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Name: People v. Carter
Case #: B251727
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 2 DCA
Division: 6
Opinion Date: 06/24/2014
Summary

When judge’s remarks preceding denial of new trial motion reflect that the court is applying an incorrect legal standard, an appellate court must consider the judge’s comments in its review. A jury convicted Carter of commercial burglary of a Wells Fargo Bank. A truck belonging to Carter’s father, which Carter used in his flooring construction business, was captured on surveillance video during the burglary. A screwdriver bearing Carter’s DNA was found inside a damaged automated teller machine. The person captured on video committing the burglary wore a disguise and resembled Carter. In his defense, Carter presented evidence that he had an alibi and that 8 to 10 of his employees had access to the truck and his tools. At the initial sentencing hearing, the trial court stated it would have acquitted Carter because it did not believe him guilty and found his alibi evidence credible. It continued sentencing to allow the defense to research whether the court could order a judgment notwithstanding the verdict. Before the next hearing, Carter filed a motion for new trial. In denying the motion the court stated it would have weighed the evidence differently, but the jury found the evidence sufficient. Carter challenged the denial of the new trial motion on appeal. Held: New trial ordered. In deciding a new trial motion, the court presumes the verdict is correct but applies its independent determination of the probative value of the evidence. It acts as a “13th” or “holdout” juror in determining the sufficiency of the evidence. Here, the trial court abused its discretion because it misunderstood its duty and the legal standard in ruling on the new trial motion. No purpose would be served by remanding the matter for another new trial motion as the trial court repeatedly stated that it had a reasonable doubt whether Carter committed the crime.