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TERRELL v. U.S.

December 10, 1998

COREY A. TERRELL, APPELLANT,
V.
UNITED STATES, APPELLEE.



Appeal from the Superior Court, Robert S. Tignor J. [721 A2d Page 958]

Before Schwelb, Ruiz and Reid, Associate Judges.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Reid, Associate Judge:

After a jury trial held in August 1996, appellant Corey A. Terrell was tried and convicted of first degree theft (of a minivan owned by Cynthia Barnes-Farmer), in violation of D.C.Code §§ 22-3811, -3812(a) (1996); destruction of property, in violation of § 22-403; receiving stolen property, in violation of § 22-3832(a) and (c)(1); and unauthorized use of a vehicle, in violation of § 22-3815. On December 23, 1996, Terrell entered a plea of guilty to first degree theft (of a car owned by Tyrone Williamson); and destruction of property. *fn1 On appeal, he raises three challenges to his convictions. In No. 97-CF-533, he claims that the trial court erred by: (1) denying his motion for judgment of acquittal; and (2) by allowing reference to "other crimes" evidence. In No. 97-CF-631, he contends that his right to a jury trial was violated because the trial court failed to obtain a written waiver of the right. We affirm. We conclude that: (1) the jury's verdict was not based on surmise or conjecture as it related to the value of the stolen minivan, and thus, the trial court did not err in denying Terrell's motion for judgment of acquittal; (2) the trial court did not commit plain error by allowing a government witness, who was a police officer, to reference his prior contacts with Terrell, nor by permitting the government to cross-examine Terrell about these contacts; and (3) Super. Ct.Crim. R. 11, pertaining to pleas, does not mandate a written waiver of the right to a jury or bench trial.

FACTUAL SUMMARY

With regard to the first stolen vehicle, the government's evidence showed that on January 16, 1996, Officer George Klein, a seven-year veteran of the Metropolitan Police Department, was on duty in a police car near the intersection of 49th Street and Nannie Helen Burroughs Avenue in the Northeast quadrant of the District of Columbia. He [721 A2d Page 959]

observed Terrell driving a Chevrolet Lumina minivan. Officer Klein, who had been acquainted with Terrell for six years, knew that he had no valid District of Columbia driver's license. The officer activated his emergency equipment and pursued Terrell who was driving about fifty miles per hour in a thirty miles per hour zone.

After the minivan crossed Gault Place, N.E., Terrell jumped out and fled through the woods. He did not put the car in the park position. The car continued to move, hit a snowbank, and damaged another car.

Terrell's defense at his jury trial was misidentification. He claimed that he was at home with his girlfriend at the time the minivan was stolen. He also asserted that Officer Klein often "harassed" him.

With respect to the second stolen vehicle, the record shows that on July 18, 1996, Tyrone Williamson reported his car stolen. That same day, a police officer saw Terrell get into Mr. Williamson's car by using a screwdriver. When Terrell proceeded to drive the vehicle, the officer pursued him. In the course of the chase, Terrell hit a telephone pole and a tree, and damaged a police car. Terrell fled on foot. Subsequently, he was captured and arrested.

ANALYSIS

The Motion for Judgment of Acquittal

In No. 97-CF-533, Terrell challenges the trial court's denial of his motion for judgment of acquittal. He argues that the government failed to prove the element of "value" with respect to the charges of destruction of property, first degree theft and receiving stolen property. Thus, he contends, his case should not have been submitted to the jury. In maintaining that "the evidence establishes that the van's value exceeded $250," the government points to Ms. Farmer's testimony that: (1) she paid $21,000 for the minivan; (2) the "minivan was 'in good working order' " at the time it was stolen; (3) the repair estimate of approximately $1700 revealed items of value in the minivan, including air conditioning, an AM/FM cassette stereo system and other articles; and (4) the person who purchased the minivan after it was damaged was able to drive it away. The government also introduced photographs of the minivan.

In determining the sufficiency of evidence concerning the value of a stolen item, we adhere to the principle that: "Value, as an element of a felony charge of receiving stolen property, must be proved with precision." Comber v. United States, 398 A.2d 25, 26 (D.C. 1979). In that regard, we have recognized that: "[T]here are different methods of proving value, and no one method is preferred over others." Zellers v. United States, 682 A.2d 1118, 1120 (D.C. 1996) (footnote omitted). Indeed, " 'the market value of a chattel . . . may be established by the testimony of its non-expert owner.' " Id. (quoting Saunders v. United States, 317 A.2d 867, 868 (D.C. 1974) (citation omitted)). The government must introduce evidence of value, however, " 'sufficient to eliminate the possibility' that the jury's verdict was 'based on surmise or conjecture' about the value of the property." Id. (quoting Boone v. United States, 296 A.2d 449, 450 (D.C. 1972) (other citations omitted)).

"Viewed in the light most favorable to the government, and allowing for all reasonable inferences by the jury," Curtis v. United States, 611 A.2d 51, 52 (D.C. 1992), we agree with the trial judge that: "[T]he jury could conclude that a 1991 van that cost . . . twenty-one thousand dollars, brand new and was in good operating order would be worth at least two hundred and fifty dollars as of January, 1996." The trial court's conclusion is consistent with our determination in Curtis that: "A jury could reasonably find that the fair market value of a nearly new four door sedan, fully operable and in good condition as evidenced by the photographs, exceeded $250 at the time of the offense." Id. While the minivan in this case was five years old, there was testimony that it was in good working order when it was stolen and that the person who purchased it, after Ms. Farmer decided not to ...


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