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Leake v. United States

Court of Appeals of Columbia District

October 17, 2013

Robert LEAKE, Appellant,

Argued April 30, 2013.

As Amended Nov. 7, 2013.

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Esteban Morin, Public Defender Service, with whom Samia Fam and James Klein, Public Defender Service, were on the brief, for appellant. Matthew S. Hellman, Jenner & Block LLP, Washington, DC, was on the reply brief, for appellant.

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Christine Macey, Assistant United States Attorney, with whom Ronald C. Machen Jr., United States Attorney, Kenya Davis and Elizabeth Trosman, Assistant United States Attorneys, were on the brief, for appellee.

Before GLICKMAN and BLACKBURNE-RIGSBY, Associate Judges, and NEBEKER, Senior Judge.


Before us is an appeal challenging the trial court's actions following an aborted jury poll. Appellant Robert Leake was convicted of carrying a pistol without a license, unlawful possession of a firearm, possession of an unregistered firearm, and unlawful possession of ammunition.[1] Appellant contends that the trial court abused its discretion by failing to perceive the inherent potential for jury coercion following a juror's dissent in open court, and by relying on improper factors when it denied appellant's motion for a mistrial and required the jury to continue its deliberations. Appellant argues that, taken together, the trial court's actions require reversal. We disagree and conclude that reversal is not required because in this case the potential for coercion was only minimal and the trial judge's actions neutralized the coercive potential.

I. Factual Background

Appellant's charges arise out of a traffic stop that occurred on September 14, 2010, when Metropolitan Police Department Officers required appellant and two other individuals, including the driver and passenger, to step out of the vehicle during the stop. Once one of the officers asked appellant to step out of the vehicle, he noticed a bulge in appellant's waistband. Appellant was subsequently arrested for possessing a handgun.

Appellant's first trial ended in a deadlocked jury that ultimately led to a mistrial. At appellant's second trial, the jury began its deliberations on February 3, 2011, at 4:06 p.m. Thirty minutes into its deliberations, the jury sent its first note to the trial judge requesting fingerprint cards and a map. The judge granted the request without any objection. The jury continued deliberations the next day and sent a second note with two questions: " What is the legality of removing occupants of a vehicle following a traffic stop for a simple moving violation?" and " What legal basis do the officers have for removing a vehicle's occupants and handcuffing them?" The jury foreman stated in the note that these " are questions that we feel need to be answered in order to satisfy some [j]ury members in reaching a verdict." After conferring with counsel, the trial judge responded in writing: " You do not have to decide whether the officers' actions following the traffic stop were lawful. You are permitted to consider the actions of the officers in assessing the credibility of the officers with respect to the question before you: whether the [d]efendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt."

At 3:02 p.m., the jury sent a note that it had reached a verdict. The foreperson announced that the jury had found appellant guilty of all charges. Upon appellant's trial counsel's request, the trial judge polled each of the jurors. When asked whether they agreed with the verdict, Jurors One and Two answered in the affirmative, but Juror Three answered: " Sort of yes— I mean, no. Not too much." The trial judge immediately stopped polling

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the jurors, stating that: " It's important that all of you agree. If there's a question about it, I'm going to ask you— I'm going to excuse you and ask you to continue deliberations until— is there anything else you want— do either of the attorneys want to approach?"

During a bench conference with counsel, both sides agreed not to submit a Winters anti-deadlock instruction because under the circumstances, the instruction would be inappropriate. However, appellant's trial counsel requested that the trial judge provide a " brief instruction to remind [the jury] that [the verdict] has to be unanimous." Ultimately the trial judge instructed the jury as follows: " I'm going to return the verdict form to the foreperson and I'm going to ask you to resume your deliberations and let me know when you've reached a verdict or if you have any more questions." The jury then continued its deliberations.

At 3:10 p.m., several minutes after returning to the jury room, the jury submitted an additional question to the trial judge asking how long fingerprints last. After the trial judge summoned counsel, appellant's trial counsel moved for a mistrial claiming that it would be coercive to send the jurors back to deliberate with the aim of reaching a unanimous verdict after a juror had dissented openly in court. The trial judge denied the motion, observing: " I didn't tell them to reach a unanimous verdict, I told them to go back and continue their deliberations, and that will mean if they've reached a verdict or if they have any additional questions." In response to appellant's trial counsel's claim of inherent coercive potential, the judge found that " [t]he [j]ury is in the same situation as it would have been in if the juror had said in the jury room I agree and ...

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