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In re D.T.

July 30, 2009

IN RE D.T.,
APPELLANT.



Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (DEL1960-05) (Hon. Fern Flanagan Saddler, Trial Judge)

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

Argued May 13, 2009

Before BELSON, NEBEKER, and TERRY, Senior Judges.

In this appeal from appellant's adjudication of delinquency for assaulting a police officer with a deadly or dangerous weapon, D.C. Code § 22-405 (b), we are presented with the question whether human teeth qualify as such a weapon. We hold that, under the circumstances revealed on this record, the teeth appellant used to bite the officer constituted a deadly or dangerous weapon, that is, an object likely to cause death or great bodily injury in the manner of its use, threatened use, or attempted use. Accordingly, the judgment of the trial court is affirmed.

I.

The petition of delinquency the District of Columbia filed charging appellant D.T. with assaulting a police officer with a deadly or dangerous weapon arose from the events of September 23, 2005, which are largely undisputed on appeal. Officers Anthony Covington and Todd Korson were on patrol in uniform in Southeast Washington, D.C., that day when, at around 3:00 p.m., they received a call that shots had been fired in the vicinity of the D.C. Alternative Learning Academy located at the 4200 block of Ninth Street in Southeast. The lookout was for a black male wearing blue jeans, a black hat, black boots and a black t-shirt. As the officers approached the 4200 block, Officer Covington spotted an individual matching that description and who looked like he had been running. Officer Korson approached that individual, appellant in this matter, and attempted to stop him in order to lead him away from the area. Appellant resisted by jerking his arm away from the officer, and assumed a defensive posture. Appellant's behavior increased the officers' suspicions that he was the suspect with the gun. The officers then attempted to subdue appellant by grabbing his arms. A struggle ensued, with appellant kicking and swinging at the officers, during the course of which all three of them fell to the ground. While the officers were attempting to pin appellant to the ground, appellant continued to resist, striking and spitting on them. While Officer Covington was kneeling down on the ground in a continuing attempt to subdue appellant, appellant lunged forward and bit Officer Covington in his upper, inner right thigh.

The officers thereafter gained control of appellant and handcuffed him. While being led away, appellant threatened the officers and their families. Officer Covington then inspected the bite wound, and noticed that appellant had bitten through his pants and punctured the skin. Officer Covington was bleeding from the wound and bite marks were visible. He was taken to the Police and Fire Clinic by squad car, where the wound was cleaned, blood was drawn, he received a tetanus shot and was started on anti-hepatitis and HIV medication. The wound required no stitches, and he did not receive treatment at any other facility. Officer Covington was placed on leave for five to six days and received a six and one-half month course of prophylactic anti-viral treatment. The prosecution presented no evidence that appellant was infected with HIV, hepatitis or any other communicable disease.

On September 24, 2005, appellant was charged with one count of assaulting a police officer, D.C. Code § 22-405 (a), and one count of assaulting a police officer using a deadly or dangerous weapon, D.C. Code § 22-405 (b) (2001). At the close of the government's evidence, appellant moved for a judgment of acquittal as to the charge of assaulting an officer using a deadly or dangerous weapon "because teeth are not a 'dangerous weapon.'" Appellant argued, inter alia, that teeth are not a deadly or dangerous weapon because "[t]eeth are not among the most lethal of civilian weaponry nor are they instrumentalities separate and distinct from the human body." Appellant also argued that the bite appellant inflicted was not likely to cause death or great bodily injury. Noting that the evidence showed that appellant "was not using teeth for any reason other than to injure the officer," the trial court denied appellant's motion. The court further found that the prosecution had proved both assaults, including that appellant had assaulted Officer Covington with a deadly or dangerous weapon, his teeth. The trial court sentenced appellant to commitment in the Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services for an indeterminate period not to extend beyond his twenty-first birthday.

In this appeal, appellant challenges only his adjudication of delinquency for assaulting a police officer with a deadly or dangerous weapon. He contends that the judgment should be reversed because: (i) teeth, as a matter of law, cannot be a dangerous weapon under D.C. Code § 22-405 (b), and (ii) even if teeth can be a dangerous weapon, appellant's teeth did not function as such in this case.

II.

a.

The question of whether the legislature has included human teeth within the scope of "deadly or dangerous weapon" is a question of law this court reviews de novo. District of Columbia v. Economides, 968 A.2d 1032, 1035 (D.C. 2009).

The criminal statutes of the District of Columbia enumerate two categories of dangerous weapons: (i) items that are dangerous per se, and (ii) items that are not inherently dangerous, but may become so under the circumstances. Dorsey v. United States, 902 A.2d 107, 111 (D.C. 2006); Reed v. United States, 584 A.2d 585, 588 (D.C. 1990) ("While certain objects are weapons by design, for instance, a handgun or a switchblade, other objects become weapons only when there is some general intent for them to be a weapon."). A weapon is dangerous per se where the item, "when used in the manner that [it was] designed to be used," is "so clearly dangerous" that it merits such designation as a matter of law. Williamson v. United States, 445 A.2d 975, 979 (D.C. 1982) (citing as examples rifles, swords and daggers). As to the second category -- items that not inherently dangerous -- such objects may become dangerous weapons if they are "'likely to produce death or great bodily injury' in the manner [they are] used, intended to be used, or threatened to be used." Id. (citation omitted); see Reed, supra, 584 A.2d at 588--89 ("[I]f an individual carries a bat to the baseball field for a game, the bat is certainly not a weapon. However, if the individual should swing the bat purposely at another, that bat then becomes a weapon.").

"Whether an object or material which is not specifically designed as a dangerous weapon is a 'dangerous weapon' under an aggravated assault statute . . . is ordinarily a question of fact to be determined by all of the circumstances surrounding the assault." Williamson, supra, 445 A.2d at 979. We have repeatedly emphasized that the "proper approach for determining what is a 'dangerous or deadly weapon' is a functional one," Mitchell v. United States, 399 A.2d 866, 870 (D.C. 1979); see Edwards v. United States, 583 A.2d 661, 664 (D.C. 1990), and that "any object which is 'likely to produce death or great bodily injury by the use made of it' is a dangerous weapon." Arthur v. United States, 602 A.2d 174, 177 (D.C. 1992) (first emphasis supplied) (quoting Scott v. United States, 243 A.2d 54, 56 (D.C. 1968)); see Thomas v. United States, 602 A.2d 647, 651 (D.C. 1992); see also Criminal Jury Instructions for the District of Columbia (4th ed. rev. 2002) (Inst. 4.07 defines weapon for crime of assault with a dangerous weapon as "anything designed to be used or actually used to attack or threaten another person," and Inst. 4.70 defines weapon for the crime of carrying a deadly or dangerous weapon as "any object likely produce death or great bodily injury"). Accordingly, this court has said that ...


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