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Brown v. United States

January 6, 2005


Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (F-6889-97). (Hon. Ann O'Regan Keary, Trial Judge).

Before Terry, Farrell, and Reid, Associate Judges.

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

Argued January 21, 2004

In a four-count indictment, appellant was charged with malicious destruction of property, first-degree theft, receiving stolen property, and unauthorized use of a vehicle ("UUV"). The jury found appellant guilty of UUV but acquitted him of destroying property and receiving stolen property. The jury was unable to agree on a verdict on the charge of first-degree theft, and it was later dismissed. On appeal, appellant contends that the trial court erred by improperly coercing a defense witness (appellant's wife) into invoking her Fifth Amendment privilege and by not conducting a question-by-question review of the same witness' Fifth Amendment claim. We affirm.


A. The Government's Evidence

At around 9:30 p.m. on June 30, 1997, Denise Mayhew returned home from shopping in her 1994 green Mazda*fn1 with her daughter and her sister, Glenda Gray.*fn2 Ms. Mayhew parked the Mazda in front of her home on Nicholson Street, N.W., then locked the car and placed "the Club"*fn3 on the steering wheel. Mayhew testified that, as of that date, she had only one ignition key to the Mazda and had never given anyone permission to make copies of her car keys.

The next morning, Ms. Gray noticed that the Mazda was no longer in front of the apartment building and immediately told her sister, Ms. Mayhew. Mayhew then went outside to investigate and confirmed that the Mazda was not where she had parked it. She became very emotional, began to cry, and repeatedly exclaimed, "Oh, my God. Where is my car?" Because she had not given anyone permission to drive her car and because she was not aware that anyone else possessed a duplicate key, Ms. Mayhew called the police and reported the Mazda as stolen.

Almost two months later, on August 25, at approximately 7:30 p.m., Officer Maurice Turner was on patrol in Northeast Washington when he saw a green Mazda with its rear window smashed in and the defroster wires exposed. Officer Turner activated his police car's emergency lights and siren, intending to make a traffic stop of the Mazda. As soon as the patrol car's emergency lights began to flash, however, the Mazda started to speed away. With Officer Turner in pursuit, the Mazda reached speeds of approximately sixty-five to seventy miles per hour in a thirty-mile zone. After a brief car chase, Officer Turner was able to "box[ ] him in" at a parking lot. Appellant jumped out of the Mazda and "tried to run," but the officer caught up with him a few feet away and placed him under arrest.

Officer Turner then examined the Mazda and was surprised to find appellant's two children sitting in the car. The Mazda was later identified as the one that Ms. Mayhew had reported stolen. There was a duplicate key in the ignition. The car had been seriously damaged*fn4 and was later declared a "total loss" by Ms. Mayhew's insurance company.

Ms. Mayhew was "shocked" to learn that appellant had been driving her car when the police recovered it because she had known him for many years. The two of them had formerly had an "on and off romantic relationship" which began in 1982 and ended amicably in 1989.*fn5 They resumed their friendship after a chance meeting in the fall of 1996 and visited Florida together with Ms. Mayhew's daughter*fn6 shortly thereafter. During this trip, both Mayhew and appellant drove the Mazda, and appellant had possession of the car alone for one day. At the conclusion of the Florida trip, however, Ms. Mayhew told appellant that she did not want to see him again "because of his behavior."*fn7 Mayhew never again gave appellant or anyone else permission to drive or use her car.

B. The Defense Evidence

The defense theory of the case was that appellant and Ms. Mayhew were involved in an extramarital affair for many years, that appellant had keys to both her apartment and her car, and that he therefore had "no reason to believe that he should not have been in her car" after it was reported stolen in July 1997. Defense counsel further posited "that [Ms. Mayhew] claimed [appellant] had stolen her car in retaliation for his refusal to leave his wife." In support of this theory, appellant called his brothers, Elijah Brown and Sean Brown, as witnesses.

Elijah Brown testified that he knew Ms. Mayhew, that he had gone on a trip to San Francisco with appellant and Ms. Mayhew,*fn8 and that he had been to Mayhew's apartment about forty times and had been inside that apartment at least ten times. In addition, Elijah stated that he had dropped off appellant at Mayhew's house between fifteen and twenty times so that appellant could use the ...

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