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01/17/91 JOHN IRBY v. UNITED STATES

January 17, 1991

JOHN IRBY, APPELLANT
v.
UNITED STATES, APPELLEE



Appeals from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia; Hon. Nicholas S. Nunzio, Trial Judge

Rogers, Chief Judge, and Newman and Ferren, Associate Judges.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Rogers

Appellant John D. Irby was convicted by a jury of carrying a pistol without a license, D.C. Code § 22-3204 (1989), possession of an unregistered firearm, id. § 6-2311 (a), and unlawful possession of ammunition, id. § 6-2361 (c). In these consolidated appeals he contends principally that the trial Judge erred in (1) permitting a witness to assert a blanket Fifth Amendment privilege, and (2) refusing to admit an affidavit from an absent co-defendant as a declaration against interest. He also contends his convictions must be reversed because of prosecutorial misconduct, that he is entitled to a new trial based upon the discovery of new evidence, and that his sentence is unlawful because of merger of offenses and improper enhancement. We agree only with appellant's first contention that the trial Judge erred in permitting the witness to invoke a blanket Fifth Amendment privilege without determining whether the Maryland and the District of Columbia authorities intended to prosecute. Accordingly, we remand for further proceedings with respect to the Fifth Amendment privilege; otherwise we affirm.

I.

While on routine patrol at approximately 8:15 p.m. on November 18, 1982, Officer Young and Sergeant Thomas saw several individuals engaging in activity around a Cadillac. One man, later identified as Lawrence Hopkins, placed a large box on the passenger seat of the car. A second man, James Gaston, was sitting in the driver's seat and appellant was standing beside the car.

As the officers approached the Cadillac, Officer Young noticed that Hopkins saw the officers and said something to appellant. Appellant then removed from his waistband a shoulder holster containing a handgun and placed it under the car. Officer Young drew his service revolver, told appellant to step away from the car, and retrieved the holster, which contained a .357 magnum.

As Officer Young approached Hopkins to question him, appellant began to run. Sergeant Thomas apprehended appellant. When Gaston, who was still behind the wheel of the car, tried to drive away, Young pulled out the .357 magnum and told Gaston to turn off the ignition. Gaston complied, but attempted to flee on foot. Officer Young noticed that Gaston was trying to reach into his coat. After subduing Gaston, Young recovered a .38 caliber revolver from Gaston's coat.

At a preliminary proceeding before trial, appellant's counsel informed the trial Judge that he intended to call Hopkins as an exculpatory witness. Counsel for appellant proffered that Hopkins would testify that he was at the scene and, contrary to the police account, he did not see appellant with a gun or place a gun under the car. Further, according to appellant's proffer, Hopkins would testify that appellant was not beside the car, as the police said, but eight feet away.

At this proceeding Hopkins' attorney advised the Judge that if called to testify, Hopkins would assert a blanket Fifth Amendment privilege not to testify. Hopkins apparently had been loading space heaters into the car at the time the police officers approached, and a subsequent investigation revealed the heaters had been stolen from a lumberyard in Maryland. The Maryland authorities filed charges against Hopkins which were later nolled. Hopkins' attorney represented that the Maryland authorities could reinstate the charges at any time and by testifying Hopkins would make reindictment more likely as he would be subject to cross-examination regarding what he was doing at the scene.

It was revealed later at this proceeding that appellant was in possession of an affidavit from the co-defendant Gaston, who claimed that Hopkins had sold Gaston the gun later recovered from Gaston's coat. After this discovery, Hopkins' attorney asserted that Hopkins had a second basis to claim a Fifth Amendment privilege namely that by testifying Hopkins would risk being charged in the District of Columbia with constructive possession of a second gun.

The trial Judge accepted Hopkins' blanket assertion of the Fifth Amendment privilege. In making this determination the Judge did not have information whether the Maryland authorities had any intention of reinitiating prosecution of the stolen property charge. *fn1 Nor did the trial Judge ascertain the local prosecutor's intentions with respect to the second gun charge, or seek a commitment from the prosecutor not to prosecute.

II.

Appellant contends that the trial Judge erred in sustaining Hopkins' blanket refusal to testify on the basis of the Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination without first conducting a sufficient inquiry to determine whether Hopkins was entitled to invoke a blanket privilege. Appellant contends first, that the questions that would have been propounded sought answers that would not have incriminated Hopkins, and second, that Hopkins faced no real possibility of being prosecuted in the District of Columbia for a firearms offense or by the State of Maryland for receiving stolen property.

In considering a claim of privilege under the Fifth Amendment by a witness, the trial Judge must engage in a two-prong inquiry to determine whether the potential testimony would tend to incriminate the witness and whether the risk of prosecution is "substantial and real." Jaggers v. United States, 482 A.2d 786, 793 (D.C. 1984) (quoting In re Corrugated Container Antitrust Litig., 213 U.S. App. D.C. 319, 327, 662 F.2d 875, 883 (1981)). Ordinarily the trial Judge must examine the witness outside of the presence of the jury, and rule on the claim of privilege one question at a time, to determine if the answers would tend to incriminate the witness. Davis v. United States, 482 A.2d 783, 785 (D.C. 1984); see also Salim v. United States, 480 A.2d 710, 715 (D.C. 1984). However, where it is evident ...


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