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Pleasant-Bey v. United States

February 4, 2010


Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (FEL-7850-03) (Hon. Rhonda Reid-Winston Hon. Russell F. Canan, Trial Judges).

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

Argued November 13, 2009

Before BLACKBURNE-RIGSBY and OBERLY, Associate Judges, and FARRELL, Senior Judge.

Ali Pleasant-Bey was convicted of armed robbery, D.C. Code §§ 22-2801, -4502 (2001), first-degree felony murder while armed, predicated upon armed robbery, D.C. Code §§ 22-2101, -4502, and related weapons offenses*fn1 for his role in the killing of Frank Sinclair. We affirm the judgment of conviction for felony murder and the weapons offenses, but remand the case for the limited purpose of vacating the armed robbery conviction, which merges with the felony murder conviction.

I. Facts

The jury could have found the following facts. On the afternoon of June 19, 2003, Pleasant-Bey (who drove an early '80s Volkswagen that smelled like gas when it started) told his friend Aaron Williams: "I am going to get [Frank Sinclair's Cadillac]." At around seven or eight p.m. that evening, Pleasant-Bey pulled up to Williams' house in the Cadillac; Pleasant-Bey (who had a valid D.C. license) was driving, and Sinclair (who had been stopped a month earlier in the District for driving with expired D.C. temporary tags and simultaneously arrested for driving with a suspended New York license and no D.C. driver's permit) was in the passenger's seat. The three then drove to the home of one of Pleasant-Bey's prostitutes. Pleasant-Bey stepped out of the car for three minutes, during which time Sinclair and Williams sat in the Cadillac without uttering a word to one another.

Sensing danger, Sinclair told Pleasant-Bey when the latter returned from the prostitute's house that he did not want Williams sitting behind him. Pleasant-Bey tried to assure Sinclair that Williams was "all right," but Williams moved to the center of the backseat anyway to honor Sinclair's wishes. Soon thereafter, Pleasant-Bey snuck a pistol to Williams through a gap between the left side of the driver's seat and the driver's door. Williams took the gun, pressed it against the back left side of Sinclair's neck, and fired, killing Sinclair. Pleasant-Bey then opened the passenger-side door and pushed and kicked Sinclair out of the car.

The killing done, Pleasant-Bey took the gun back from Williams and drove to the home of Pleasant-Bey's "play uncle," Michael Square. On the way, Pleasant-Bey called Square, saying that "he needed a bucket of water, a brush, and some bleach or some peroxide." Square obliged, and Pleasant-Bey cleaned the car for thirty minutes. Neither Williams nor Square helped Pleasant-Bey during this time. After Pleasant-Bey finished cleaning the car, he drove off with Williams in the passenger seat.

Pleasant-Bey was fortuitously picked up in Sinclair's Cadillac less than two weeks after Sinclair's murder. The arrest occurred as follows. MPD Officer Hall was driving on patrol on 9th Street, Northwest, in the vicinity of 9th and O Streets, when he saw a black Cadillac heading toward him on O Street. Hall noticed that the car had a "D.C. temporary tag with the 54th series." Although the Deputy Director of the District of Columbia Department of Motor Vehicles testified that as of April 2003, the "DG-54" series of temporary license plates was not expired or recalled, Hall previously had "encountered several tags that were expired in that type of series," and decided to investigate further. After seeing the tags, Hall made a U-turn, at which point the Cadillac "proceeded to accelerate." Hall then saw the Cadillac make a "quick right turn onto 9th Street and then make a second quick right turn into [a] Giant Food parking lot." According to Hall, the Cadillac was driving at an "unreasonable amount of speed" through the parking lot, even though the lot was "fairly full of pedestrians."

After Hall "proceeded through the parking lot to follow" the Cadillac, he noticed that it was "backing into a parking space." Hall "thought at first that [the Cadillac] might be trying to flee" Hall because of the expired tags. Accordingly, Hall waited for the Cadillac to come to a complete stop because he "didn't want to cause anybody else any danger." At that point, Hall pulled in front of the Cadillac so as to block it in the parking space and activated his emergency lights.

After Hall had blocked the Cadillac, Pleasant-Bey and Aaron Williams stepped out of the car; Pleasant-Bey had been driving, and Williams was in the passenger seat. Hall asked the men to get back into the car, and the two complied. Hall then asked Pleasant-Bey for his license and registration, which Pleasant-Bey provided without incident. Although the registration matched the license plates, Hall noticed that the license plates had been altered - the "expiration date had been peeled away and restamped along with other identifications of the vehicle."

Hall then ran Pleasant-Bey's driver's license, which came back valid. Hall also remembered, however, that during roll call he received a flyer "in reference to a vehicle that was wanted in question to a homicide." In fact, when Hall checked, he saw that the Cadillac's registration matched the description and the Vehicle Identification Number on the flyer. Hall called for backup, and when backup arrived, the police placed Williams and Pleasant-Bey in separate police cars. Hall noticed from outside of the car the grip of a handgun and a magazine of a firearm protruding from underneath Williams' seat. Pleasant-Bey was then arrested for possession of the firearm and for driving an unregistered automobile.

II. Analysis

A. Pleasant-Bey's Challenge To The ...

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