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Thelmiah Lee v. District of Columbia

May 26, 2011

THELMIAH LEE, APPELLANT,
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, APPELLEE.



Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (CTF4141-08) (Hon. Robert E. Morin, Trial Judge)

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

Argued May 10, 2011

Before FISHER, Associate Judge, REID,*fn1 Associate Judge, Retired, and NEBEKER, Senior Judge.

This case involves a traffic incident during which appellant, Thelmiah Lee, rear-ended a vehicle (causing property damage and personal injury) and fled from the scene of the accident without providing his name and other identifying information. A jury convicted him of two charges under § 10 (a) of the District of Columbia Traffic Act of 1925 ("the Traffic Act"), D.C. Code § 50-2201.05 (a)(1) (2009 Repl.): leaving after colliding - property damage ("LAC-PD") and leaving after colliding - personal injury ("LAC-PI").*fn2 He claims that (1) multiple punishments for the LAC-PD and LAC-PI charges under D.C. Code § 50-2201.05 (a)(1) violated the Double Jeopardy Clause of the Fifth Amendment; (2) the variation in the date of the accident, as indicated on the charging documents, violated his Fifth Amendment rights under the Due Process Clause; and (3) the government failed to prove that the incident took place in the District of Columbia, and hence, the trial court lacked territorial jurisdiction.

After considering the intent of Congress in enacting § 10 (a) of the Traffic Act, D.C. Code § 50-2201.05 (a)(1), we are constrained to hold that the Fifth Amendment Double Jeopardy Clause precludes the trial court from imposing a penalty under § 10 (a) of the Traffic Act for both LAC-PD and LAC-PI because Congress intended to punish a single offense - fleeing the scene of an accident without giving assistance and without providing the statutorily required information. We are unpersuaded by Mr. Lee's other arguments. Accordingly, we affirm Mr. Lee's convictions, but we remand this case with instructions to vacate either the LAC-PD or the LAC-PI conviction.*fn3

FACTUAL SUMMARY

The record reveals that on February 1, 2008, the District filed an information charging Mr. Lee with LAC-PD in an accident that took place "on or about September 15, 2007" in the "2800 block of New York Avenue N.E., Washington DC."*fn4 The information further alleged that:

[Mr. Lee] did operate a vehicle and, having caused substantial damage to property therewith, fail to stop and give assistance, together with his[] name, place of residence, including street and number, and the name and address of the owner of the vehicle so operated, to the owner of such property, or did fail to immediately report the required information to a police station or to any officer within the District of Columbia, in violation of D.C. Code § 50-2201.05 (a)(1) (2001), for which a penalty is provided in D.C. Code § 50-2201.05 (a)(3) (2001).

On April 4, 2008, the government amended the information and charged Mr. Lee with LACPD, No Permit, and LAC-PI "on or about February 21, 2008" in the "2800 block of New York Avenue N.E., Washington DC." The LAC-PD allegations were identical to those in the February 1, 2008 charging document. The allegations regarding LAC-PI were as follows:

[Mr. Lee] did operate a vehicle and, having injured any person therewith, [did] fail to stop and give assistance, together with his[] name, place of residence, including street and number, and the name and address of the owner of the vehicle so operated, or did fail to immediately report the required information to a police station or to any officer within the District of Columbia, in violation of D.C. Code § 50-2201.05 (a)(1) (2001), for which a penalty is provided in D.C. Code § 50-2201.05 (a)(2) (2001).

Mr. Lee's jury trial occurred in April 2008. Prior to selection of the jury, the trial judge and counsel for the government and for Mr. Lee discussed preliminary matters. In response to a question by the judge, government counsel stated that "[t]he accident occurred at the 2800 Block of New York Avenue, Northeast, Washington, D.C., September15th. . . ."*fn5 The judge also posed the following question: "The location of the offense has no significance, does it?" Neither counsel raised any issue about where the accident took place.

The government presented four witnesses: Charles Killens, Lance Armour, Ann Martin-Killens, and Metropolitan Police Department ("MPD") Officer Eric Brown. Mr. Killens recounted picking up his wife from her place of employment, on September 15, 2007, and driving past his home (he was separated from his wife) in the 500 block of R Street, N.W., where he saw his tenant, Mr. Lee, in front of the premises. As Mr. Killens continued driving, heading toward Annapolis, and as he crossed into the Northeast quadrant of the District, he noticed that Mr. Lee was following him.*fn6 When he crossed the intersection of New York Avenue and Bladensburg Road, Mr. Lee rear-ended him. Mr. Killens exited his vehicle and walked toward the back of it. In response, Mr. Lee backed up and moved around Mr. Killens's car and almost hit him; he did not stop to provide any information. Mr. Killens described the damage to his left bumper and rear door, as well as the injury to his neck and back which was treated by a chiropractor.

Mrs. Killens, who lived in Chevy Chase, Maryland, gave a similar account of the events that occurred on September 15, 2007. She saw Mr. Lee when his car passed by after the accident. Lance Amour, who did not know Mr. Lee or Mr. Killens, testified that he was driving his van on New York Avenue on September 15, 2007, when he saw one car run into another at Bladensburg Road. The driver of the vehicle that was hit yelled for someone to get the license number of the car that hit him; Mr. Amour took down the license number on the back of one of his business cards, wrote his name and cell phone number, and gave the card to the police officer on the scene.

Officer Brown was assigned to MPD's Fifth District as the "hit and run coordinator." He investigated the accident involving Mr. Killens, and interviewed Mr. Lee who claimed he drove a car belonging to his employer but was not driving it on the day of the accident. Officer Brown spoke with Mr. Lee's supervisor who indicated that Mr. Lee "would have had that car during [the] time [of the accident]." Furthermore, Officer Brown identified Mr. Lee's driving record which established that Mr. Lee did not have a valid District of Columbia driver's license. Officer Brown also located the car ...


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