The opinion of the court was delivered by: LOUIS F. OBERDORFER
Defendant was indicted in this United States District Court as a formerly convicted felon who on January 7, 1992, it was alleged, unlawfully and knowingly received and possessed a firearm, a R.G. Industries.22 caliber revolver, which had been possessed, shipped and transported in and affecting interstate and foreign commerce.
The prosecution offered the testimony of police officers that, armed with a search warrant, they entered premises at 236 Eye Street, S.W. at about 8:00 p.m. on January 7, 1992, expecting to find drugs. They found none. On the second floor they entered a bedroom. There they observed defendant lying on a bed, awake, covered by a sheet. They stood him up.
He was not clothed. They asked him to dress. He did so by donning clothing strewn around the floor and furniture of the bedroom. While defendant was taken downstairs by two of the officers, others searched the bedroom and a crime scene investigator took photographs. After the police had taken defendant downstairs, he asked them to retrieve his glasses hanging from the fan beside the bed, which they did (See Prosecution Exhibit 4).
In the course of the search the officers opened the second drawer of a dresser a few feet from the bed where they found a loaded.22 caliber revolver, a box and several loose rounds of.22 caliber ammunition, and a manilla envelope (approximately 5" x 8")
under a piece of clothing (a skirt or a pair of pants), all of which were photographed as they lay in the drawer (Prosecution Exhibit 7). Another photograph of the drawer from a distance showed other portions of cloth, possibly clothing, which were not identified by testimony and are unidentifiable from the photograph (Prosecution Exhibit 8). None of the items of clothing was produced at trial. Inside the envelope were, among other things, a copy of Jet Magazine, photographs of unidentified men and women, and several Mickey and Minnie Mouse cards. There was also in the envelope a folder containing photographs of defendant and his mother (presumably Dorothy Mooney), defendant with friends, and unremarkable photographs of several young women, some of which bear inscriptions to defendant. Finally, there were birthday notes and personal letters from Dorothy Mooney to defendant. None of them have recent dates (Prosecution Exhibit 11).
On top of the dresser there was a black pouch with a strap which could be secured around a person's waist. It was produced (Prosecution Exhibit 12). Inside the pouch were two pieces of identification (a Non-Drivers Photo I.D. card issued on September 5, 1991 to David Mooney at an address in Landover, Maryland and a driver's license belonging to a third party), a picture, a few business cards, and several razor blades. An outside pocket of the pouch contained, among other things, a Maryland driver's license issued on October 18, 1991, slightly more than a month after the issue date of the Non-Driver's I.D., to David Mooney at an address in Silver Spring, Maryland.
Other police photographs show, among other things, a quantity of breakfast food on one table in the room (Prosecution Exhibit 6) and various lotions and cosmetics (e.g., Suave and Massengill products) on another table there (Prosecution Exhibit 5). Also on the table with the cosmetics was a pink electric fan and a clock. Next to the table containing the cosmetics on a separate stand was a portable TV on top of which there was what appears to be a Vaseline jar. There were two teddy bears, one next to the TV and the other on a shelf with some of the food. The closet in the room appears to be empty except for two belts and the edge of another unidentified piece of clothing (Prosecution Exhibit 5).
The prosecution asserts that the single piece of clothing visible in the photograph of the second drawer (Prosecution Exhibit 7) is a pair of men's pants, which, the prosecution argues, corroborates the theory that the gun belonged to defendant. The prosecution, however, conspicuously failed to produce the item of clothing. It is impossible to discern from the photograph of that drawer whether the article was a skirt or a pair of pants, and if a pair of pants, whether it was a man's garment or a women's garment and whether, if it was a man's garment, it would fit the defendant. None of the other items in the photographs, with the possible exception of one or both of the belts hanging in the closet, could surely be attributed to a male occupant, and appear to the eye more like articles belonging to a female.
The only direct testimony about defendant's presence at 236 Eye Street, S.W. at times other than at 8:00 p.m. on January 7, 1992, when he was arrested, was the testimony of the lessee of the premises, Angela Trevathan. She was not called by the prosecution;
she was called by the defense after she was identified and discussed by a police officer in response to defense cross-examination questions.
She testified on direct examination for the defense that the room in which defendant was arrested was rented to and occupied by Cheryl Thompson.
In addition, Trevathan testified that defendant was Cheryl's boyfriend and that he "stayed with" Cheryl two or three nights a week, but did not "live" there. Ms. Trevathan also testified that defendant was related to her by marriage and that she had known him for a very long time.
The police took no fingerprints although the crime search officer conceded that the barrel and other parts of the gun might have borne them. None of the clothing in the room was recovered or offered into evidence to establish, much less corroborate, the inference the prosecution sought to establish: that defendant lived in the room. It has failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt by credible evidence that he lived there. The prosecution did not prove that any of defendant's possessions were in the room except the pouch on the dresser, the eyeglasses on the fan, the clothes on the floor and furniture, and the manilla envelope at the bottom of a closed drawer. It is more likely than not likely that the pouch, the clothes, and the eyeglasses were literally on defendant's body when he arrived and were hastily removed as he stripped to go to bed. The envelope alone cannot reasonably establish that defendant had dominion and control over the room and its contents. Nor can the envelope establish that the gun belonged to defendant, despite the fact that it was found in the same drawer with the gun. In all the circumstances there is not sufficient connection between the gun, which was in the front of the drawer, and the envelope, which was under clothing that was not produced, to carry the prosecution's burden of proving defendant's constructive possession of the gun beyond a reasonable doubt.
Decisions in this Circuit in criminal cases in which the prosecution relies on circumstantial evidence to prove constructive possession of guns and drugs teach that circumspection and caution are in order in appraising the government's reliance on circumstantial evidence to prove constructive possession beyond a reasonable doubt. As the Court of Appeals has twice stated, with emphasis: "constructive possession 'should not be lightly imputed to one found in another's apartment or home.' United States v. Holland, 144 App. D.C. 225, 445 F.2d 701, 703 (D.C. Cir. 1971)." United States v. Long, 284 App. D.C. 405, 905 F.2d 1572, 1576 n.7 (D.C. Cir. 1990). Elsewhere, the Court of Appeals has stated:
First, mere proximity to contraband is not enough to carry a case of constructive possession to the jury. United States v. Pardo, 204 App. D.C. 263, 2636 F.2d 535, 549 (D.C. Cir. 1980); United States v. Whitfield,. . . [203 App. D.C. 102, 629 F.2d 136 (D.C. Cir. 1980)] at 143; United States v. Holland, supra, 445 F.2d at 702-03; United States v. Bethea, 143 App. D.C. 68, 442 F.2d 790, 793 (D.C. Cir. 1971). Second, mere knowledge of the presence of contraband does not constitute constructive possession. See United States v. Pardo, supra, 636 F.2d at 549. Nor is mere friendship probative of constructive possession. See United States v. Whitfield, supra, 629 F.2d at 143 (mere friendship between driver and passenger in a car, combined with proximity to narcotics, did not create an inference of constructive possession of the narcotics). See also United States v. Holland, supra, 445 F.2d at 703 ...