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Robinson v. United States

March 15, 2001


Before Steadman, Glickman and Washington, Associate Judges.

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

Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia Hon. Wendell P. Gardner, Jr., Trial Judge

Argued June 29, 2000

This is one of several pending appeals arising from criminal prosecutions in a special unit of the Superior Court established by the Chief Judge to hear domestic violence cases exclusively. The appeals raise the same issues: whether the Domestic Violence Unit, as it is called, was constituted in violation of law and was without "jurisdiction;" and whether unconstitutional discrimination against men in the prosecution of domestic violence crimes or other equal protection or due process violations tainted the ensuing convictions.

We hold that the Chief Judge of the Superior Court had the legal authority to create the Domestic Violence Unit, and that criminal cases properly may be assigned to that Unit. We further hold that the evidence presented in the instant case - which is comparable if not identical to the evidence presented in the other cases on appeal - does not show a violation of due process or equal protection. As no other claims of error warranting reversal are asserted in the present case, we affirm the conviction now before us.


Appellant Patrick Robinson was charged with one count of simple assault, in violation of D.C. Code § 22-504 (1996). His case was assigned to the Domestic Violence Unit of the Superior Court.

At trial, Sergeant Wanda Fisher-Turner of the Metropolitan Police Department testified that she was driving on Southern Avenue when something hit the side of her car. She turned and saw a swerving white car that was being driven by a young woman later identified as Laura Payne, Robinson's girlfriend. Robinson was in the front passenger seat, and two or three passengers were in the rear seat. Fisher-Turner saw Robinson punch Payne, and Payne, who had taken her hands off the steering wheel, push and strike Robinson. Fisher-Turner pulled ahead, and the white car rammed her car from behind. Both vehicles stopped.

Robinson proceeded to get out, walk around to the driver's side, and forcibly drag Payne from the car. He then pushed her against the hood, choked her with both hands, and slapped her in the face as she screamed and tried to push him away. Fisher-Turner ordered Robinson to stop, but he just cursed at her. She called for police backup, and Robinson was arrested. Fisher-Turner testified that she arrested Robinson because she perceived him to be the aggressor in the struggle outside the vehicle. She stated that she did not know who started the altercation inside the car.

Testifying in his own defense, Robinson denied that he struck or choked Payne. The other occupants of the white car, including Payne herself, supported Robinson's denial of guilt. They testified that there had been no fighting, and that Sergeant Fisher-Turner approached their car, displayed her gun and arrested Robinson for no apparent reason. On cross-examination, Payne, who was eighteen years old and five months pregnant with Robinson's child, admitted that she hoped that Robinson would help support her and the baby.

The trial judge, the Honorable Wendell P. Gardner, Jr., found Robinson guilty of simple assault. Judge Gardner subsequently placed Robinson on probation, suspending the execution of a 180-day term of imprisonment and a $1,000 fine. As a condition of probation, Judge Gardner ordered Robinson to complete the Domestic Violence Intervention Program, a treatment program under the aegis of the probation office.


Prior to trial, Robinson sought leave to file a concededly untimely motion to dismiss the information against him on the ground that the Domestic Violence Unit was established in violation of law and lacked jurisdiction of his case. In addition, Robinson contended that the Unit deprived criminal defendants of due process and equal protection of the laws. Leave to file the late motion was denied, and Robinson's case was certified to trial. *fn1 Robinson thereafter moved to vacate his conviction pursuant to D.C. Code § 23-110 (1996). In that collateral attack, Robinson renewed his jurisdictional and constitutional claims, and expanded his equal protection claim to allege discrimination against men in the prosecution of domestic violence cases by the police, and the United States Attorney, as well as by the Domestic Violence Unit.

Judge Gardner denied Robinson's § 23-110 motion without a hearing. Rejecting Robinson's claims on their merits, Judge Gardner concluded, first, that Robinson "fail[ed] to articulate any prejudice suffered" as a result of the assignment of his prosecution to the Domestic Violence Unit. Judge Gardner further concluded that the Unit was "a legitimate part of the Superior Court" and did not lack jurisdiction over Robinson's case, and that Robinson's due process and equal protection challenges were "unfounded." *fn2

On appeal, Robinson reasserts his claims of lack of jurisdiction and constitutional violation. The government has responded to those claims on their merits, without asserting any procedural barriers, even though Robinson does not contend that the trial court erred when it rejected his pretrial motion to dismiss as untimely. Since the government has not invoked waiver or procedural default, or other restrictions specifically ...

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