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In Re K.A.

February 7, 2013

IN RE K.A., APPELLANT.


Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (DEL-2133-10) (Hon. Michael Ryan, Trial Judge)

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

(Argued April 10, 2012

Before WASHINGTON, Chief Judge, and BECKWITH and EASTERLY, Associate Judges.

Acting on a tip, police entered the house where Appellant K.A. lived with his grandfather and cousin, found two guns under the grandfather‟s mattress, handcuffed the grandfather, and kept him handcuffed while paramedics provided him with emergency treatment for a sudden illness. More than an hour after police arrived, and after one officer said to K.A. and his cousin Terrell, both 17, that "I guess [the grandfather‟s] gonna have to come with us," and another officer encouraged the boys to "own up to these guns" because "the old man might be going to jail," K.A. told police that the guns in fact belonged to him, stating, "Man, they my guns. Take that stuff off him." Handcuffs were locked on K.A.‟s wrists and taken off his grandfather‟s, and on the strength of that confession, K.A. was later convicted of two counts of possession of an unregistered firearm*fn1 and two counts of unlawful possession of ammunition*fn2 following a bench trial in the Family Division of the Superior Court.

Because the decisions of this court and the Superior Court‟s juvenile rules protect a defendant from conviction based solely on an insubstantially corroborated confession, and because the exceptional circumstances in which K.A.‟s confession arose leave us with qualms about its trustworthiness, we reverse the trial court‟s ruling that the evidence was sufficient to permit a conviction on the possession counts with which K.A. was charged. E.g., In re J.H., 928 A.2d 643, 652 (D.C. 2007) (per curiam); Super. Ct. Juv. R. 111. Although the only extrinsic corroboration of K.A.‟s statement-K.A.‟s ability to describe the guns‟ appearance to police-was by no means irrelevant to the question whether they were his guns, we conclude that under the circumstances of this case, where K.A. likely would have seen the guns whether he possessed them or not, it did not constitute the substantial independent evidence that is required to corroborate a confession upon which a conviction depends. In re R.A.B., 399 A.2d 81 (D.C. 1979).

I.Facts and Procedural History

At the time of his arrest, K.A. lived with his grandfather and cousin in a small two-bedroom apartment in southeast Washington, D.C. K.A.‟s grandfather,

I.A., suffered from diabetes and was confined to the apartment on doctor‟s orders, due to a recent stroke-related injury. According to K.A.‟s cousin, Terrell, their grandfather took insulin daily, and K.A. ran errands for him.

In September of 2010, I.A.‟s apartment was the subject of an anonymous tip to the Metropolitan Police Department‟s gun tip line.*fn3 At 4:10 p.m. on September 7, three officers with the MPD Gun Recovery Unit investigated the tip; they knocked on the door to the apartment and waited, hearing "scurrying" inside. After 30 seconds or more, someone on the other side of the door asked who was there, and an officer announced it was the police. Terrell testified that he and K.A. had to walk to their grandfather‟s room and help him to the door. I.A. opened the door and let the officers in.

MPD Officer Jordan Katz took I.A. to the back of the apartment, through the main room where K.A., Terrell, and four of K.A.‟s friends were seated-Terrell doing his homework and K.A. receiving a tattoo with equipment one of the young men had brought. Officer Katz told I.A. about the tip and asked if he could look around for guns. I.A. said he could.

Less than ten minutes after arriving at the apartment, Officer Katz found two handguns and some loose .38-caliber ammunition underthe mattress in I.A.‟s room. The officer who removed the guns, Michael Callahan, described them as (1) a loaded black and white Dixon Detective .25-caliber semi-automatic handgun, and (2) an unloaded black Colt .38-caliber six-shot revolver, with a black tape grip. Officer Katz handcuffed I.A., who was still in his bedroom, and told him he was under arrest for possessing the guns, since "[t]hey were in his room."

While the exact order of events following the discovery of the guns is unclear from the record, the following facts are undisputed. While Officer Katz searched I.A.‟s bedroom, his partners photographed K.A., Terrell, and the four other youths in the living room and checked their IDs. Soon after arresting I.A., the officers called for backup and brought I.A., handcuffed, into the main room of the apartment, where the six other occupants remained sitting. Officers continued to search the apartment, including K.A.‟s bedroom, but found no other guns or ammunition. After the officers had been in the apartment for about thirty minutes, at least four additional officers arrived as backup, putting at least fourteen people inside I.A.‟s small apartment, seven of whom were armed police officers wearing bulletproof vests.

It was then that I.A. began having a diabetic emergency. I.A. said he needed insulin by 5 p.m. and requested an ambulance, and the officers noticed that I.A. "started to get sick." Police called the paramedics while I.A. continued to sit handcuffed in the apartment‟s common area with his grandsons and the four young men.

While they waited for an ambulance, the officers allowed some of the people in the apartment to leave. Officer Katz addressed the room, saying, "[I]f you don‟t live here and you want to go, you guys can do whatever you want." The four young men left at this time-after about thirty minutes of police presence-while K.A. and Terrell stayed in their home. Eventually the paramedics arrived and began to treat I.A., who remained in handcuffs. According to Officer Katz, I.A. at this ...


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