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Woods v. United States

January 21, 2010

CALVIN WOODS, APPELLANT,
v.
UNITED STATES, APPELLEE.



Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia Criminal Division (Hon. Natalia Combs Greene, Trial Judge) (FEL6885-05).

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Blackburne-rigsby, Associate Judge

Submitted June 16, 2009

Before RUIZ, FISHER, and BLACKBURNE-RIGSBY, Associate Judges.

Appellant Calvin Woods contends in this appeal that the trial court abused its discretion by admitting the plea agreement for one of the government's witnesses. We note that the particular circumstances of this case present a matter of first impression: we must determine whether the government may introduce evidence of a plea agreement with a government witness on direct examination where the defense has stipulated that it will refrain from any cross-examination regarding bias relating to that plea agreement. Appellant also argues that the trial court erred by preventing him from testifying about his prior inconsistent statements on direct examination, especially because the court thereafter allowed the government to cross-examine him about those same statements. For the reasons explained more fully herein, we affirm.

I.

A jury convicted appellant Calvin Woods of voluntary manslaughter while armed (VMWA)*fn1 ; possession of a firearm during a crime of violence (PFCV)*fn2 ; carrying a pistol without a license (CPWL)*fn3 ; possession of an unregistered firearm (UF)*fn4 ; and unauthorized possession of ammunition (UA).*fn5 The evidence at trial showed that appellant was waiting in line at the Veteran Affairs Medical Center Community Clinic on June 22, 2005 when a car pulled up to the clinic and two men got out. One of the men, Allen Young (the decedent), approached and robbed appellant's companion Milton Boddie at gunpoint. Young then approached appellant, stuck the gun into his stomach, and said, "Give me your money, too!" Appellant handed Young sixty dollars.

After Young walked away, appellant approached Thomas Harris, a friend who he knew had a gun, and told him, "The guy who just pulled up robbed Milton." Harris gave appellant his .38 caliber revolver and said, "If you use it, don't give it back." Appellant testified that he got the gun because he wanted to get his money back. From this point, there are three different accounts of what happened next.

According to appellant, he approached Young from behind with the gun at his side and demanded his money back. Young "lifted up his shirt and reached for [his] pistol like he done earlier" and appellant reacted, firing a shot at his head, from a distance of six to eighteen inches. But one of the witnesses to the shooting, Rodney Nicholson, saw it differently: he claimed that Young had no time to make any movement before the shot. Nicholson further testified that he did not hear any conversation between Young and appellant, but because of where he was standing, he would have been able to hear their voices only if they were yelling or talking loudly.*fn6

Similar to appellant's account, Harris testified that he saw appellant walk up behind Young. As appellant got closer, Young turned slightly and reached toward his waist just before appellant pointed the gun at Young's head. Harris also testified that Young looked like he was about to flee before being shot.

The next day, Harris and appellant discussed the shooting. Appellant told Harris that he would not tell the police he acquired the gun from Harris if "anything went down." A few days later, Harris lied to the police, telling them that he did not see the shooting because he was "relieving [him]self" at the time. Also, on the day after the shooting, appellant went to the police to report that his car was stolen. In response to questioning about the shooting, appellant said he did not know about it, he just ran from the area at the same time as everyone else. Later in the year, appellant learned that there was a warrant for his arrest and turned himself in.

At trial, the medical examiner who performed Young's autopsy testified that he died from a gunshot wound to the head. Specifically, the medical examiner testified that the bullet entered Young's skull near his left temple.

II.

A. The Plea Agreement

Before trial, appellant filed a motion in limine to preclude the government from introducing the fact that its witness, Thomas Harris, had entered into a plea agreement, arguing that the plea agreement would impermissibly bolster Harris' testimony and prejudice appellant. Under the plea agreement, Harris pled guilty to voluntary manslaughter and carrying a pistol without a license and the government dropped the first-degree-murder charge. Appellant argued that the jury would be more likely to believe Harris' second account of the shooting - rather than the story he initially gave the police (i.e., that he had not seen anything because he was "relieving himself") - once it knew about the possible consequences Harris faced if he did not corroborate the government's theory of the case. Further, appellant argued that evidence of the plea agreement was relevant only ...


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