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Marcus Snell v. United States


March 28, 2013


Appeal from the Superior Court for the District of Columbia (CF2-13220-10) (Hon. Jennifer M. Anderson, Trial Judge)

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

(Submitted September 25, 2012


Marcus Snell was convicted of five gun-related charges stemming from an incident on the evening of July 4, 2010: unlawful possession of a firearm (felon-in-possession); carrying a pistol without a license outside one‟s home or place of business (felony CPWL); unlawful discharge of a firearm; possession of an unregistered firearm (UF); and unlawful possession of ammunition (UA).*fn1 On appeal, he challenges all of these convictions on several grounds. He first argues that his conviction under D.C. Code § 22-4504 ("the CPWL statute") cannot be sustained because that statute has been rendered "ineffective" in light of the District of Columbia Council‟s repeal, in 2009, of the statutory provision for granting licenses to carry pistols. Second, Snell makes several merger arguments. Third, he argues that the government‟s failure to turn over Jencks Act material denied him a fair trial. Finally, Snell argues that the evidence presented at trial about two firearms rather than just one constituted a constructive amendment of the indictment, which did not specify the use of two firearms. We reject Snell‟s arguments and affirm the judgment of the Superior Court.


On July 4, 2010, Joy Winslow was sitting on a porch with friends and family, including Snell, watching children set off fireworks. According to Winslow, a physical altercation broke out, which Snell tried to break up. He became agitated and pulled out a black pistol and fired it into the air. Stanley Dawson, a neighbor, confronted Snell about firing the pistol in the presence of children. Snell left but returned later that night and told Winslow that someone had just stolen his gun.

Around midnight, apparently after Snell had been robbed, Dawson‟s aunt, Jacqueline McCoy, was sitting on her front porch when Snell approached and demanded to know where Dawson was. McCoy testified that Snell was carrying a silver pistol and, after repeatedly shouting, pointed it into the air, threatening to shoot. McCoy went inside to call 911; while she was on the phone with the 911 operator, she heard shots being fired outside.

At Snell‟s trial on the gun charges, he stipulated to the fact that he had no registration certificate for any firearm or ammunition and no license to carry a pistol. At the close of the evidence, the trial judge gave the jury a unanimity instruction, stating: "[Y]ou must all agree that [Snell] either committed the first incident with Miss Winslow or the second incident that Miss McCoy described or you can conclude that he committed both." The jury found Snell guilty of UA and unlawful discharge, based on the first incident with Winslow, and guilty of felon-in-possession, UF, and CPWL, based on the second incident with McCoy.


I.The Validity of the CPWL Statute

Snell was charged with felony CPWL ("CPWL outside the home"): carrying a pistol without a license "in a place other than the person‟s dwelling place, place of business, or on other land possessed by the person." D.C. Code § 22-4504 (a)(1). An element the government must prove in all CPWL prosecutions is that the carrying was done without a license. See McCullough v. United States, 827 A.2d 48, 58 (D.C. 2003). The government does not dispute that at the time Snell committed the offense, there no longer was a regulatory scheme in the District for people to obtain licenses to carry pistols. In 2008, as part of its response to the Supreme Court‟s decision in District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570 (2008), the D.C. Council repealed D.C. Code § 22-4506 (2001), the statute giving the Chief of Police authority to issue licenses to carry pistols under certain circumstances, and did not replace it with any new licensing scheme. Inoperable Pistol Amendment Act of 2008, D.C. Law 17-388 (codified at D.C. Code § 22-4504.01 (1) (Supp. 2010)). In repealing D.C. Code § 22-4506, the Council left D.C. Code § 22-4504 ("the CPWL statute") unchanged, and at the time Snell was charged with CPWL in 2010, the Council had done nothing to amend the statute in light of the repealed licensing provision.*fn2 Snell thus argues that he cannot be convicted of violating a statute with which, he contends, it was technically impossible to comply.*fn3 See WAYNE R. LAFAVE, CRIMINAL LAW § 6.2 (c) (5th ed. 2003) ("one cannot be criminally liable for failing to do an act that he is physically incapable of performing"); Port Huron v. Jenkinson, 43 N.W. 923, 924 (Mich. 1889) ("No legislative or municipal body has the power to impose the duty of performing an act upon any person which it is impossible for him to perform, and then make his non-performance of such duty a crime."); Arrington, 585 A.2d at 1344 n.2 ("In the absence of a valid statute [a defendant‟s] prosecution[] c[annot] be maintained.").

Keeping in mind ""[t]he cardinal principle of statutory construction . . . to save and not to destroy,‟" Teachey v. Carver, 736 A.2d 998, 1004 (D.C. 1999) (quoting NLRB v. Jones & Laughlin Steel Corp., 301 U.S. 1, 30 (1937)), we conclude that the Council inadvertently neglected to address the license-requirement language of CPWL when it repealed the licensing provision and that felony CPWL remained a prosecutable offense even after the Council made it impossible to obtain a license. Cf. United States Parole Comm'n v. Noble, 693

A.2d 1084, 1087 (D.C. 1997) ("When two statutes are capable of co-existence it is the duty of the courts, absent a clearly expressed legislative intention to the contrary, to regard each as effective.") (alterations and internal quotation marks omitted). It is clear that when the Council repealed the licensing provision, it did not intend to abolish the prohibition against carrying pistols on the street, an act of particular concern to the Council.*fn4

If we were to sever the license-requirement language from felony CPWL - as the Council eventually did - the "remaining provision[], standing alone, [is] fully operative as a law." McClough v. United States, 520 A.2d 285, 289 (D.C. 1987) (internal quotation marks omitted); see also D.C. Code § 45-201 (a) (2001). Without the license-requirement language, felony CPWL becomes a blanket prohibition against carrying a pistol outside the home, unless it is registered and being used in compliance with D.C. Code § 22-4504.01 (Supp. 2010). The Council would have prohibited - and eventually did prohibit - this conduct without an exception for license-holders, see supra notes 2 & 4, and the prohibition does not run afoul of Heller, as this court has interpreted it. Although the Council may not institute a wholesale ban on carrying a pistol in one‟s own home or place of business, Heller did not extend one‟s rights under the Second Amendment to include carrying a pistol outside the home or place of business.*fn5 Heller, 554 U.S. at 626-27; see also Gamble v. United States, 30 A.3d 161, 164-65 (D.C. 2011); Sims v. United States, 963 A.2d 147, 150 (D.C. 2008).

We do not disagree with Snell that genuine impossibility is a defense to a crime of omission, see LAFAVE, CRIMINAL LAW § 6.2 (c), but felony CPWL is not a crime of omission. Although the absence of a license is an element the government must prove in CPWL prosecutions, the gravamen of the offense of felony CPWL is the act of carrying a pistol outside the home, not the failure to get a license. Thus, Snell could have complied with felony CPWL simply by not carrying a pistol on the street, outside his home.*fn6

II.Merger Arguments

A. Merger of CPWL

Snell makes three arguments for why his CPWL conviction merges with some of his other offenses and thus must be vacated. First, he argues that under the Blockburger*fn7 test CPWL merges with UF because proof of CPWL "satisfies all the elements of [possession of an] unregistered firearm" now that the Council has repealed the licensing regulations. This is not so. CPWL does not require proof that the pistol being carried was unregistered and UF does not require proof that the pistol was being carried, a narrower concept than possession. See Jones v. United States, 972 A.2d 821, 827 (D.C. 2009). The Council may replace the license requirement in CPWL with a registration requirement, but it has yet to do so. Tyree v. United States, 629 A.2d 20, 22-23 (D.C. 1993), holding that CPWL and UF do not merge, still governs.

Snell next contends that under the rule of lenity, he should not have been sentenced to consecutive terms for felon-in-possession and CPWL in the absence of clear legislative intent to sentence consecutively for each offense. "The rule of lenity operates to prohibit consecutive sentences when a single act or transaction constitutes two criminal offenses, unless (1) the offenses are separate and distinct, and (2) there is a clear legislative intent to provide for consecutive punishment." Bradley v. United States, 856 A.2d 1157, 1162 (D.C. 2004) (internal quotation marks omitted). The rule of lenity does not apply here because CPWL and felon-in-possession are "separate and distinct" offenses,*fn8 and D.C. Code § 23-112 (2001), which codifies the Blockburger rule, constitutes "the legislature‟s clear . . . intent to provide consecutive sentences" for CPWL and UF.*fn9 See Bradley, 856 A.2d at 1163; Byrd v. United States, 598 A.2d 386, 389 (D.C. 1991).

Finally, Snell argues that CPWL is the functional equivalent of a lesser-included offense of felon-in-possession. In Byrd, we held that the offense of receipt of stolen property should be treated as the functional equivalent of a lesser-included offense of theft for purposes of interpreting the statute, which specifically prohibited consecutive sentences for theft and unauthorized use of a motor vehicle. 598 A.2d at 391. In the absence of such legislative intent to prohibit consecutive sentences for various firearms offenses, we apply the Council‟s general intent to sentence consecutively as embodied in D.C. Code § 23-112.

B. Merger of UA

Snell also argues that his conviction for UA merges with unlawful discharge. Snell contends that UA requires only proof of knowing possession of ammunition*fn10 and because it is impossible to discharge a firearm without possessing ammunition, proof of unlawful discharge satisfies all elements of UA. Although the typical scenario underlying an unlawful discharge offense would involve possession of ammunition, possession of ammunition is not an element of unlawful discharge, and we agree with the government that it is possible to discharge a firearm without possessing the discharged ammunition. Therefore, UA and unlawful discharge do not merge.

III.Jencks Act Claim

Snell argues that the government violated the Jencks Act, 18 U.S.C. § 3500

(b) (2006), by not turning over statements that McCoy had made to a police officer after the murder of McCoy‟s nephew, Stanley Dawson, who was killed a few days after the July 4 incident. Snell further contends that the trial court erred in not sanctioning the government for this violation and in not striking McCoy‟s testimony. At trial, during cross-examination when it became clear that McCoy had spoken to a police officer, Snell‟s counsel objected to not having received any Jencks Act statements. The government produced the police officer who had interviewed McCoy, Andre Martin, for examination outside the presence of the jury. Officer Martin explained that McCoy came to talk with him about her nephew‟s murder and Snell‟s aggressive behavior toward her nephew days earlier. On a sheet of paper Officer Martin had recorded McCoy‟s name and telephone number and Snell‟s name and address but had taken no statement from McCoy about her observations. Officer Martin passed on the information to Detective Green, who was investigating the murder, and subsequently misplaced the sheet of paper. Detective Green‟s notes, which were turned over to the defense prior to trial, incorporated the information contained in Officer Martin‟s notes.

"The Jencks Act requires that once a government witness has testified on direct examination, on defendant‟s motion, the government must disclose "any statement [as defined in the Act] of the witness in the possession of the United States which relates to the subject matter to which the witness has testified.‟" Robinson v. United States, 825 A.2d 318, 325-26 (D.C. 2003) (quoting 18 U.S.C. § 3500 (b)). Assuming, without deciding, that the information in Officer Martin‟s notes from his interview with McCoy qualified as a statement under the Act and should have been produced, there was no prejudice to Snell in this case because the substance of Officer Martin‟s notes*fn11 - Snell‟s name and address and McCoy‟s name and phone number - was incorporated into Detective Green‟s notes, which were turned over to the defense prior to trial. See Moore v. United States, 353 A.2d 16, 18 (D.C. 1976) ("Documents which substantially incorporate notes or records of oral statements of a witness may satisfy the production requirements of the Act depending on the reliability of the reporting process and the absence of prejudice to the defendant."). There was thus no need to sanction the government or to strike McCoy‟s testimony.

IV.Constructive Amendment

Finally, Snell claims that the government constructively amended his indictment by putting on evidence of two guns when the indictment did not specify that two firearms were at issue. At trial, when the government presented stipulations regarding the lack of registration certificates for two guns, Snell‟s counsel expressed his surprise at learning that the government intended to put on evidence of two guns. Snell‟s counsel was primarily concerned that evidence of two guns would confuse the jury, and the remedy he sought - and was granted - was a special unanimity instruction. Although Snell‟s counsel objected to the government‟s putting on evidence of two guns, he did not "assert with specific precision" his constructive amendment claim. Perkins v. United States, 760 A.2d 604, 609 (D.C. 2000) (internal quotation marks omitted). We thus review Snell‟s claim for plain error. Id.; (Danny Lee) Johnson v. United States, 812 A.2d 234, 242 (D.C. 2002).

"[A] constructive amendment occurs when the trial court permits the jury to consider, under the indictment, an element of the charge that differs from the specific words of the indictment." (Oliver) Johnson v. United States, 613 A.2d 1381, 1384 (D.C. 1992) (internal quotation marks omitted). "[T]o evaluate whether an indictment has been constructively amended, the court must compare the evidence and the instructions to the jury with the charge specified in the indictment" and determine "whether [any] inconsistency between the indictment and the proof went to an essential element of the offense." Carter v. United States, 826 A.2d 300, 304 (D.C. 2003) (internal quotation marks omitted).

There was no inconsistency between the indictment - referring to firearm in the singular - and the evidence at trial of more than one firearm because the elements for each charged offense remained the same. Rather, this case was appropriately resolved with the court‟s unanimity instruction because each count "encompasse[d] two (or more) factually separate criminal incidents" and the jury was required to "reach unanimous agreement as to a particular incident in order to find the defendant guilty as charged." Williams v. United States, 981 A.2d 1224, 1228 (D.C. 2009).


For the foregoing reasons, the judgment of the Superior Court is affirmed.

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