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Vines v. United States

Court of Appeals of Columbia District

July 11, 2013

Tavon E. Vines, Appellant,
United States, Appellee.

Submitted October 9, 2012.

Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (CF3-13858-10) (Hon. William M. Jackson, Trial Judge)

Edward F. C. Gain, Jr., was on the brief for appellant.

Ronald C. Machen Jr., United States Attorney, Roy W. McLeese III, Assistant United States Attorney at the time the brief was filed, and John P. Mannarino, Magdalena Acevedo, and Peter C. Lallas, Assistant United States Attorneys, were on the brief for appellee.

Before Fisher and Easterly, Associate Judges, and King, Senior Judge.



On May 11, 2011, a jury found appellant Tavon E. Vines guilty of eight separate charges, including one count of robbery, [1] two counts of malicious destruction of property, [2] and one count of simple assault.[3] On appeal from those convictions, Vines argues: (1) the trial court erred by allowing the joinder of all charges against him in a single trial; (2) his two convictions for malicious destruction of property merged under the Double Jeopardy Clause of the Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution; and (3) the evidence at trial was insufficient to convict him of either simple assault or malicious destruction of property. Because Vines' arguments are unpersuasive, we affirm.

I. Factual Background

The charges against Vines arise from two robberies on July 26, 2011, and the efforts of law enforcement officers to apprehend him in connection with those robberies on the following day. The government ultimately charged Vines with a total of thirteen charges arising from the events of these two days, all of which were joined for a single trial.[4]

At trial, the government presented the testimony of Serguei Korpein and Marcie Bane. Both Bane and Korpein testified that a young black man stole their iPhones from them on July 26. The government also offered the testimony of Jon-David Schlough, who testified that he was nearby when a man stole Bane's phone. He further testified that he overheard Bane's cry for help and chased the perpetrator to an eggshell-white Cadillac Escalade SUV. Schlough noted the license plate number on the vehicle, called 911, and reported the number.

The government also presented the testimony of Officer Robert Ferretti. Ferretti testified that on July 27, he began following a white Cadillac Escalade SUV with a license plate number similar to the number Slough provided the previous day. He pulled behind the SUV and began to "pace" it. Vines, the driver of the SUV, then began to make "evasive" maneuvers. Officer Ferretti attempted to pull the SUV over, at which point it fled down Pennsylvania Avenue toward Washington Circle. Vines then made a number of reckless maneuvers in traffic.

As Officer Ferretti gave chase, Vines drove the SUV down the wrong side of the road toward oncoming traffic at a rate of approximately 35-40 mph. Vines drove through a red light, nearly striking a group of pedestrians. The chase ended when the SUV collided with multiple vehicles in an intersection, leaving the SUV disabled. The SUV's occupants, including Vines, then abandoned their vehicle and fled on foot. Officer Ferretti ultimately apprehended Vines outside a nearby office building.

II. Joinder and Severance

We first consider Vines's argument that the trial court improperly allowed joinder of the charges arising from the July 26 robberies and the charges arising from the July 27 car chase for a single trial. Whether initial joinder was proper is a matter of law this court considers de novo. Crutchfield v. United States, 779 A.2d 307, 321 (D.C. 2001). Under Super. Ct. Crim. R. 8 (a), joinder of two or more criminal charges for trial is permissible so long as those charges are: (1) "of the same or similar character, " (2) "based on the same act or transaction, " or (3) based on "acts or transactions connected together or constituting parts of a common scheme or plan." Gooch v. United States, 609 A.2d 259, 262 (D.C. 1992). Two crimes are sufficiently "connected together" if "proof of one crime constitutes a substantial portion of proof of the other." Sweet v. United States, 756 A.2d 366, 375 (D.C. 2000) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). We construe Rule 8 (a) broadly in favor of initial joinder. Id.

In this case, we conclude that the trial court did not err by permitting the initial joinder of all charges. It is true that the charges against Vines encompassed two logically distinct sets of offenses. The first set, including the two robbery charges, arose from the events that took place on July 26. The second set of charges arose from the July 27 car chase. However, the two sets of charges were sufficiently "connected together" to justify joinder. There was a substantial overlap of evidence between the sets of charges. The July 27 charges arose after Officer Ferretti attempted to detain Vines on suspicion of his having been involved in the July 26 robberies. At the time Officer Ferretti attempted to detain him, Vines was operating the same SUV that Slough saw him use to flee the scene of the robberies on the previous day. Based on this connection, evidence regarding the July 26 robberies would have been admissible in a separate trial on the July 27 charges to show Vines' motive for fleeing from police. See Johnson v. United States, 683 A.2d 1087, 1092 (D.C. 1996) (evidence of other crimes admissible to prove motive) (citing Drew v. United States, 118 U.S.App.D.C. 11, 14, 331 F.2d 85, 88 (1964)). Moreover, evidence regarding the July 27 events would have been admissible in a separate trial on the July 26 charges to show Vines' consciousness of guilt and his identity as the perpetrator of the robberies. See id. (evidence of other crimes admissible to prove identity); see also Smith v. United States, 777 A.2d 801, 807 (D.C. 2001) ("It is well settled in this jurisdiction that evidence of flight or disappearance can be admitted at trial as evidence of consciousness of guilt."). This "substantial overlap" in evidence was sufficient to justify joinder. Sweet, supra, 756 A.2d at 375. Finally, because there was such an overlap, joinder served the goals of "trial economy and convenience" by insuring that the relevant events "need only be proved once." Gooch, supra, 609 A.2d at 264. Thus, joinder in this case served the "primary purpose" of Rule 8 (a). Id. As a result, we are unable to say that the trial court erred by permitting initial joinder.

In a related argument, Vines contends that the trial court erred by denying his motion to sever under Super. Ct. Crim. R. 14. We review the trial court's ruling on a motion to sever for abuse of discretion. Cox v. United States, 498 A.2d 231, 235 (D.C. 1985). Rule 14 permits the trial court to sever otherwise properly joined offenses to avoid prejudice, as "justice requires." Workman v. United States, 15 A.3d 264, 266 (D.C. 2011). To justify severance, a defendant must show "the most compelling prejudice, " from which the trial court will be unable to protect if the offenses are tried together. Id.

We conclude that the trial court did not err by denying Vines' motion to sever the offenses. Vines failed to make any proffer or otherwise attempt to show he would suffer prejudice from the joinder of all charges for trial, other than to argue in conclusory fashion that "[r]obbery is not of the same or similar character as the other offenses." Yet as we noted supra, evidence regarding each set of charges would have been admissible in a separate trial on the other set. Thus, it is unclear exactly how a single joint trial on all charges could have prejudiced Vines, regardless of the character of the offenses. See Bailey v. United States, 10 A.3d 637, 643 (D.C. 2010) ("[A] motion to sever will be granted only where the evidence would not be mutually admissible at separate trials."). Furthermore, the trial court instructed the jury to consider the charges separately and distinctly. On appeal, this court presumes juries to have understood and followed the trial court's instructions. Smith v. United States, 315 A.2d 163, 167 (D.C. 1974), cert. denied, 419 U.S. 896 (1974). Thus, absent some evidence that the jury ignored the court's instruction and failed to consider each offense distinctly, we cannot find prejudice resulting from joinder. The record is utterly lacking in such evidence. Indeed, the jury's verdicts affirmatively show that it acted in accordance with the court's instructions. While the jury convicted Vines of robbing Korepin, it was unable to reach a verdict on the Bane robbery. The jury's ability to consider these offenses separately and distinctly shows that it did not "cumulate the evidence improperly to find guilt or to infer that appellant had a criminal disposition." Arnold v. United States, 511 A.2d 399, 406 (D.C. 1986) (no prejudice resulting from joinder of offenses where colloquy between court and jury forewoman showed that jury reached its verdict on two ...

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