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Robinson v. U.S.

June 9, 1994


Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia; (Hon. Linda Turner Hamilton, Trial Judge)

Before Terry, King, and Sullivan, Associate Judges.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Terry

TERRY, Associate Judge: Appellant Robinson was convicted of one count of assault *fn1 for beating up his girl friend, Bobbie Lockett. At trial Robinson asserted that he acted in self-defense, claiming that Lockett, who was allegedly drunk and angered by the constant flow of visitors into and out of their shared apartment, twice attacked him with a knife. On appeal Robinson contends that the trial court committed reversible error by refusing to allow him to introduce extrinsic evidence about Lockett's use of alcohol on other occasions in order to impeach her testimony, and by declining to reinstruct the jury on the elements of self-defense after the jury requested additional guidance from the court on the intent element of the crime of assault. We affirm.


A. The Government's Evidence

Robinson and Lockett began sharing an apartment on First Place, N.E., in the spring of 1991. On the evening of August 9, 1991, Lockett waited in the apartment while Robinson and a friend went to the Greyhound bus terminal to pick up Robinson's sister, who was coming in from Philadelphia. At the bus station, however, Robinson was unable to find his sister, and at about 9:30 p.m. he returned to the apartment, apparently enraged by his sister's absence. According to Lockett, who was "half asleep" in the bedroom when he arrived, Robinson began "beating the telephone on the floor" and asked Lockett for the telephone number of the bus terminal. When Lockett did not respond, Robinson struck her in the back with a bottle, causing a large bruise. He then began punching her repeatedly in the face and at one point exclaimed, "Well, I'm going to beat you until my sister gets here." During the course of the attack, which included periods when Robinson was choking Lockett with both hands, the telephone began to ring, and Robinson answered it. The call was from his sister, whose bus had apparently just arrived. Robinson then hung up the phone and went to the bus station to pick her up.

As soon as Robinson had gone, Lockett ran across the street to the apartment of two friends, Timothy Herbin and Clyde Tyler. From their apartment she called the police to report what had happened. Herbin applied ice to Lockett's eyes and face, which were badly bruised and swollen, and gave her several Motrin tablets to relieve the pain. Herbin and Tyler also noticed that Lockett "could barely talk," apparently because of damage to her larynx. This throat injury, despite medical treatment, turned out to be permanent and left her hoarse.

Officer Anthony Paci testified that he went to the Herbin-Tyler apartment in response to a radio run for an assault. There he found Bobbie Lockett, whose injuries were immediately noticeable. Her right eye was badly swollen, and she had "a real big knot" on the right side of her face. The other eye "was bruised pretty bad," and she had a knot on her back. *fn2 She was also "scared, crying . . . didn't want to go back to the apartment across the street she was in fear for herself. . . ." Later in the trial, Paci was recalled to the stand and was asked whether he had noticed anything about Lockett that might indicate she had been drinking, such as slurred speech, irregular walking, or an odor of alcohol. Paci's answer was firm: "No, not at all."

Officer Paci broadcast a lookout for Robinson and for the car he was driving. He also advised Lockett of the procedures for obtaining both a civil protection order and a warrant. A few days later, Lockett went to the Citizens Complaint Center and applied for a warrant; it was issued, and Robinson was promptly arrested.

B. The Defense Evidence

Robinson relied on a claim of self-defense, asserting in part that Lockett's alleged drinking on August 9 contributed to her uncontrollable temper. Robinson and two other witnesses, Edward Nelson and Thomas Thompkins, testified that Lockett's behavior on the evening of August 9 suggested that she was intoxicated.

Mr. Thompkins, who had come to the apartment at about 6:00 o'clock that evening, recalled that Lockett was in a particularly boisterous mood and that she was making disparaging remarks about Robinson's sister. Thompkins also testified that Lockett was having difficulty walking and that there was an odor of alcohol on her breath. Finally, he noted that Lockett appeared to be refilling a glass from a bottle of whisky that was on the kitchen table. From these observations Thompkins concluded that Lockett was intoxicated on the evening of August 9.

Mr. Nelson, who had come with Thompkins to the apartment that evening, testified that Lockett was "very hyper" and appeared upset about the imminent arrival of Robinson's sister. He also said that Lockett was walking into and out of the kitchen, where he had noticed a bottle of liquor sitting on the table.

Robinson testified that before he left for the bus terminal the first time, he noticed that Lockett had become uncharacteristically talkative and aggressive, which made him believe she had been drinking. When he returned to the apartment without his sister, he noticed that Lockett "was really intoxicated" and that she had apparently consumed half a bottle of whisky during his absence. She began complaining about the amount of time that Thompkins and others spent at the apartment. After Thompkins left, Lockett continued her tirade against Robinson, at one point declaring, "I'm going to make sure that you understand that I mean business when I say I don't want nobody in my house." Furthermore, Robinson testified, Lockett made unkind remarks about his sister, saying among other things that "the bitch might have died before she got here."

Then Lockett went into the bedroom and returned, mumbling something to the effect of "I'm going to show you I mean business." She approached Robinson, reached down to the side of her leg, pulled out a hook-billed knife, and swung it toward Robinson. He dodged the approaching knife, grabbed Lockett's arm, and then struck her in the face. When she tried again to slash him with the knife, Robinson knocked it out of her hand, threw her to the floor, and pinned her down to restrain her movement. In an effort to make her "come to her senses," Robinson placed one hand around her neck as he continued to hold her down. *fn3 During the struggle, Robinson said, Lockett bumped her head on the floor. Shortly thereafter his sister called from the bus terminal, and he left the apartment to pick her up. Robinson admitted that, despite fearing for his safety, he never told the police about this incident.

The defense also called Alvalonzo Graham, a former co-worker of Lockett, who testified that he suspected Lockett of excessive drinking in the weeks before and after August 9. Although he had never noticed any odor of alcohol on Lockett's breath, Graham thought she ...

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