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Garcia v. United States

April 27, 2006

JOSÉ E. GARCIA, APPELLANT
v.
UNITED STATES, APPELLEE



Appeals from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (F-685-00, F-5372-99) (Hon Michael L. Rankin, Trial Judge)

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

Submitted March 9, 2004

Before FARRELL, Associate Judge, and PRYOR and TERRY, Senior Judges.*fn1

After a jury trial, appellant was convicted of distributing a controlled substance (crack cocaine) and violating the Bail Reform Act ("BRA"). On appeal he argues (1) that the evidence was insufficient to convict him of distributing cocaine, and (2) that the trial court erred in denying his motion to sever the two offenses for trial. We find both arguments without merit; hence we affirm both convictions.

I.

A. The Evidence on the Cocaine Charge

On a July afternoon, shortly before 3:00 p.m., in the 1600 block of Columbia Road, N.W., appellant approached three undercover police officers who were sitting in an unmarked Jeep Cherokee. Officer Jermone McClinton asked appellant if he had a $10 rock of crack cocaine, but appellant replied that he had only a $20 rock. He then told the officers to wait, and as they waited, appellant walked up the street and spoke with Julian Fuentes.*fn2 Fuentes reached into a plastic bag and gave appellant a small round ball of silver-colored foil. When appellant returned, he handed the foil to Officer Stephanie Garner, who in the meantime had stepped out of the Jeep Cherokee and was standing on the sidewalk. She gave appellant $10 in pre-recorded police department funds and started to walk away, but appellant stopped her because she still owed him another $10. Officer Garner then handed the foil back to appellant and went over to the Jeep to get more pre-recorded money.

When Officer Garner returned, appellant was leaning against a blue Chevrolet. The officer testified that as she gave appellant the additional money, "he pointed to the back of the trunk and there was the silver ball." She picked it up, opened it, and found inside the foil wrapping a white rock-like substance. She took it back to the Jeep and performed a field test on the rock while the other two officers detained appellant and Fuentes. After the rock tested positive for cocaine, appellant and Fuentes were formally placed under arrest.*fn3

Later, at the police station, Officer Garner gave the rock and the foil to Officer Ronzell Baker, who placed both items into a heat-sealed bag. This bag was then sent to the Drug Enforcement Administration ("DEA") laboratory for analysis. The DEA analysis confirmed that the substance wrapped in the foil was cocaine base - eighty-four percent pure, with a net weight of 130 milligrams. At trial, Officer Baker testified that he wrote the wrong laboratory number on the paperwork he prepared for this case. The correct number was HZ-287, but Officer Baker wrote "HZ-289" instead. He explained that HZ-289, which appeared only once in his report, referred to a different case that involved heroin, and that it had no relation to appellant's case.

Defense counsel did not object when the cocaine and the DEA analysis were admitted into evidence. However, after the government concluded its case on both counts,*fn4 counsel made a chain of custody objection. The trial court overruled the objection because Officer Baker's testimony showed that he had merely "misnumbered" the paperwork but had not "mishandled" the evidence. The court also noted that when the misnumbering was discovered, "the correct lab number was used and the correct drugs were analyzed."

B. Severance

At the beginning of trial, during jury selection, defense counsel made a motion to limit the cross-examination of appellant to the BRA violation. The court denied the motion, stating:

If he gets on the witness stand, there is no legal reason for me to limit the cross-examination. Indeed, because one charge flows from the other, the government has ...


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