disregard of the risk was a
gross deviation from the conduct of a reasonable and prudent person.
	[¶12]  Defendant's remaining arguments concerning Miranda rights
and discovery issues were not properly preserved and lack merit. 
Therefore, we find no error in the judgment of conviction.
	The entry is:
Judgment of acquittal vacated; judgment
of conviction affirmed.
 
Attorneys for State: R. Christopher Almy, Esq. C. Daniel Wood, Asst. Dist. Atty. 97 Hammond Street Bangor, ME 04401 For defendant: Charles M. Watson 12 Hill Street Biddeford, ME 04401