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Griffin v. United States

November 18, 2004; as amended November 30, 2004

JERMAINE L. GRIFFIN, APPELLANT,
v.
UNITED STATES, APPELLEE.



Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (F-9997-97) (Hon. Ann O'Regan Keary, Trial Judge)

Before Farrell and Reid, Associate Judges, and Steadman, Senior Judge.*fn1

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

Argued October 5, 2004

Appellant Jermaine L. Griffin was convicted on charges of obstruction of justice, in violation of D.C. Code § 22-722 (a)(2) (1996),*fn2 and threatening to injure a person, in violation of D.C. Code § 22-2307 (1996).*fn3 He challenges the sufficiency of the evidence with respect to both of these charges. We conclude that on this record the evidence presented at trial was insufficient beyond a reasonable doubt to convict Mr. Griffin of the obstruction of justice charge, and thus, reverse his conviction as to that offense. Because we determine that the evidence was sufficient beyond a reasonable doubt to convict him of threatening to injure a person, however, we affirm that conviction.

FACTUAL SUMMARY

The government charged Mr. Griffin with the armed murder of a young man named Vandros Kibler who apparently had stolen appellant's bicycle. The evidence of this crime was primarily the testimony of Erica Haynes, who had seen Mr. Kibler take the bike, later told Mr. Griffin of the theft and was subsequently told by appellant that he had killed Mr. Kibler in retaliation ("I had to do what I had to do."). A jury (after an initial mistrial) eventually acquitted Mr. Griffin of the murder and related weapons charges. The government, however, also charged Mr. Griffin with threats and obstruction of justice based on statements he had made to Monique Haynes, Erica's sister, while under arrest for the charged murder. The evidence relevant to those charges, on which the jury convicted Mr. Griffin, is as follows.

Government witness Monique Haynes testified that in January 1998, while she was waiting to visit her cousin and ex-boyfriend at the District of Columbia jail, she saw Mr. Griffin. He motioned to her to come over to the glass separating visitors from the inmates. Ms. Haynes complied, and picked up the telephone to communicate with him. "He told [her] . . . to tell Erica [Monique's sister] to come down to his court date which was the next day after that and tell his lawyer everything that [she] told the police." He also stated: "If [she does not] come something bad was going to happen to her." Ms. Haynes did not remember exactly what Mr. Griffin said except to "tell Erica to tell his lawyer everything that she told the police." She did not remember "what that bad thing was." However, "it was something life-threatening[,] something bad." When asked "what was Jermaine's tone of voice[,] Ms. Haynes replied: "He was just speaking regular." Later, Ms. Haynes relayed the message to her sister. Monique stated that Erica Haynes "said she was going" to the court, and she looked "scared" after receiving the message from Mr. Griffin. The prosecutor asked Monique Haynes whether she testified at the grand jury that "something bad was going to happen to [Erica's] life." She answered, "Yes." On cross-examination, Monique Haynes replied, "No" to defense counsel's question: "He [Jermaine Griffin] didn't ask you to tell Erica to lie, did he?"

Erica Haynes*fn4 also testified as a government witness. When she saw Mr. Griffin one evening, she borrowed his bike and one dollar to go to the store to get something to eat. Before she went into the store, she advised a man who had a reputation for stealing bikes not to take the bicycle. As she left the store, she saw the same man riding up the street on the bike. Her efforts to stop him failed. She again encountered Mr. Griffin while walking home and told him that his bike had been taken. Mr. Griffin said he could get his bike back. Later, while standing in front of her home, she saw Mr. Griffin speaking with the man who took his bicycle. After she had entered her home, she heard gunshots. When she went outside to see what had happened, she learned that the man who had taken the bicycle had been shot. The next day when she saw Mr. Griffin, he told her that the man who had stolen his bike was dead. He also allegedly said: "I killed him but don't tell [any]body." On cross-examination, Erica Haynes said when she asked Mr. Griffin who shot the man who took his bicycle, he responded "jokingly" and she did not take him "seriously."

The prosecutor asked Erica Haynes about the time her sister went to the D.C. jail. Erica Haynes confirmed that on the same day her sister Monique went to the jail, she reported that she had seen Mr. Griffin, and "that [Mr. Griffin] wanted [Erica] to be [at the court on the day of his preliminary hearing] so that [she] can talk to his lawyers or whoever about the situation." In response to the prosecutor's question as to what Mr. Griffin said would happen if she did not appear, Erica responded: "I don't remember word-for-word but she said that it was life-threatening."

On cross-examination Erica Haynes acknowledged that when the police first interviewed her in December 1997, she stated that she did not hear gunshots on the night Mr. Griffin's bicycle was stolen. The police accused her of lying and said she had "to be concerned about her baby" if she did not "cooperate with them." She then agreed that she had heard gunshots. Erica Haynes also admitted that she had advised her sister that she "thought some Spanish people had done the shooting." On redirect examination Erica Haynes asserted that she had dissembled about the gunshots because she did not "want to talk to the police at all" and did not "want to be snitching."

ANALYSIS

Mr. Griffin contends that as a matter of law, the evidence was insufficient to convict him beyond a reasonable doubt of obstruction of evidence "because the third element -- that defendant made a threat with the specific intent to influence, delay, or prevent Erika Haynes' truthful testimony -- was not met in this case." Hence, the trial court should have granted his motion for judgment of acquittal. The government argues that based upon reasonable inferences, it satisfied its burden beyond a reasonable doubt to prove obstruction of justice.

"In reviewing a claim of evidentiary insufficiency, we view the evidence in the light most favorable to the government, recognizing the province of the fact finder to weigh the evidence, resolve issues of credibility and to draw reasonable inferences from the evidence presented." Smith v. United States, 837 A.2d 87, 91-92 (D.C. 2003) (citing Mitchell v. United States, 683 A.2d 111, 114 (D.C. 1996)) (other citations omitted). "This court will reverse only where the government has failed to present evidence from which a reasonable mind might fairly infer guilt beyond a reasonable doubt." Smith, 837 A.2d at 92 (citing In re M.I.W., 667 A.2d 573, 575 (D.C. 1995)) (other citations omitted). The standard for reviewing the denial of a motion for judgment of acquittal is similar: "[W]e, like the trial court, determine whether the evidence, viewed in the light most favorable to the government, was such that a reasonable juror could find guilt beyond a reasonable doubt." Guzman v. United States, 821 A.2d 895, 897 (D.C. 2003) (citing Johnson v. United States, 756 A.2d 458, ...


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