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02/12/91 HENRY PARKER v. UNITED STATES

February 12, 1991

HENRY PARKER, APPELLANT
v.
UNITED STATES, APPELLEE



Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia; Hon. Peter H. Wolf, Trial Judge

Rogers, Chief Judge. Steadman, Associate Judge, and Reilly, Senior Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Rogers

Appellant appeals from his conviction by a jury of simple assault, D.C. Code § 22-504 (1989), on the grounds that his Sixth Amendment right to cross-examine and confront a witness was violated, and the trial court erred in denying a motion for severance and admitting "unsubstantiated allegations of his prior violent behavior and other crimes evidence." We affirm, concluding that any error in admission of the other crimes evidence was harmless, and that appellant's other contentions are unpersuasive.

I

Appellant and his estranged wife, Mona Parker, the complaining witness, lived together for eleven years until December 17, 1987, when Mrs. Parker moved into the home of her uncle, Chauncy McIntosh. In her testimony she explained that she had separated from appellant because he had made life difficult as a result of various forms of harassment, including prior physical beatings of her, locking her closet door and bathroom so she could not go to work, preventing her from watching television, and making it uncomfortable for her to remain in the same room with him. Specifically, she testified that on December 17, 1987, all the doors were locked so she could not get her clothes or use the bathroom. She further stated that " lot of this had been happening for a couple of weeks," explaining that appellant had been put out of the home because of physical abuse. "And . . . when he came back, although he would not hit me, . . . he would make it very difficult for me to live there comfortably." She gave testimony indicating that she could not bathe when she wanted, that her husband would turn off the television while she was watching, and that he generally made it uncomfortable for her to be in the house with him. She elaborated that appellant had been ordered out of the house after he had beaten her and she had filed charges in Maryland.

The assault charge arose from events on January 4, 1988. *fn1 Mrs. Parker testified that she saw appellant on the morning of January 4, 1988, as she and her children were walking to her car in front of her uncle's house. Appellant, accompanied by an unidentified man, drove up and leaped from his car and began pounding on the window and hood of Mrs. Parker's car. Mrs. Parker drove to the police station and filed a complaint at the Citizen's Complaint Center. Upon leaving the Complaint Center, appellant confronted Mrs. Parker, and after she attempted to push appellant away, he slapped her across the face. Appellant grabbed her by the hair when she attempted to retaliate, threw her to the ground, and kicked her twice before bystanders interrupted the beating. As a result, Mrs. Parker's face was red below her left eye, her knee was bruised, and her pants were torn at the knee.

On cross-examination, in explaining why she left home in May 1987, for several months, Mrs. Parker testified that appellant had tried to strangle her, so that she could hardly breath. Further, that appellant, instead of sitting down and talking to her when he got angry, tended to act violently toward her to show her who was the boss.

Appellant testified that on January 4, 1988, he drove to the McIntosh residence, and as he was walking around the front of Mrs. Parker's car, she accelerated the speed of her car and caused him to be pushed against the hood of his car. Appellant got back into his car and followed her to the police station and was told to go to the Citizen's Complaint Center. Later that afternoon when he saw her leaving the Citizen's Complaint Center and he tried to talk to her, she threw a bottle at him and attacked him with her arms and feet. Appellant testified that he filed a complaint with the Complaint Center and received medical attention for his injuries. Lawyer Thompson, who was riding with appellant on January 4, 1988, corroborated appellant's testimony.

In rebuttal, Officer Meehan testified that after the January 4, 1988, incident, he noticed bruises about Mrs. Parker's left eye and cuts on her knee.

II

Appellant contends that his Sixth Amendment right to cross-examine was violated when the trial Judge refused to let counsel inquire about Mrs. Parker's prejudice, bias, and partiality in order to show that she had compelling reasons to fabricate a case against appellant.

Central to the accused's Sixth Amendment right to confront witnesses against him is the opportunity to cross-examine the government's witnesses. Davis v. Alaska, 415 U.S. 308, 315-16, 94 S. Ct. 1105, 39 L. Ed. 2d 347 (1974); Scull v. United States, 564 A.2d 1161, 1164 (D.C. 1989); Springer v. United States, 388 A.2d 846, 854 (D.C. 1978). "The exposure of a witness' bias or partiality is an important function of the constitutionally-protected right of cross-examination, and [this court has] recognized that 'bias is always a proper subject of cross-examination.'" Reed v. United States, 452 A.2d 1173, 1176 (D.C. 1982), cert. denied, 464 U.S. 839, 104 S. Ct. 132, 78 L. Ed. 2d 127 (1983) (quoting Hyman v. United States, 342 A.2d 43, 44 (D.C. 1975)). Nonetheless, a defendant's constitutionally protected right of cross-examination is not without its limits. Washington v. United States, 499 A.2d 95, 101 (D.C. 1985). "Once there has been cross-examination sufficient to satisfy the requirements of the Sixth Amendment, the trial court has discretion to control the scope and extent of cross-examination." Reed v. United States, supra, 452 A.2d at 1176 (citing Smith v. United States, 392 A.2d 990, 991 (D.C. 1978)). We find no abuse of discretion by the trial court. Deneal v. United States, 551 A.2d 1312, 1315 (D.C. 1988) (reversal required only where abuse of discretion).

At trial appellant's counsel attempted to elicit testimony that Mrs. Parker was romantically involved with other men, had filed lawsuits against appellant and reported his threatening behavior to the police, harassed the son of appellant's brother, did not properly care for her children, and kept a diary of the events of the fall of 1987. The trial Judge permitted appellant to cross-examine to some degree about her alleged involvement with other men, the pressing of criminal charges against appellant, and why she left home, and the alleged reporting of appellant's threats to the police. Further, the Judge provided appellant's counsel with the opportunity to proffer the questions that she wanted to ask and ruled, on a question-by-question basis, whether further exploration into details would be permitted. Counsel also probed Mrs. Parker's bias both before and after the cross-examination was restricted on a question-by-question basis. When the Judge limited the scope of cross-examination he did so on the ground that it was going beyond reasonable inquiry into Mrs. Parker's bias and was becoming the trial of a domestic relations conflict.

When, as here, questioning seeking to show bias is objected to as being irrelevant or nonprobative, "the party posing the questions must proffer to the court 'some facts which support a genuine belief' that the witness is biased in the manner asserted," Jones v. United States, 516 A.2d 513, 517 (D.C. 1986), as well as proof that the proposed questions are probative of bias. See Best v. United States, 328 A.2d 378, 381-82 (D.C. 1974). Appellant made no such proffer. *fn2 The record is clear, ...


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