Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (CF3-22757-07) (Hon. Robert I. Richter, Trial Judge)
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Glickman, Associate Judge
Argued September 20, 2011
Before GLICKMAN and OBERLY, Associate Judges, and KING, Senior Judge.
A jury convicted appellant, Donald Bates, of three counts of robbery and one count of credit card fraud. Two of the robberies, both of them purse snatchings, were committed on consecutive days in March 2006. The third robbery, also a purse snatching, and the fraudulent use of the victim's credit card occurred on the same day in September 2007.
On appeal, though appellant does not challenge his conviction for the 2007 robbery, he seeks reversal of his convictions for the 2006 robberies and for credit card fraud. He makes two principal claims. First, appellant contends, the trial court abused its discretion in denying his severance motion, in which he sought a separate trial on the 2006 charges. The court found that severance was unwarranted because the evidence of appellant's participation in the 2007 robbery would help prove his identity as one of the perpetrators of the prior offenses. Second, appellant asserts, the court erred in denying his motion to suppress incriminating admissions he made when police interrogated him about the 2006 robberies without giving him Miranda warnings. The court denied the motion because appellant was not in police custody when the interrogation took place. In addition to the foregoing claims, appellant also challenges the sufficiency of the evidence, the aiding and abetting instruction, and the court's response to an inquiry from the deliberating jury.
We uphold the trial court's rulings on appellant's motions, and we conclude that appellant's remaining claims lack merit. Accordingly, we affirm appellant's convictions.
The first robbery occurred on the evening of March 10, 2006. As Bibi Doobay was walking home, a man passed her on the sidewalk and then turned around and grabbed the purse off her shoulder from behind. Doobay described the robber as African-American and relatively short. After he snatched her purse, she saw him enter the passenger side of a large, older-model Buick or similar vehicle, which drove away. Two witnesses to the robbery called 911 and reported that the car had a D.C. license plate with the number BX-5228. One of those witnesses described the purse snatcher at trial as a young African-American man, around five feet ten inches tall, and the getaway car as an old, large, boxy vehicle being driven by an African-American male. Shortly after the robbery, a stolen credit card in Doobay's purse was used to purchase gasoline at a gas station.
The second robbery occurred the next day. As Andrea Gudeon walked home from a Safeway grocery store, someone ran up behind her, grabbed her tote bag off her shoulder, and then jumped into the passenger side of an older-model car. As the car sped off, Gudeon saw that its license plate number was BX-5228. Gudeon described the robber as a non-Caucasian man, about five feet nine inches tall, who was wearing a hat or a hood. She could not provide a description of the driver of the getaway vehicle. The stolen bag contained some groceries, Gudeon's cell phone, and her wallet, which held cash, credit cards, grocery store discount cards, and the security card to Gudeon's office building. Later on the day of the robbery, Gudeon's stolen credit cards were used at two different gas stations.
Through the license plate number, the police identified the getaway car in the two purse snatchings as a 1986 Buick Regal belonging to Margaret Bates, appellant's mother. On the night of March 11, 2006, police found the vehicle parked on the street. They put it under surveillance, and at around 4:30 the following morning, they saw appellant approach the car. Detective Neil Jones, accompanied by other officers, stopped him and informed him that they believed the car had been used in connection with criminal activity in the last few days. Appellant responded that the "vehicle couldn't have been involved in anything illegal because it was in his possession the whole time. . . . he[ was] the only one that had possession of this vehicle -- his mother's vehicle." (At trial, appellant's mother testified that appellant had primary use of the car, that she had not given anyone else permission to drive it, and that her son did not have any other car.)
The police seized the Buick and had it towed to an evidence bay to be searched. Before they moved the car, appellant asked if he could retrieve his jacket from the passenger compartment. Detective Jones did not allow him to do so. Upon searching the car, the police recovered Bibi Doobay's cell phone from the pocket of the jacket, along with a piece of paper bearing appellant's name. They also recovered Andrea Gudeon's security card from the front passenger floor board, and a tote bag containing two bags of Safeway groceries. Appellant was arrested when he subsequently visited the police station to retrieve the car. In a search of his person incident to his arrest, the police found Gudeon's grocery store discount cards.
B. The 2007 Robbery and Credit Card Fraud
The third purse snatching was on September 22, 2007. As Loren Bausell was walking down the street alone, she noticed a car -- which she identified as an older Buick or Oldsmobile -- stop in the middle of the street. A man exited the car from the passenger side. When Bausell made eye contact with him, the man bent over to inspect the car's tire. She kept walking, but then heard the car pull up behind her. The man she had just seen jumped out of the passenger side of the car, ran at her while screaming obscenities, threw her to the ground, and grabbed her purse. He then reentered the car on the passenger side. As the vehicle drove off, Bausell took note of its licence plate number: BX-5228. She also saw that the driver was a woman. ...