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Longus v. United States

November 15, 2007


Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (DV3389-05) (Hon. Jeanette Clark, Trial Judge).

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

Argued September 27, 2007

Before FARRELL and RUIZ, Associate Judges, and NEBEKER, Senior Judge.

Opinion for the court by Senior Judge NEBEKER.

Concurring opinion by Associate Judge FARRELL at p. 9.

Appellant Carl Longus appeals from his convictionfor simple assault, which arose from an incident between him and his teenage daughter on April 28, 2005. He was arrested two months later on a warrant obtained by a police officer who witnessed the incident. At the bench trial, appellant raised the parental discipline privilege. The trial court concluded that the prosecution rebutted the defense beyond a reasonable doubt and held that appellant's use of force was unreasonable. On appeal, appellant argues, as he did at trial, that the government's evidence was insufficient to refute the defense. We reverse because of the lack of severity of the disciplinary force and absence of any evidence as to psychological trauma, or physical injury and remand with directions to enter a judgment of acquittal.*fn1

I. Background

The events leading to appellant's conviction took place on April 28, 2005. On that afternoon, appellant left work early to pick up his daughter J.C., then thirteen years-old, from Deal Junior High School. While en route to Deal Junior High, J.C. called appellant to ask for permission to attend an after-school basketball game. Because appellant and J.C.'s mother had grounded J.C. for prior misbehavior, appellant told J.C. that she could not attend the basketball game. When appellant arrived at the school, he did not find J.C. waiting for him. After waiting for her in his car, appellant asked the school to page J.C., and appellant also looked for her at the basketball game and around the school. Appellant searched for J.C. for approximately a half hour before calling J.C.'s mother. J.C.'s mother, also unaware of J.C.'s whereabouts, finally located J.C. at Janney Elementary School ("Janney") in northwest Washington. Despite appellant's instructions to stay at Deal Junior High until he arrived, J.C. had deliberately disobeyed appellant and gone to Janney to meet a friend.*fn2

When appellant arrived at Janney and did not find J.C. waiting for him at the front of the school, he again called J.C.'s mother, who suggested that appellant check the back of the school. Appellant found J.C. behind Janney, and according to appellant, J.C. was nervous and upset. Appellant and J.C. exchanged words, and appellant slapped J.C. on the back of the head with an open palm as they headed to appellant's car. Metropolitan Police Department Officer Laverne Green*fn3 saw appellant strike J.C. on the back of the head. J.C. testified that appellant's actions caused no pain or injuries.

Officer Green and Glenson Sitney, executive director of the Janney after-school program, followed appellant and J.C. as they walked to the car, during which time J.C. told appellant that he did not love her anymore.*fn4 In response, appellant turned around and grabbed J.C.'s clothing near her neck, causing her to step backwards into two double doors and to briefly lose her breath.*fn5

Sitney, who witnessed the incident, acknowledged that appellant did not push J.C. Instead, J.C. backed away from appellant as he turned around to grab her, as if she was trying to avoid appellant. Further, Sitney testified that appellant never struck J.C., but "just grabbed her clothing." Again, J.C. testified that she did not suffer any pain or injuries as a result of appellant's conduct.

After this incident, Sitney requested Officer Green's assistance,*fn6 and the two proceeded to appellant's car. Officer Green identified herself to appellant and told him that another parent said appellant slapped J.C. in the face. Appellant denied slapping J.C., apologized for the disturbance, and drove away from the school with his daughter.

Appellant testified that he hit J.C. on the back of the head to discipline her and as a "let's go" type motion. As for the incident near the steps, appellant explained that he "wanted to correct her as far as letting her know that I will always love you so I may have been, it may have been intimidating to her . . . ." Appellant also recounted his growing frustration with his daughter, which stemmed from her failing grades and at least one other incident where appellant arrived to pick up J.C. and was initially unable to locate her. Consistent with J.C.'s testimony, appellant stated that J.C. regularly skipped class at Deal Junior High, which in turn led to a sharp decline in her grades. Appellant testified that he and J.C.'s mother hired a math tutor to help boost J.C.'s grades, but J.C. went to the tutor only once or twice. In an incident approximately one month prior to the present incident, J.C. skipped dance class and instead took public transportation to Pentagon City, knowing she was forbidden from doing so. Although J.C. planned to ...

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