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In re A.L.

December 11, 2003

IN RE A.L., APPELLANT.


Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (J1396-00) (Hon. Thomas J. Motley, Trial Judge)

Before Terry, Schwelb, and Glickman, Associate Judges.

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

Argued November 20, 2003

Dissenting opinion by Associate Judge GLICKMAN at page 4.

Following a factfinding hearing, A.L., a juvenile, was found guilty of unlawful possession of marijuana. On appeal, he presents a claim of evidentiary insufficiency. We affirm.

Viewed, as it must be, in the light most favorable to the District, see In re T.M., 577 A.2d 1149, 1151 (D.C. 1990), the evidence showed that Officer Ralph Shumac of the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) observed A.L. walking down the street with a shiny object in his hand. Shumac believed that the object was a plastic bag. Upon the arrival of the police, and after making eye contact with Officer Shumac, A.L. detoured down a stairwell towards the locked laundry room of an apartment house, stayed in the stairwell for a few seconds, and then returned to the street. Shumac told his partner that A.L. had "put something down or . . . dropped something,"*fn2 and he asked his partner to detain A.L. Officer Shumac then walked to the stairwell to which A.L. had gone, and he recovered from a drainpipe a plastic sandwich bag containing nine smaller bags of marijuana. Asked by the Assistant Corporation Counsel whether the plastic bag was "consistent with" the object that he had seen in A.L.'s hand before A.L. had gone to the stairwell, Officer Shumac answered in the affirmative. *fn3

At the conclusion of the factfinding hearing, the judge ruled, in pertinent part, as follows:

Officer Shumac, the [c]court finds, went to the area, saw the respondent in an area, saw something shiny in his hand, went to the area, [and] recovered the shiny object from where the respondent was standing. That's the [c]court's view on what happened in this case. I think it's a fair inference for me as the finder of fact to say that it was the drugs, that it is the marijuana that's in this case, the marijuana, that's not contested by - as marijuana. In this case, the [c]court bases it[s] decision on what happened. One thing that everybody agrees upon, as I've stated before, is that the respondent was stopped. He said hold him until Officer Shumac went to the area, whether he was looking over here or over there, he went to that area and said I found it, place him under arrest. The only conclusion to reach is he went to the laundry room right by there looking for something he had seen.

. . . It makes no sense [for] the officer to have stopped [A.L.] and gone to that area unless he saw something there. . . .

They saw him go down there. I think I'm comfortable beyond a reasonable doubt that that's what happened, and I find the respondent guilty of possession of marijuana. That's the [c]court's ruling.

Applying our now-familiar standard of review, and deferring, as we must, to the trial judge's credibility determinations, *fn4 see In re T.M., 577 A.2d 1149, 1151 (D.C. 1990), we conclude that the evidence was sufficient to support the finding of guilt. Officer Shumac had no reason to proceed to the stairwell unless he first saw A.L. go there with suspected contraband in his possession. Immediately after A.L. left the stairwell, Shumac followed him there and found the contraband in the stairwell. The officer testified that the bag he found was consistent with, i.e., looked like, the shiny object he had previously seen in A.L.'s possession. The judge was free to credit this testimony, and he was not required to attribute to coincidence the discovery, in the stairwell to which A.L. had hastened upon seeing the police, of a plastic bag resembling the one he had seen in A.L.'s hand. *fn5

Affirmed. *fn6

GLICKMAN, Associate Judge, dissenting:

Officer Shumac found a plastic bag of marijuana hidden in a drainpipe at the bottom of an otherwise empty stairwell that led from the street to the laundry room of an apartm ent building. What evidence connected this marijuana to A.L.? Only this: (1) Officer Shumac saw A.L. enter the stairwell and spend a few seconds in it; (2) before A.L. entered the stairwell, Officer Shumac saw him (at a distance of some thirty yards) holding "a shiny object which appeared to be a plastic bag"; and (3) the bag of marijuana that ...


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