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09/16/93 DELANTI V. COLLINS v. UNITED STATES

September 16, 1993

DELANTI V. COLLINS, APPELLANT
v.
UNITED STATES, APPELLEE



Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia; (Hon. Stephen F. Eilperin, Motions Judge)

Before Ferren, Schwelb and Sullivan, Associate Judges.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Sullivan

SULLIVAN, Associate Judge: Appellant, Delanti V. Collins, challenges the denial of his motion for correction of sentence pursuant to Super. Ct. Crim. R. 35 (a). Appellant's principal contention on appeal is that his sentence was imposed in an illegal manner because the trial court reviewed numerous, inflammatory, and unverified victim impact statements in violation of the District of Columbia Victims Rights Amendment Act, D.C. Code § 23-103a (b) (1989). We affirm.

I.

Appellant pled guilty to second-degree murder while armed, in violation of D.C. Code §§ 22-2403, 22-3202 (1981 & 1992 Supp.), and attempted robbery, in violation of id. § 22-2902. The government's evidence showed that appellant shot Norman Shields, Jr. in the back of the head and disposed of his body in an alley; Shields was murdered so that appellant and his confederate, Audrey D. Chambliss, could steal Shields' car.

The trial Judge received a presentence report which made reference to fifteen letters from Shields' family and friends, four crayon drawings from Shields' daughter, ant Shields' funeral program. Defense counsel was given an opportunity to review the materials prior to the sentencing hearing. At the commencement of the sentencing hearing, the trial Judge stated he had read the "many letters" from the victim's family and friends. Immediately prior to the imposition of sentence, the trial Judge addressed appellant as follows:

Mr. Collins, I think without doubt what was done here was a cold-blooded murder . . . . You have caused immense suffering for Mr. Shields' family, his entire family, not knowing where he was that night, coming down to the morgue and seeing him there, and this suffering that continues until today, and I am sure will continue for as long as anyone lives. You are responsible for that. It seems to me totally insane that anyone can shoot someone in the back of the head over a hunk of metal, but that is what you chose to do, and I am going to give you the maximum I can give you for this, which is 15 years to life with a mandatory minimum of five years in prison on the second degree murder while armed charge, and consecutive to that one year to three years for attempted robbery.

Neither appellant nor his counsel voiced any objections to, or challenged the accuracy of, any of the letters referenced by the presentence report. In lieu of a direct appeal, appellant filed a timely motion for correction of sentence, pursuant to Super. Ct. Crim. R. 35 (a), in which he claimed that the trial court erred as a matter of law by considering the victim impact statements, and requested resentencing before a different Judge. *fn1 The motion was denied and this appeal followed.

II.

The District of Columbia Victims Rights Amendment Act, D.C. Code § 23-103a (b) (1989) ("the Act"), provides that:

Each victim of any crime of violence, or 1 representative of the immediate family of the victim if the victim has died, shall have the right to submit prior to the imposition of sentence a written victim impact statement containing information concerning any emotional, psychological, financial, or physical harm done to or loss suffered by the victim of the crime of violence. This statement shall be made a part of the presentence report filed by the probation division of the court. The court shall consider the victim impact statement in determining the appropriate sentence.

In the absence of any ambiguity in the statute, we must give effect to the statute's clearly-stated meaning. See National Medical Ass'n v. District of Columbia, 611 A.2d 53, 55 (D.C. 1992) ("We must be mindful of the familiar maxim that 'if the words are clear and unambiguous, we must give effect to [the statute's] plain meaning.'") (quoting James Parreco & Son v. District of Columbia Rental Hous. Comm'n, 567 A.2d 43, 45 (D.C. 1989)). See also J. Frog, LTD. v. Fleming, 598 A.2d 735, 738 (D.C. 1991) (same); Riggs Nat'l Park v. District of Columbia, 581 A.2d 1229, 1235 (D.C. 1990) (same). Appellant claims that the plain meaning of the statutory language limits the trial court's consideration to only one victim impact statement containing only the prescribed information. We disagree.

III.

Whether the letters submitted in this case are construed as a victim impact statement, or simply letters from interested parties not within the purview of ยง 23-103a, the most reasonable interpretation of the statute is that a trial court is required to consider at least one victim impact statement, filed in the manner prescribed by statute, concerning the emotional, psychological, financial, or physical harm done to or suffered by a victim or a deceased victim's immediate family. The Act does not limit the type and quantity of information a trial court may, in its discretion, review in determining an appropriate sentence. Indeed, had the legislature intended the interpretation that appellant advocates, it ...


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