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Douglas v. United States

Court of Appeals of Columbia District

August 21, 2014

RONALD O. DOUGLAS, APPELLANT,
v.
UNITED STATES, APPELLEE

Argued October 2, 2013

Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. (CF2-4890-09). (Hon. Florence Pan, Trial Judge).

R. Michael Labelle for appellant.

Sharon Sprague, Assistant United States Attorney, with whom Ronald C. Machen, United States Attorney, and Elizabeth Trosman, Assistant United States Attorney, were on the brief, for appellee.

Before THOMPSON and BECKWITH, Associate Judges, and FARRELL, Senior Judge.

OPINION

Page 1046

Beckwith, Associate Judge :

A jury convicted appellant Ronald Douglas of possession with intent to distribute (PWID) marijuana.[1] Mr. Douglas now challenges that conviction, contending, among other things, that the trial court unduly coerced the jury by instructing it to reconsider the PWID charge after it twice stated it could not reach a unanimous verdict on that charge and went on, pursuant to the " reasonable efforts" instruction it was given, to find Mr. Douglas guilty of the lesser offense of possession of marijuana.

Page 1047

We hold that under our decision in Jackson v. United States, 683 A.2d 1379 (D.C. 1996), when a jury has stated or implied by its action that it cannot reach a verdict on a greater charge despite reasonable efforts to do so, and then gone on to reach a verdict on the lesser charge, a trial court may direct the jury to continue deliberating on the greater charge only if it is not persuaded that the jury exercised reasonable efforts in trying to reach a verdict. As the record here is devoid of any clear indication that the trial judge thought the jury had not worked hard enough to reach a verdict on the greater count before moving on--on the judge's explicit instructions--to consider the lesser offense, the court should have discharged the jury after taking its verdict on possession. We reverse Mr. Douglas's PWID conviction and remand with instructions to enter judgment against Mr. Douglas on the lesser included possession offense.

I.

According to the evidence at trial,[2] on February 28, 2009, three Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) officers patrolling in a police cruiser saw a Cadillac turn left off of 14th Street N.W. onto Upshur Street without using its turn signal. Officer Matthew Jones, the driver of the police cruiser, activated the police car's lights and siren, followed the Cadillac onto Upshur Street, and initiated a traffic stop. As Officer Jones approached the driver's side and Officer Brian Hallahan approached the passenger's side of the Cadillac, both could smell fresh unburnt marijuana coming from the car.

The car's driver, appellant Ronald Douglas, told Officer Jones that his license was suspended. The car had two other occupants: a woman in the passenger seat and a man in the back seat behind her. As Officer Jones was stepping Mr. Douglas out of the car and placing him in handcuffs, Officer Hallahan alerted Officer Jones that he saw some loose marijuana on the floorboard by the feet of the back seat passenger. Police then stepped the two passengers out of the car and all three sat on the curb while Officer Hallahan searched the car and found two bags of marijuana underneath the steering column above the brake and gas pedals. A chemist and an MPD narcotics expert testified that the substance recovered from the steering column was .95 pounds of marijuana and had a street value of $5,310.

The trial court instructed the jury on PWID and--at Mr. Douglas's request--the lesser included offense of possession of a controlled substance. On April 8, 2011, the jury found Mr. Douglas guilty of possession of marijuana, and the judge directed the jury to deliberate further on the greater charge of PWID, which it had been unable initially ...


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