Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia; Hon. Frederick H. Weisberg, Trial Judge
Terry and Steadman, Associate Judges, and Kern, Senior Judge.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Steadman
The issue in this appeal, although technically one of sufficiency of the evidence, basically involves the scope of the criminal offense of obstruction of Justice insofar as it applies to witness tampering. The relevant provision, D.C. Code § 22-722 (a)(1) (1989), reads:
(a) A person commits the offense of obstruction of Justice if that person:
(1) Corruptly, or by threats or force, endeavors to influence, intimidate, or impede any juror, witness, or officer in any court of the District of Columbia in the discharge of his or her duties.
Appellant was convicted under this provision for attempting to persuade two friends of his to testify falsely on his behalf about his lack of participation in an alleged murder. We affirm.
Appellant was arraigned on August 24, 1988, for a murder committed twenty-two days before. Shortly after being released, on September 8, 1988, he asked two friends of his, Dominic Dorsey and Joseph Calhoun, to testify that they had been with appellant at the scene of the killing and had seen the killing committed not by appellant but instead by one Larry Epps. As Dorsey testified, "he wanted us to say that -- when we went to court, he said he wanted us to be his witness and say that he didn't do it." About 10 days later, appellant again approached Calhoun, along with another friend of appellant, Lamarr Young, and asked them to testify to a more elaborate story also pinning the blame on Epps. Appellant told Young to tell this story "to whoever when I come to court and tell it to the Judge." Some days later, after learning that the police wanted to talk to witnesses, appellant, Calhoun, and Young again talked about the story.
In fact, Calhoun was not present at the scene of the killing or anywhere near it. Dorsey was a member of the group that accompanied appellant to the apartment house where the killing took place and was a witness to the events in the apartment where appellant, the victim, and Epps (among others) were all present shortly prior to the killing; however, Dorsey was not present at the time or scene of the killing, which took place in a stairwell. Calhoun initially told the Assistant United States Attorney that Epps had been the killer but eventually admitted he was not anywhere present. Dorsey refused to go forward with the false story. Young, who was an eyewitness, testified at the trial that appellant had been the killer. At the trial, appellant was acquitted of the murder but convicted on two counts of obstruction of Justice under D.C. Code § 22-722 (a)(1), which related to his conversations with Calhoun and Dorsey. *fn1
Appellant's arguments with respect to the sufficiency of the evidence address the two counts in somewhat different but related ways. We take each in turn.
With respect to Dorsey, appellant's assertion is that no evidence was introduced that at the time appellant spoke to him, Dorsey was expected to testify and that he was therefore not a "witness" as required by the statute. *fn2
The word "witness" is not defined in the statute itself. The jury was instructed, without objection by appellant, that in order to convict, the government must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Dorsey "was a witness or a potential witness in a case pending in the District of Columbia Superior Court." *fn3 The jury was further instructed:
The term "witness" means a person who knows or may know facts that are material to a pending case and who is expected to testify in that case, whether or not the person has actually been subpoenaed to testify at that time. A person is not a witness when regardless of his knowledge of material facts bears [sic -- presumably "there ...