Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia; (Hon. Frederick H. Weisberg, Trial Judge)
Before Wagner and King, Associate Judges and Mack, Senior Judge.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Wagner
WAGNER, Associate Judge: On April 14, 1991 at about 6:00 p.m. Christian Wainwright and Donna Henderson were robbed at gun point while walking on 8th Street, S.E. In connection with these events, appellant, Antonio Goins, was convicted of two counts of armed robbery *fn1 and one count of possession of a firearm during commission of a crime of violence or dangerous crime. *fn2 Appellants principal argument on appeal is that the trial court abused its discretion in denying his motion for mistrial -- after a police detective revealed in testimony that appellant had a prior criminal record. We conclude that the trial court did not err in denying appellants motion for mistrial because the corrective measures taken by the court sufficiently ameliorated any prejudice and rendered the detective's improper comment harmless. Appellant also argues that the identification evidence was insufficient to support his conviction. We affirm.
It was still daylight when Mr. Wainwright and Ms. Henderson were walking down 8th Street on the evening of the robberies and heard someone call out to them. Wainwright turned and saw a man about fifteen feet away, pointing a gun and demanding their money. Although the gunman warned the victims not to look at him, Wainwright, who is 6 feet, 8 inches tall, was able to see appellant's face while looking downward. After obtaining the money, the gunman ordered the victims to walk away from him, around the block, and they complied. As they turned the corner, Wainwright heard a car door close, and he ran into the street in time to see a mid-70's Dodge Charger with a red body, black top and D.C. license plate pulling off. There had been no one else on the street. Several weeks later, on Memorial Day, Wainwright and Henderson spotted a car on Delaware Avenue which appeared to be the same Dodge Charger. Wainwright asked Ms. Henderson to write down the number of the license plate. Since their initial efforts to reach the detectives who were investigating the case were unsuccessful, they drove by the car once more. Appellant stipulated at trial that he owned the automobile which was parked on Delaware Avenue on Memorial Day.
After the police ascertained the identity of the owner of the vehicle, they showed Wainwright a photo array which included appellant's picture. Wainwright selected appellant's photograph from among eight to ten others. He stated that it looked "most like the person that did it." However, he requested to see the suspect in a lineup to make sure that he "accused the correct person." Both Wainwright and Henderson attended the lineup, and Wainwright appellant as the robber "almost immediately." Ms. Henderson identified a different person. Ms. Henderson explained that she had gazed at the ground or focused on the gun during the robbery. However, she testified that she recognized appellant's car and corroborated how the robbery occurred.
Appellant did not testify. He presented an alibi defense through his sister, Pamela Goins, and former girlfriend, Lisa Spruill. Ms. Spruill testified that appellant was with her from 1:00 p.m. until 10:30 p.m. on the date of the robbery and that they attended a birthday picnic given by appellant's sister for her son from 6:00 until 8:00 p.m. According to appellant's sister, the picnic lasted from 3:00 to 8:30 p.m., and appellant was there all day. She also revealed that her cousin, Bobby Morgan, had picked up Lisa Spruill. Both Ms. Spruill and Ms. Goins testified that appellant drove a Dodge Charger which had a loud engine.
Detective Jeffrey Christy was the government's final witness. He testified that he traced the vehicle to appellant and that he displayed a photo array to Mr. Wainwright and Ms. Henderson. During direct examination, the detective blurted out unexpectedly that he ran the vehicles tag number through the D.C. registration system, came up with the owner's name, "then checked to see if the owner had a criminal record. The owner, Antonio Goins, did." Defense counsel objected immediately, and a bench conference ensued. Defense counsel moved for a mistrial. The trial court suggested corrective measures, but appellant's counsel stated:
If we can preserve the motion for the time being? If it is to be salvaged, the best thing is to go ahead and with an instruction like that.
But, at this point I still feel that I have to ask for the mistrial. But it's probably something I want to discuss with Mr. Goins.
The court agreed and proceeded with the measures suggested at the bench which were as follows:
THE COURT: Did you mean, Detective, in response to the last answer that once you got the tag number and got the owner of the car with the name of the owner, that you were able to go to police files and get a photograph of Mr. Goins?
THE COURT: Is that what you meant to say? Let me explain something to the jury if I may before you are ...