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Inyamah v. United States

September 11, 2008

CHIDIEBERE P. INYAMAH, APPELLANT,
v.
UNITED STATES, APPELLEE.



Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (FEL2642-04) (Hon. Thomas J. Motley, Trial Judge).

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

Argued January 10, 2008

Before REID and GLICKMAN, Associate Judges, and SCHWELB, Senior Judge.

Appellant, Chidiebere P. Inyamah, appeals the trial court's judgment convicting him of carrying a pistol without a license ("CPWL")*fn1 and possession of an unregistered firearm.*fn2 He complains that the trial court's aiding and abetting instruction constituted reversible error. We affirm the judgment of the trial court.

FACTUAL SUMMARY

The government presented testimony from officers and employees of the Metropolitan Police Department ("MPD") showing that around 2:30 a.m. on April 22, 2004, MPD Officer Kayode Sodimu was driving a marked police car around Tenth and Quincy Streets, in the Northwest quadrant of the District, when he "heard a couple of gunshots." With him in the police vehicle were MPD Officers Vernon Copeland and Ismael Chapa.*fn3 As Officer Sodimu drove toward Georgia Avenue, two more shots rang out, and he saw a fast moving red car pass in front of him. Officer Sodimu activated his lights and siren and pursued the red car as the driver turned off his lights, ignored red street lights, and sped through the streets at 80 to 90 miles an hour. When the red car approached Grant Circle, the driver lost control and the car "went airborne and landed on a transformer right away." Officer Sodimu positioned his vehicle behind the red car and he watched as the passenger and driver side doors opened. The man on the passenger side, later identified as Mr. Inyamah, began to exit the car. Officer Sodimu saw a gun in Mr. Inyamah's hand and witnessed him throw the gun on the ground. Officer Sodimu went up to the car, noticed that both air bags in the red car had deployed, and he chased and detained the driver at gunpoint. While he apprehended the driver, Officers Copeland and Chapa chased Mr. Inyamah as he fled on foot.

Officer Copeland, who was seated in the back passenger seat, saw Mr. Inyamah getting out of the red car after it crashed, but the officer did not notice anything in his hand and did not see him toss anything. However, Officer Chapa testified that he "observed the passenger throw a dark object out of the vehicle"; when the prosecutor asked whether Officer Chapa "actually s[aw] the object in the possession of the passenger of the vehicle," he replied, "Yes, I did." Officer Chapa never saw the driver of the red car throw any object. Both Officers Chapa and Copeland ran after Mr. Inyamah and apprehended him. Then, Officer Chapa returned to the area where Mr. Inyamah threw the dark object. There, he "saw a black revolver laying on the ground near the car."

MPD Officers Elliott Pazornick and Karl Turner, crime scene search officers, were dispatched to Grant Circle around 3:30 a.m. on April 22.*fn4 Officer Sodimu showed the technicians where the gun was located. Officer Turner took pictures, and both Officer Turner and Officer Pazornick measured the distance between the red car and the revolver, determining that the gun was "[a]pproximately six feet, six inches from the [passenger side of the] vehicle."

Through Officer Chapa, the government introduced evidence establishing that Mr. Inyamah had no license to carry a pistol and no registration for a gun. Officer Chapa identified (1) an MPD sealed certificate bearing Mr. Inyamah's name and "stat[ing] that there is no record of the defendant with a certification or a registration or a certificate for a weapon in [the District][,] . . . [nor] any record of registry of ammunition to the defendant"; and (2) an MPD sealed certificate "stat[ing] that the defendant has no certificate or license to carry a pistol in the District of Columbia."

ANALYSIS

Mr. Inyamah challenges the trial court's instruction on an aiding and abetting theory of guilt. Specifically, he asserts:

Given the critical deficiency in the government's proof that the would-be principal, [the driver of the red car], was not licensed to carry a gun, and given the prosecutor's own admission that the jury readily could have concluded that Mr. Inyamah aided and abetted [the driver's] commission of a CPWL offense, the trial court's decision to instruct the jury on an aiding and abetting theory that was irrefutably unsupported by the evidence was reversible error.

Mr. Inyamah re-emphasizes and maintains in his reply brief that both the CPWL and the possession of an unregistered firearm charges "were tainted by the government's now conceded failure to prove that the principal, [the driver of the red car], had no license to carry a firearm and that the firearm was not registered to him." He concludes that: "The [trial] court gave an instruction that was legally incorrect, and it is easily conceivable that the jury, at the prosecutor's urging, would have convicted Mr. Inyamah on an aiding and abetting theory without realizing -- as the trial court and the prosecutor also apparently did not realize -- that such a conviction would require a finding that [the driver of the red car], not Mr. Inyamah, was not licensed to carry the gun and that the gun was not registered in his name."

The government agrees that "there was no evidence that the driver of the red car lacked a license to carry a pistol and, thus, [Mr. Inyamah] could not have aided and abetted the driver's commission of that crime." Nevertheless, the government maintains that "[b]ecause there was sufficient evidence that [Mr. Inyamah] committed the crime of carrying a pistol without a license and possession of an unregistered firearm as a principal, [] his conviction must be affirmed." The government also contends that Mr. Inyamah "conflate[s] evidentiary insufficiency with instructional ...


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