Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (F-9028-98) (Hon. Robert E. Morin, Trial Judge)
Before Terry and Steadman, Associate Judges, and Ferren, Senior
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Terry, Associate Judge
Appellant Parker was convicted of distributing cocaine in a drug-free zone (i.e., within 1000 feet of a school or university) *fn1 and possession of marijuana. On appeal Parker contends that the trial court abused its discretion when it denied his motion for a mistrial after the prosecutor made allegedly improper remarks during her rebuttal closing argument. We affirm.
In the early afternoon of December 12, 1998, Officer Edward Howard of the Metropolitan Police was working undercover in the 600 block of Edgewood Street, N.E., when he approached a woman, later identified as Kimberly Alston, and asked her if she knew where he "could get some dope." Alston escorted him into an alley and then asked what he wanted. Howard replied that he wanted a "dime" *fn2 and handed Alston two five-dollar bills whose serial numbers had previously been recorded. Alston then turned and approached a gray truck that was standing about ten feet away in the alley. After a brief conversation with appellant, who was sitting in the driver's seat of the truck, she handed the money to him and received a small object in return. Alston then returned to Officer Howard and gave him a small plastic bag containing a rock-like substance, which was later tested and found to be cocaine.
Officer Howard tipped Alston two dollars, then left the alley and joined Officer Randal Parker in an unmarked car down the street. In the car Howard performed a field test on the contents of the bag while Parker broadcast a lookout for both Alston and the driver of the gray truck. Then, while the two officers were still sitting in the car, the same truck came out of the alley and drove a short distance before parking again. By radio, Officer Parker directed a nearby arrest team to the truck's new location. The arrest team approached the truck as appellant was getting out of it and stopped him. Parker then drove slowly past the scene and positively identified appellant as the man from whom Officer Howard had purchased the drugs in the alley. He was promptly arrested, and in a search incident to that arrest, one of the officers found the two pre-recorded five-dollar bills in appellant's pants pocket.
At trial the government presented the testimony of Officer Howard, Officer Parker, the members of the arrest team, and an expert witness from the police department. The investigating officers related the events surrounding the arrest, identified appellant and Alston, and explained the system for recording currency serial numbers so that funds used to purchase illicit drugs could be traced. The expert witness, Detective Mark Stone, testified about the nature of the drug trade in the District of Columbia, the procedures used by the police for testing drug evidence, and the roles played by various individuals when a drug sale is made on the street. Finally, the parties stipulated that the sale of cocaine took place approximately 300 feet from a Catholic University dormitory.
Kimberly Alston was the only defense witness. She corroborated Officer Howard's testimony that she met him on the street and took him into the alley, but she contradicted Howard's account of what happened after that. *fn3 Alston said that another man named "Terry," who was in the alley, beckoned Howard over to him and that she did not see what went on between Terry and the officer. Alston testified that she did not know appellant and saw him for the first time when they were both arrested and placed in the police wagon. She denied any knowledge of the sale of drugs as related by Officer Howard.
During Alston's direct testimony, defense counsel asked her if she was "still very scared." Alston replied, "Yeah. Uh-huh." Later, on cross-examination, the prosecutor asked about her apparent nervousness:
Q: And, Ms. Alston, I know you are nervous. You said you were nervous about being here. *fn4 Ms. Alston, you know what a snitch is, don't you?
Q: A snitch is someone who tells on others and names names to the ...