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Martinez v. District of Columbia

January 28, 2010

ANGELA MARTINEZ, APPELLANT,
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, APPELLEE.



Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (CTF6421-07) (Hon. Zinora Mitchell-Rankin, Trial Judge).

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

Argued November 17, 2009

Before RUIZ and THOMPSON, Associate Judges, and FERREN, Senior Judge.

After a bench trial, Angela Martinez was convicted of reckless driving and disorderly conduct, for which the trial court imposed consecutive prison sentences of thirty-five days and ten days, respectively. She appeals only her conviction of disorderly conduct, D.C. Code § 22-1321 (2009), contending that (1) the evidence was insufficient to support the conviction, and that in any event (2) the conviction violated her First Amendment right to free speech. We agree that the evidence was insufficient and thus do not reach the constitutional issue. We reverse and remand with directions to enter a judgment of acquittal.

I.

Officer Sean Hill of the Metropolitan Police Department testified that on February 24, 2007, at approximately 8:45 p.m., as he and his partner were leaving a Wendy's parking lot in the 900 block of Randolph Street, N.W., he observed a Pontiac, operated by a woman (later identified as appellant Martinez) traveling at a high rate of speed from the Safeway parking lot across the street. The Pontiac cut off another vehicle going eastbound and made a wide right turn onto Randolph Street in front of a vehicle traveling westbound. Officer Hill put on his emergency lights and siren and drove toward the Pontiac. He followed as the Pontiac continued to travel at a high rate of speed, and several pedestrians on the crosswalks rushed out of the way of the oncoming vehicle. Within a few blocks, Martinez turned into a gas station at the intersection of Georgia Avenue and Upshur Street, N.W. and stopped at a gas pump. Officer Hill pulled in behind her.

Officer Hill further testified that after he had introduced himself to Martinez, she responded: "What did I do all of a sudden, I didn't do shit." When the officer told Martinez that he had observed her driving recklessly, she got angry, insisted that she was not intoxicated, and loudly and repeatedly used vulgarities such as "I bet your dicks are hard off this," "wait until I get a fucking lawyer," and "you bitch ass police." Officer Hill added that there were passersby and customers in the vicinity, as well as a mechanic who came out of his bay at the gas station garage approximately seventy-five to eighty feet away -- all of whom witnessed his interactions with Martinez. The officer and his partner tried to arrest her, but she held her hands to her sides so that they had to push them in order to handcuff her. Martinez did not act violently or threaten violence. Nor did she direct any verbal abuse at the onlookers. Nor, finally, was there any evidence that any bystander reacted with violence or was likely to have done so in response to Martinez's behavior.

Testifying in her own defense, Martinez admitted that she had made a wide right turn onto Randolph Street, but she insisted that she had not sped or come close to hitting pedestrians. She also denied using profane language toward Officer Hill.

II.

Martinez moved for judgment of acquittal after the prosecution rested, and she renewed the motion after the defense rested. Both motions were denied. Challenging those rulings, she contends that the evidence at trial was insufficient to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that she had engaged in disorderly conduct.

In reviewing a sufficiency claim, this court will examine the evidence in the light most favorable to sustaining the verdict, and will recognize the right of the trier of fact to determine credibility and draw reasonable inferences from the evidence. See Jones v. United States, 716 A.2d 160, 162 (D.C. 1998). The motion for judgment of acquittal must be granted if the evidence, viewed in the light most favorable to the government, is such that a reasonable juror must have a reasonable doubt about the existence of any essential element of the crime. See Curry v. United States, 520 A.2d 255, 263 (D.C. 1987).

Martinez argues that the government failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt either of the two elements necessary for conviction. D.C. Code § 22-1321 provides in the part relevant here:

Whoever, with intent to provoke a breach of the peace, or under circumstances such that a breach of the peace may be occasioned thereby: (1) acts in such a manner as to annoy, disturb, interfere with, obstruct, or be offensive to others; . . . shall be fined not more than $250 or imprisoned not more than 90 days, or both.*fn1

She stresses that the government failed to prove that (1) her words and conduct were "annoying, disturbing," etc., and -- of crucial importance -- that (2) her words and conduct were either "intended," or likely to "occasion," a "breach of the peace." We shall assume, for sake of argument, that Martinez's verbal outbursts as the officers were arresting her tended to "annoy," "disturb," and "offend" at least some of the individuals (other than Officer Hill and his ...


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