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Vincent Workman v. United States

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA COURT OF APPEALS


February 24, 2011

VINCENT WORKMAN, APPELLANT,
v.
UNITED STATES, APPELLEE.

Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (CF1-15546-06) (Hon. Neal E. Kravitz, Trial Judge)

Argued January 12, 2011

(Amended March 10, 2011)*fn1

Thomas D. Engle, with whom Sharon L. Burka was on the brief, for appellant. Jonathan P. Hooks, Assistant United States Attorney, with whom Ronald C. Machen Jr., United States Attorney, and Suzanne Grealy Curt and S. Vinet Bryant, Assistant United States Attorneys,were on the brief, for appellee.

Before WASHINGTON, Chief Judge, KRAMER, Associate Judge, and FERREN, Senior Judge.

KRAMER, Associate Judge: Vincent Workman appeals his convictions for first-degree murder while armed, possession of a firearm during a crime of violence (PFCV) and two counts of carrying a pistol without a license (CPWL). D.C. Code §§ 22-2101 to-4502-4504 (b)-4504 (a). Workman argues that the trial court erred by declining to sever one of the CPWL counts from the other counts, and by declining to adopt his proposed language for a jury instruction regarding motive. We find no error and affirm.

I. Factual Background

Workman was charged and convicted based on two separate incidents. The first occurred on February 6, 2006, when Workman was alleged to have murdered an acquaintance. Workman was charged with first-degree murder, PFCV and CPWL for his actions on February 6. Later, on March 10, 2006, Workman was arrested. Prior to his arrest, Workman was alleged to have been in possession of a pistol that he left on the rear floorboard of a car. He was charged with CPWL for his actions on March

10. The government alleged that the pistol Workman possessed in March was the murder weapon in February.

Prior to trial, Workman moved to sever the March CPWL count from the other counts to avoid prejudice.Workman argued that joinder was prejudicial because the evidence of the February murder count and the associated weapons charges would be inadmissible at a trial for the March CPWL count. In addition, without making a specific proffer, Workman argued that he might wish to testify regarding the charges stemming from one day and not the other. Finding that the evidence in the two trials would be mutually admissible, and that Workman had not made a proffer sufficient to show prejudice, the trial judge denied the motion.

At trial, the government did not present any evidence of motive. The court proposed instructing the jury that though motive was not an element the government was required to prove, the jury could consider the presence or absence of motive when assessing whether or not the government had proven its case beyond a reasonable doubt.*fn2 Workman requested that the court instruct the jury that it could "consider the absence of a motive as support for the defendant's innocence."*fn3 The trial court declined to give Workman's suggested language.

The jury convicted Workman on all counts, and he now assigns error to both the trial court's denial of his motion to sever, and the court's giving the motive instruction.

II. Legal Analysis

A. Severance

Superior Court Criminal Rule 14 permits a trial court to sever properly joined offenses to avoid prejudice "as justice requires." Super. Ct. Crim. R. 14. To warrant severance, a defendant must show "the most compelling prejudice . . . from which the court would be unable to afford protection if both offenses were tried together." Parker v. United States, 751 A.2d 943, 947 (D.C. 2000) (internal quotation omitted). The decision whether or not to grant a motion for severance is committed to the discretion of the trial court. Arnold v. United States, 511 A.2d 399, 404 (D.C. 1986). We "will overturn the trial court's decision to deny a motion for severance only when the appellant makes a clear showing that the trial court has abused its broad discretion." Cox v. United States, 498 A.2d 231, 235 (D.C. 1985). "In order to establish the trial court's abuse of its broad discretion in denying the severance, the appellant must show the most compelling prejudice, from which the court would be unable to afford protection if both offenses were tried together." Bailey v. United States, 10 A.3d 637, 642 (D.C. 2010) (citation and quotation marks omitted). "'The most compelling prejudice' does not encompass all prejudice, for there is the possibility of prejudice whenever similar offenses are joined in a single indictment of a single defendant." Id. In seeking a reversal of the trial court's denial of a severance motion, the appellant must demonstrate more than that he would have stood a better chance of acquittal had the charges been tried separately. Id. at 643.

Workman moved for severance, arguing that he would be prejudiced by a joint trial. The trial court denied the motion because it found that the evidence in the two trials would be mutually admissible,*fn4 and because Workman did not make a proffer sufficient to demonstrate prejudice.*fn5 On appeal, Workman concedes that he did not make a sufficient proffer to demonstrate prejudice. Nevertheless, he argues that the trial court erred when denying severance because the trial court applied an incorrect standard of law. Workman's position is that even where evidence is mutually admissible,*fn6 the trial court must consider the prejudice a defendant may face by wishing to testify in one trial, and not the other. Workman further argues that his inadequate proffer should be excused because the trial court's erroneous belief that mutual admissibility necessarily cured any prejudice somehow "lulled" him into declining to make a proffer.

We hold that the trial court did not abuse its discretion because despite ample opportunity, Workman failed to make an adequate proffer.*fn7 In Roy v. United States, we found that the trial court did not abuse its discretion where, as here, a defendant claimed that even though the evidence was mutually admissible, his desire to testify in one case but not the other warranted severance. 652 A.2d 1098, 1108 (D.C. 1995). There, we stated that

it is essential that the defendant present enough information - regarding the nature of the testimony he wishes to give on one count and his reasons for not wishing to testify on the other - to satisfy the court that the claim of prejudice is genuine and to enable it intelligently to weigh the considerations of "economy and expedition in judicial administration" against the defendant's interest in having a free choice with respect to testifying.

Id. (citation omitted); see also Shotikare, supra, note 3, 779 A.2d at 340 (upholding a denial of severance where evidence was mutually admissible and defendant failed to make an adequate proffer). To warrant severance, Workman must present more "than [his] desire to testify as to one offense but not another." Fields v. United States, 698 A.2d 485, 490 (D.C. 1997) (citing Roy, supra, 652 A.2d at 1108); see also Garcia v. United States, 897 A.2d 796, 802 (D.C. 2006) ("[N]o need for a severance exists until the defendant makes a convincing showing that he has both important testimony to give concerning one count and strong need to refrain from testifying on the other.") (citations omitted). Stating a bare desire to testify on one charge, but not another, is "simply not enough." Id.

Workman had ample opportunity to make a sufficient showing of prejudice, and the court's ruling did not "lull" him into not making a proffer.*fn8 At the hearing on his motion to sever, Workman's counsel did not present argument, instead relying on his written motion, which merely stated that Workman may wish to testify regarding some charges and not others. After finding that the evidence in all counts would be mutually admissible, the trial court asked Workman's counsel if he had identified which offenses Workman was prepared to testify to; counsel confirmed he had not and made no proffer. Finally, after noting that Workman had not made any proffer sufficient to warrant severance, the trial court invited additional argument, but Workman's counsel indicated that he had none. Considering the record, we are not persuaded that Workman was "lulled" into not presenting specifics. Workman was given every opportunity to make a sufficient proffer. We hold that the trial court did not abuse its discretion because Workman failed to make a sufficient proffer to warrant severance for prejudice.

B. Motive Instruction

A trial court has broad discretion in fashioning jury instructions, and refusal to grant a requested instruction will not be grounds for reversal "so long as the court's charge, considered as a whole, fairly and accurately state[d] the applicable law." Blocker v. United States, 940 A.2d 1042, 1049 (D.C. 2008) (internal quotation and citation omitted). In this case, the trial court did not abuse its discretion because the instruction fairly and accurately stated the applicable law.

Workman requested that the trial court instruct the jury that while motive was not an element of any of the offenses, it could "consider the absence of a motive as support for the defendant's innocence." The trial court chose to issue what it considered a more "balanced" instruction, that the jury may consider "the presence or absence of motive in determining whether the government has proved the defendant's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt." Workman argues that the issuance of the instruction constitutes reversible error because it "essentially told the jury that the lack of motive was a neutral factor that could be disregarded." We disagree.

"A trial court 'need not give the instruction in the precise language that is requested.'" Payne v. United States, 932 A.2d 1095, 1101 (D.C. 2007) (quoting Campos v. United States, 617 A.2d 185, 187 (D.C. 1992)). Here, the trial court instructed the jury accurately. The instruction by no means tells the jury to disregard lack of motive - it tells the jury that it may weigh the presence or absence of motive in assessing whether the government has provedits case. Cf. Tyree v. United States, 942 A.2d 629, 641 (D.C. 2008), cert. denied, 129 S. Ct. 1612 (2009) ("Although the trial judge should give a timely-requested instruction that presents the defense's theory, the purpose of the judge's instruction is not to repeat and advocate for the defense theory, but to give balanced instructions on both parties' presentations and to convey to the jury that the defense's argument is recognized in law.").

Nevertheless, Workman cites cases where we have held that evidence demonstrating a lack of motive is admissible and argues that a lack of motive is "quintessentially exculpatory." See Martin v. United States, 606 A.2d 120, 128 (D.C. 1991). As such, he argues that the language in the instruction should have been more forceful. We rebuffed a similar contention in Bright v. United States:

[Appellant] complains that the trial court erred in failing to instruct the jury that the absence of evidence of motive was a factor to be weighed in his favor. However, the trial court instructed the jury, inter alia, that while 'the Government is not required to prove motive, . . . evidence of motive or absence of proof of motive can be considered by you in deciding whether the Government has proved the charges beyond a reasonable doubt in this case.' 698 A.2d 450, 458 (D.C. 1997). As in Bright, we find no error in the trial court's decision to issue an instruction that told the jury it could weigh the presence or absence of motive while assessing reasonable doubt, even where the defense requested stronger language.

III. Conclusion

Because the trial court did not abuse its discretion by denying Workman's motion to sever his trials, or by issuing its own motive instruction, the decision of the trial court is Affirmed.


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