Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (FEL6944-05) (Hon. Lee F. Satterfield, Trial Judge).
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Nebeker, Associate Judge
Submitted October 7, 2010
Before REID and BLACKBURNE-RIGSBY, Associate Judges, and NEBEKER, Senior Judge.
Following a seven day jury trial, appellant Carl Williams was convicted of one count of first-degree murder while armed in violation of D.C. Code §§ 22-2101, -4502 for the shooting death of Ephraim Agee. On appeal, he contends that the trial court committed reversible error by failing to instruct the jury in the words requested on the defense's theory of innocence. We disagree and affirm.
The government's case, prosecuted thirteen years after the death of Ephraim Agee, primarily rested on the testimony of three witnesses identifying appellant as the shooter. Appellant meticulously attacked the credibility of each of the three witnesses and was successful in highlighting their many weaknesses. At the appropriate time during the trial, appellant submitted the following proposed jury instructions on the defendant's theory of the case:
Carl Williams has been associated with this shooting because of a longstanding rumor. The witnesses that identify Mr. Williams as the shooter are mistaken, unreliable, and their stories are inconsistent. Carl Williams did not shoot Ephraim Agee.
These declarative sentences are the equivalent of a judgment of acquittal under Super. Ct. Crim. R. 29, and so construed, were inappropriate and quite inconsistent with presenting the case to the jury.
On government's objection to the proffered instruction, the court instructed the jury that
[T]he defendant's theory of the case is that the witnesses that identified him as the shooter are mistaken, unreliable and their stories are inconsistent. The defendant's theory [is] that [he] did not shoot Ephraim Agee.
The court did not instruct the jury that on the first sentence of defendant's proposed jury instructions, that "Williams [was] associated with this shooting because of a long-standing rumor."*fn1 It also refused to instruct the jury in the absolute declarations of the next two sentences.
A defendant is entitled to instructions that "fairly and fully" present his theory of the case "when properly requested by counsel and when... supported by [some] evidence." Stack v. United States, 519 A.2d 147, 154-55 (D.C. 1986) ((quoting Montgomery v. United States, 384 A.2d 655, 660-61 (D.C. 1978)). It is well settled that the trial court need not provide the instructions in the exact language requested. Id. at 154. Nor is the court to rehearse defendant's evidence. Id. The defendant is simply entitled to an instruction that adequately presents his theory of the case to the jury. Id. at 155.
An important, albeit somewhat obvious, caveat is that the defendant is only entitled to instructions on defenses that are recognized in the law. This is so because the purpose of providing instructions to the jury is to inform the jury of the "legal principles [it] is to apply in its deliberations." Tyree v. United States, 942 A.2d 629, 641 (D.C. 2008) (internal citations omitted). When the trial judge instructs the jury on the defense theory of the case, the court "convey[s] to the jury that the defense's argument is recognized in law." Id. at 641; see also Stack, ...