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Lucas v. United States

Court of Appeals of Columbia District

October 30, 2014

RENALDO K. LUCAS, APPELLANT,
v.
UNITED STATES, APPELLEE

Argued November 22, 2013

Page 271

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 272

Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. (CF2-14701-11). (Hon. Robert I. Richter, Trial Judge).

Christine A. Monta, Assistant Public Defender, with whom James Klein and Jaclyn S. Frankfurt, Public Defender Service, were on the brief, for appellant.

Kristina Ament, Assistant United States Attorney, with whom Ronald C. Machen Jr., United States Attorney, Elizabeth Trosman, John P. Mannarino, and Amanda Winchester, Assistant United States Attorneys, were on the brief, for appellee.

Before THOMPSON, Associate Judge, and STEADMAN and RUIZ, Senior Judges.

OPINION

Page 273

Ruiz, Senior Judge :

Renaldo Lucas was convicted by a jury of unlawful possession of a firearm by a felon,[1] carrying a pistol without a license,[2] possession of an unregistered firearm,[3] and possession of ammunition without a valid registration for a firearm.[4] On appeal he argues that a comment made by the prosecutor in closing summation was improper and that, uncorrected by any limiting or curative instruction, the comment prejudiced his right to a fair trial. We agree that the prosecutor's comment may have implied, improperly, that appellant was guilty because he was guilty of a past crime. However, we conclude that appellant was not substantially prejudiced and we therefore affirm appellant's convictions.

I.

The government's principal witness was Officer Andre Parker, who was on duty in his marked patrol car on August 3, 2011. Officer Parker testified that around 12:15 a.m. that morning he noticed two cars parked at the entrance to an apartment parking lot and a man sitting on the adjacent curb. Thinking the situation was suspicious, Officer Parker approached in his patrol car and lowered his window. The man told him everything was " okay" but he said so in a slurred voice that made Officer Parker think the man was under the influence of alcohol. Officer Parker exited the patrol car and approached the two vehicles on foot.

As the officer approached, one of the cars started to quickly reverse. Officer Parker pursued the car on foot, and saw appellant, who was in the passenger seat, " making a movement about his waist area" like he was removing a seatbelt. After reversing about forty yards, the car stopped. Appellant got out of the vehicle and ran off with his right hand clutched at his waist. Officer Parker gave chase. Just before appellant ducked behind a parked pickup truck, Officer Parker testified, appellant removed an object from his waist area and threw it. Officer Parker " saw and heard a silver object hit the rod [sic] iron fence" that ran along the boundary of the parking lot behind the truck. To Officer Parker, the object sounded " like it was something heavy" and the sound was " of two metals clinging [sic] together,

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it was a loud bang," not the sound a bottle or a can would make. The officer caught up with appellant behind the truck and handcuffed him. Appellant told Officer Parker that he had thrown a bottle of beer he had been drinking and later explained that he ran away because he knew the driver had a suspended license. Officers searched the area adjacent to where appellant was seized. They recovered a silver and black handgun from the other side of a tall fence that bordered the parking lot.

On cross-examination, Officer Parker admitted that he was " uncertain" of the object appellant had thrown as he was pursued.[5] This was in part because the encounter occurred at night[6] and because when the officer began his pursuit as the car reversed quickly backwards, he was as far as forty yards away. He had, however, closed the distance to about ten feet by the time the object was thrown. Officer Parker also admitted that there were a lot of weapons in the area along Ridge Road where appellant was arrested. He further stated that photos taken of the area around the fence-line where the gun was found showed " a bunch of trash" and bottles, including at least one beer bottle.

Officer Bernard Lyons, a crime scene technician, testified that he processed the recovered handgun, a semiautomatic pistol, and found usable prints on the ammunition magazine, but not on the exterior of the weapon. The usable prints recovered were smudged, however, and of no value for identification purposes. Officer Lyons testified that the lack of usable prints on the exterior of the gun could have been the result of the rough material on the plastic grip of the gun, of multiple people handling the gun, of rubbing the gun against clothing while pulling it from a waistband, or of the weapon having been left undisturbed for a period of time while exposed to the elements. Officer Lyons agreed with defense counsel that generally " if somebody sweats more, there's more likely to be a fingerprint." However, he opined that this would not necessarily result in an increased ability to find prints on the grip of the recovered handgun given the rough surface of the grip.

The prosecutor read into evidence the parties' stipulation that " as of August 3, 2011, defendant, Renaldo Lucas had a prior conviction for a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year." This stipulation was relevant to the charged offense of unlawful possession of a firearm by a felon because it established one of the elements of the offense: that appellant had a prior felony conviction.

In closing, the government presented its theory that appellant ran when Officer Parker approached the car because " he had the gun that he knew he had no business having and that he threw it right in front of that officer and [the gun] was found right there on the ground where he had thrown it, where he was caught moments later." The defense countered that the reason appellant ran was that he had been drinking that night and threw away his beer bottle as the officer chased after him. Defense counsel argued that it should trouble the jury that according to the government's theory " this gun was

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found at a time when someone was nervously running from a car in August, ample reason to believe . . . . someone might sweat" and yet appellant's fingerprints were not found on the weapon. Defense counsel urged the jury to find that the government's evidence linking appellant to the gun found by the fence was weak--only Office Parker's uncorroborated testimony--and reminded jurors that they were required to ...


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