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Thomas v. United States

May 17, 2001

CHARLES A. THOMAS, APPELLANT,
v.
UNITED STATES, APPELLEE.



Before Terry, Ruiz and Reid, Associate Judges.

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

Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (Hon. Mary Ellen Abrecht, Trial Judge)

Argued December 6, 2000

After a bench trial, appellant Charles Thomas was convicted of assault with a dangerous weapon ("ADW"), in violation of D.C. Code § 22-502. On appeal, Thomas raises one direct, and two collateral challenges, to his conviction. We affirm.

FACTUAL SUMMARY

According to the government's evidence presented at trial, on November 21, 1991, Junious W. Roberts, Jr., now deceased due to an unrelated matter, took a short afternoon break from his job as a janitor with the Walter Reed Army Hospital, in the District of Columbia, during which he consumed approximately forty ounces of beer. As he returned from his break, an individual approached him and hit his lower left leg with what appeared to be a pipe. Mr. Roberts testified that he "got a really good . . . look" at his assailant, and that he "remembered his face" from "all up and down Georgia Avenue," in the District.

Detective Loren Cook, an eleven-year veteran of the Metropolitan Police Department ("MPD"), who had interviewed Mr. Roberts while he was recovering from his injuries at the Washington Hospital Center, testified on cross-examination that "[Mr. Roberts] stated that he had been drinking," but agreed that "[a]side from the fact that he said that, [he] did [not] appear to be under the influence of alcohol." Defense counsel did not pose an objection to this testimony. Although Mr. Roberts could not recall the name of his assailant, he "described the individual as a Black male, approximately twenty-six to thirty-two years of age. Approximately five foot eleven, weighing approximately 195 pounds, *fn1 dark complected . . . wearing [a] black hat, black pants and a grey sweatshirt . . . ." Mr. Roberts also stated that his assailant had "[b]rown" eyes and "black" hair.

Detective Melvin Hemphill, an MPD Officer with over twenty years of experience, testified that on January 3, 1992, as Mr. Roberts examined a photograph array, he "got to the picture of Mr. Thomas" and said, "[t]his is him right here." He then "continued to go through the stack of pictures and came back to [Mr. Thomas's picture] and said `[t]his is him right here.'" Based upon this identification, Detective Hemphill scheduled a line-up of eight individuals, and, on February 21, 1992, Mr. Roberts selected Thomas from the line-up.

Thomas was found guilty on the ADW count, but the jury deadlocked on the mayhem while armed count. Subsequently, he was sentenced to a term of thirty to ninety months in prison. He filed a timely direct appeal.

ANALYSIS

The Direct Appeal

The Pre-Trial Claims of Ineffective Assistance of Counsel

Thomas contends that the trial court conducted an inadequate pre-trial hearing concerning his assertions of ineffective assistance of counsel. "[W]hen a criminal defendant complains pretrial about the performance of counsel, the trial judge must make an on-the-record inquiry to elicit whether or not the criteria of professional competence have been met and make findings of fact sufficient to permit appellate review of the ability and preparedness of counsel to render effective assistance." Gordon v. United States, 582 A.2d 944, 945 (D.C. 1990) (citing Monroe v. United States, 389 A.2d 811 (D.C.), cert. denied, 439 U.S. 1006 (1978)). The trial court may, in its discretion, determine "`the exact nature of the inquiry . . . .'" Lane v. United States, 737 A.2d 541, 552 (D.C. 1999) (quoting Nelson v. United States, 601 A.2d 582, 592 (D.C. 1991)); see also Wingate v. United States, 669 A.2d 1275, 1279 (D.C. 1995).

The record before us shows that the trial court fully explored Thomas's alleged dissatisfaction with his counsel. Prior to trial, the trial judge specifically asked Thomas:

[I]s there anything about your preparation for trial with [defense counsel] that causes a problem for our proceeding to trial? I mean, are you ready for trial? . . . [D]ifferences in personality and style can exist no matter who your lawyer is. [B]ut objectively . . . are there any witnesses . . . is there any evidence, is ...


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