Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia; (Hon. Geoffrey M. Alprin, Trial Judge)
Before: Steadman and King, Associate Judges, and Newman, Senior Judge.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: King
KING, Associate Judge: Appellant seeks reversal of an adjudication of delinquency based on the trial Judge's finding, after a bench trial, that he was guilty of unauthorized use of a motor vehicle ("UUV"). *fn1 On appeal, he maintains both that the trial Judge erred in denying the motion to suppress *fn2 and that the conviction is not supported by sufficient evidence. We affirm.
At the suppression hearing, a patrol officer with the United States Capitol Police testified that on December 5, 1990, at approximately 3:20 p.m., she observed a 1987 Buick Skylark traveling along a section of Washington Avenue, S.W., which is within the jurisdiction of the Capitol Police, attempt to make a left turn onto the blocked-off ramp to 1-395 at the beginning of rush hour -- a turn that was illegal at that time of day. The officer motioned to the driver to continue forward rather than make the turn. The driver complied and as the Buick passed her cruiser, the officer noticed that the right rear window vent was smashed. She thought it "strange" that the window was not covered since "in December it was kind of cool." Further, the officer testified that in four or five of the six UUV arrests she had made, the stolen vehicle had a broken vent window. Suspecting that the Buick might be stolen, the officer called "communications" to determine whether there had been any reports regarding the vehicle. The officer then began following the Buick, and she activated the cruiser's emergency equipment while both vehicles were inside the Capitol grounds. The Buick proceeded for approximately one and a half blocks before it came to a stop at 3rd and C Streets, S.W., which is outside of the Capitol grounds. The officer received confirmation that the Buick was listed as stolen "just simultaneously to the same time the was pulling to the curve ." The vehicle was occupied by four individuals including appellant, who was sitting in the front passenger seat.
The officer exited her vehicle and approached the Buick on the passenger's side. She observed that a portion of the steering column had been taped over with duct tape. The officer also observed a bent key, one "that did not belong in the ignition," protruding half-way out of the ignition. In addition, the officer saw that the rear window vent was completely broken and that there was broken glass on the back seat and rear floorboard. When the officer asked the driver to turn off the ignition, he was unable to do so. When requested, the driver could not produce either a driver's license or vehicle registration. The officer then placed appellant and the other three occupants under arrest.
The trial Judge denied appellant's motion to suppress, finding that the officer possessed sufficient information to give rise to reasonable suspicion justifying a traffic stop. Specifically, the trial Judge found that: the officer observed the Buick as "it passed by her at a short distance and as it did within the police -- the Capitol Police grounds, right at that point she saw a broken rear vent window"; based on the officer's experience with intercepting stolen vehicles, the broken vent window "alerted her suspicions and she got behind the vehicle . . . and tried to initiate a stop"; and, "the Capitol Police have authority to complete [the traffic stop] as it was initiated . . . inside the Capitol grounds. . . ."
At trial, the officer repeated the testimony she had given at the suppression hearing, and the government introduced photographs of the car taken after the arrest. The Buick's owner, who resided at 107 14th Street, N.E., testified that he last saw the vehicle, which had been parked outside his residence, sometime between 11:00 a.m. and noon on the date appellant was arrested. The trial Judge denied appellant's motion for judgment of acquittal and found appellant guilty, concluding that the evidence supported the inference that appellant had knowledge that the vehicle was stolen. This appeal followed.
In reviewing the trial Judge's denial of the motion to suppress, we must first determine whether the officer had reasonable grounds to stop the vehicle. If we conclude that she did, then we must decide whether a Capitol Police officer is authorized to make such a stop outside of that police force's jurisdiction. In reviewing the denial of a motion to suppress, this court gives deference to the trial court's findings of fact, and those findings will not be disturbed if they are supported by the record. Lawrence v. United States, 566 A.2d 57, 60 (D.C. 1989) (citations omitted). However, since the ultimate determination of the legality of the stop remains a question of law, we must independently review the trial Judge's Conclusion that the stop was valid. Turner v. United States, 623 A.2d 1170, 1171 (D.C. 1993) (citation omitted); see Brown v. United States, 546 A.2d 390, 393 (D.C. 1988).
In order to initiate an investigative stop an officer "must be able to point to specific and articulable facts which, taken together with rational inferences from those facts," justify the stop. Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 21, 20 L. Ed. 2d 889, 88 S. Ct. 1868 (1968). See also Brown, supra, 546 A.2d at 393. The officer testified that she noticed that the right rear vent window was smashed and that she thought it "strange" that the window would not be covered in the December cold. Moreover, the officer also testified that in four or five of the six UUV arrests she had made, the stolen vehicle had a broken vent window. We agree with the trial Judge's Conclusion that the smashed rear vent window, taken together with the officer's experience with other UUV arrests, was sufficient to support a reasonable suspicion in the officer's mind that the vehicle had been stolen. Smith v. United States, 295 A.2d 64, 66 (D.C. 1972) (stop was justified where reasonable suspicion existed to believe, based on officer's experience and observations of appellant's highly suspicious conduct, that bag contained proceeds of larceny). Therefore, the officer could properly initiate whatever action was necessary to bring the vehicle to a stop. See id. at 67. By the time the Buick stopped, the officer's suspicion had ripened into probable cause since, by that point, she knew from communications that the vehicle had been reported stolen. Lewis v. United States, 379 A.2d 1168, 1170 (D.C. 1977) (following lawful investigative stop, on-the-scene identification of appellants as robbers provided probable cause for their arrest).
Our Conclusion that the officer had a reasonable basis to initiate an investigative stop does not end our inquiry, however, since we must consider appellant's contention that, even with reasonable suspicion, the stop was illegal because the vehicle was actually stopped outside the Capitol grounds. See D.C. Code § 9-115 (1993 Supp.) ("The Capitol Police shall police the United States Capitol Buildings and Grounds . . . and shall have the power . . . to make arrests within the United States Capitol Buildings and Grounds for any violations of any law . . . of the District of Columbia . . . or any regulation promulgated pursuant thereto"). We note that the officer initiated the stop when both vehicles were still on the Capitol grounds. Appellant contends, however, that since the vehicles actually came to rest outside the Capitol grounds, the stop was illegal.
The trial court found, applying the doctrine of fresh pursuit, that the officer had authority to stop appellant outside the Capitol grounds because the stop was lawfully initiated inside the grounds. We begin our analysis by noting that, when this case arose, the Capitol Police were generally not authorized *fn3 to make arrests outside the Capitol grounds. Thus, the stop and arrest here, if lawful, can be justified only if permitted by the doctrine of fresh pursuit. There are no common law *fn4 fresh pursuit cases in this jurisdiction; therefore, we turn to Maryland law, the most authoritative body of law other than our own precedent. See United States v. Jackson, 528 A.2d 1211, 1215 (D.C. 1987) (District common law consists of common law in force in Maryland in 1801) (citations omitted); see also Baker v. Gaffney, 141 F. Supp. 602, 603 (D.D.C. 1956) (District derives its common law from Maryland and decisions of Maryland courts on questions of common law are authoritative in the absence of District authority); D.C. Code § 49-301 (1990) (the common law and all British statutes in force in Maryland on February 27, 1801, remain in force unless repealed by or are inconsistent with a subsequent act of Congress).
Under the common law doctrine of fresh pursuit, an officer in lawful pursuit could chase an individual, suspected of having committed a felony, into another jurisdiction and effectuate an arrest therein. Gattus v. State, 204 Md. 589, 105 A.2d 661, 666 (Md. 1954) (citations omitted). In Gattus, a search warrant, authorizing the search of an automobile for bookmaking paraphernalia, was executed by police officers following the chase of appellant outside the jurisdiction of the judicial officer who authorized the warrant. Id. at 663. Since the search warrant was actually executed (in Baltimore County) beyond the issuing judicial officer's jurisdiction (Baltimore City), the court found that the search based on that warrant was unlawful. Id. at 664. The search in question, however, could be supportable as one incident to an arrest, if the arrest itself was lawful. Id. In making that determination, the court observed that police officers have authority to make arrests outside their jurisdiction under the common law doctrine of fresh pursuit, "whereby an officer may pursue a felon or a suspected felon, with or without a warrant for his arrest, into another jurisdiction and arrest him there." *fn5 Id. at 666 (citing 4 HALE'S PLEAS OF THE CROWN 94; 4 AM. JUR. Arrest §§ 17, 51; McCaslin v. McCord, 116 Tenn. 690, 94 S.W. 79, 84). See also People v. Adam, 74 N.Y.S.2d 57, 60-61 (1947) ...