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State v. Williams

Court of Appeals of Arizona, Second Division, Department B

October 16, 2013

THE STATE OF ARIZONA, Appellee,
v.
ARVIN WHIT WILLIAMS, Appellant.

APPEAL FROM THE SUPERIOR COURT OF PIMA COUNTY Cause No. CR20112894001 Honorable Jose H. Robles, Judge

Thomas C. Horne, Arizona Attorney General By Joseph T. Maziarz and Diane Leigh Hunt Tucson Attorneys for Appellee

Law Offices of Cornelia Wallis Honchar, P.C. By Cornelia Wallis Honchar Tucson Attorney for Appellant.

OPINION

PETER J. ECKERSTROM, Judge.

¶1 Following a jury trial, appellant Arvin Williams was convicted of attempted robbery and placed on a three-year term of probation. Emphasizing his acquittals on related charges, he maintains on appeal that the state presented insufficient evidence to convict him of this offense, and he argues the trial court consequently erred in denying his motion for judgment of acquittal made pursuant to Rule 20, Ariz. R. Crim. P. We affirm for the reasons that follow, and we publish this opinion to remind defendants and their counsel that an acquittal on one charge does not affect a court's analysis of the sufficiency of evidence supporting another charge. See Ariz. R. Sup. Ct. 111(b)(2) (authorizing publication to "[c]all[] attention to a rule of law which appears to have been generally overlooked").

Factual and Procedural Background

¶2 We view the evidence in the light most favorable to upholding a jury's verdict of guilt, resolving all reasonable inferences against the defendant. See State v. Leyvas, 221 Ariz. 181, ¶ 2, 211 P.3d 1165, 1167 (App. 2009). Williams and his codefendant, Mario Hawkins, were charged with four offenses based on their alleged involvement in a robbery scheme that lured potential victims using phony advertisements posted on the internet. The charges stemmed from two separate incidents involving one victim.

¶3 On August 2, 2011, the victim responded to an advertisement offering to sell an "iPhone" for $400. He called Hawkins's telephone number and arranged to meet him at a community college campus to purchase the cell phone. There, a man drove up in a red four-door Dodge sedan with the numbers "252" on the license plate, and he handed the victim an empty iPhone box. Another man then approached on foot, displayed a handgun, and demanded that the victim surrender his money. After taking the victim's cash, the two robbers left together in the red car. The victim later identified Williams and Hawkins as the two men who had robbed him.

4 That same month, the victim saw a similar online advertisement offering to sell an iPhone for $350. When he contacted the seller, he again was provided with Hawkins's telephone number. After the victim contacted police officers, he arranged to meet with the seller on August 17 at the same community college campus. At the designated meeting spot, police officers found Hawkins carrying an empty white box for a cell phone. He was not carrying any weapons. In a parking lot on the same side of the campus, officers found Williams sitting in a red four-door Dodge with the numbers "252" on the license plate. He had been reclining in the driver's seat below the level of the windows, making the vehicle appear unoccupied, and he showed himself to the officers only when they began to approach the vehicle on foot with their weapons drawn. Law enforcement later learned that the vehicle belonged to a friend of Williams who lived in a different city. She testified she had visited him that day in Tucson as well as on August 2. She also testified she had let Williams, but not Hawkins, drive her car.

¶5 The trial court granted Williams's Rule 20 motion in part and entered a judgment of acquittal as to the attempted aggravated robbery charge from August 17 (count four).[1] The court did not make any express determinations or explain the basis for its ruling. The court denied the motion as to the remaining three counts, which it submitted to the jury. Williams was acquitted of the two charges from the August 2 incident, specifically armed robbery (count one) and aggravated robbery (count two). The jury found him guilty of attempted robbery committed on August 17 (count three). This timely appeal followed the imposition of probation.

Discussion

¶6 A motion for a judgment of acquittal under Rule 20 is designed to test the sufficiency of the evidence, State v. Neal, 143 Ariz. 93, 98, 692 P.2d 272, 277 (1984), and the same legal standard applies to pre- and post-verdict motions. State v. West, 226 Ariz. 559, ¶ 14, 250 P.3d 1188, 1191 (2011). "[T]he controlling question is solely whether the record contains 'substantial evidence to warrant a conviction.'" Id., quoting Ariz. R. Crim. P. 20(a). Substantial evidence exists if, "'after viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution, any rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt.'" Id. ¶ 16, quoting State v. Mathers, 165 Ariz. 64, 66, 796 P.2d 866, 868 (1990). The substantial evidence necessary to sustain a conviction may be circumstantial or direct. Id. If "'reasonable minds may differ on inferences drawn from the facts, '" the evidence is substantial and the conviction must be upheld. Id. ¶ 18, quoting State v. Lee, 189 Ariz. 590, 603, 944 P.2d 1204, 1217 (1997). On appeal, a reviewing court must determine de novo whether sufficient evidence supports every element of the offense. Id. ¶¶ 15-16.

7 "'The essential elements of an attempted robbery are (1) intent to commit robbery and (2) an overt act towards that commission.'" Leyvas, 221 Ariz. 181, ¶ 34, 211 P.3d at 1175, quoting State v. Clark, 143 Ariz. 332, 334, 693 P.2d 987, 989 (App. 1984).

A person commits robbery if in the course of taking any property of another from his person or immediate presence and against his will, such person threatens or uses force against any person with intent either to coerce surrender of property or to ...

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