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Hector v. United States

September 22, 2005

TYRONE M. HECTOR, APPELLANT,
v.
UNITED STATES, APPELLEE.



Appeals from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (M4601-01) (Hon. Stephen G. Milliken, Trial Judge).

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Washington, Chief Judge

Argued January 13, 2005

Before WASHINGTON, Chief Judge,*fn1 RUIZ, Associate Judge, and STEADMAN, Senior Judge.

Appellant, Tyrone M. Hector, ( "Hector") appeals from his conviction of five counts of criminal contempt for violating a civil protection order ("CPO"), in violation of D.C. Code §§ 16-1004, -1005 (2001). Hector argues for reversal on the ground that there was insufficient evidence to establish that he willfully violated the CPO. Specifically, Hector argues that Judge Milliken should have granted his motion for judgment of acquittal because the government failed to establish that he willfully violated the CPO due to the fact that there was no evidence that he ever had notice of the order. Because there is insufficient evidence that Hector was on notice of the restrictions contained in the CPO, we reverse.*fn2

I.

On April 1, 2001, Hector was charged with five counts of violation of a CPO. The information alleged that Hector violated a CPO issued on January 3, 2001*fn3 by contacting the complainant, Denise Downing ("Downing"), once by telephone and in writing on four separate occasions. At trial, however, the government proceeded to argue five charges of violating the CPO based solely on five separate written contacts, and no telephonic ones.*fn4

During a bench trial, Downing testified that Judge Blackburne-Rigsby signed an order requiring Hector to stay away from Downing and her two children. The government maintained that Judge Blackburne-Rigsby's no contact order was clear and meant that Hector was not supposed to contact Downing in any manner, including in writing. In his defense, Hector testified that while he was in court the day that Judge Blackburne-Rigsby granted Downing's request for a CPO, he heard her say that he was to have "no contact" with Downing, and he understood that to mean "[n]o contact, physically."

At the conclusion of all the evidence, Judge Milliken found that the government had proven beyond a reasonable doubt that Hector willfully violated the CPO issued by Judge BlackburneRigsby when he wrote letters to Downing on several occasions. After convicting Hector on all five counts of contempt based on prohibited written communications, the trial court sentenced him to 180 days incarceration on each count, with the sentences to run consecutively. Hector appeals from this judgment.

II.

A. Standard of Review

When reviewing a trial court's findings of a CPO violation, we will reverse only if an appellant establishes that those findings were "without evidentiary support or plainly wrong." Ba v. United States, 809 A.2d 1178, 1182 (D.C. 2002) (citations and internal quotation marks omitted). On appeal, "[w]e must view the evidence in the light most favorable to sustaining the judgment." Id. (citations and internal quotation marks omitted). "The proof of guilt is sufficient if, 'after viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution, any rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt.'" Davis v. United States, 834 A.2d 861, 866 (D.C. 2003) (quoting Jackson v. Virginia, 433 U.S. 307, 319 (1979)). Review of the sufficiency of the evidence, however, is not "toothless." Id. (quoting Rivas v. United States, 783 A.2d 125, 134 (D.C. 2001) (en banc). Finally, "[w]hether a defendant's acts constitute the crime of contempt, however, is a legal issue which we review independently."Vaas v. United States, 852 A.2d 44, 46 (D.C. 2004) (citing Brooks v. United States, 686 A.2d 214, 219 (D.C. 1996)).

B. Elements of the Offense

In a prosecution for criminal contempt, the government must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant willfully disobeyed a court order "that caused an obstruction of the orderly administration of justice." Id.; see also Ba, supra, 809 A.2d at 1183. "'The offense requires both a contemptuous act and a wrongful state of mind.'" Davis, supra, 834 A.2d at 866 (quoting Swisher v. United States, 572 A.2d 85, 89 (D.C. 1990) (per curiam) (citations omitted)). "[A] defendant cannot be convicted of criminal contempt where he or she is not put on notice ...


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