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Williams v. United States

Court of Appeals of Columbia District

January 15, 2015


Submitted: February 5, 2014

Page 1064

Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. (CF2-4178-12). (Hon. Florence Y. Pan, Trial Judge).

Ian A. Williams was on the brief for appellant.

Ronald C. Machen Jr., United States Attorney, and Elizabeth Trosman, Veronica M. Sanchez, and David B. Goodhand, Assistant United States Attorneys, were on the brief, for appellee.

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


Page 1065

Ruiz, Senior Judge.

On July 5, 2012, appellant Eddie Williams was charged by superseding indictment with assault with a dangerous weapon (ADW),[1] possession of a firearm during a crime of violence (PFCV),[2] threats to injure another person (felony threats),[3] and commission of a felony while on release.[4] The first three charges were tried by a jury, which convicted appellant of felony threats and acquitted him of ADW[5] and PFCV. The court convicted him of committing a felony while on release. Appellant challenges the trial court's ruling admitting evidence that he

Page 1066

had previously threatened the complaining witness on multiple occasions, once while armed. He also contends that the trial court improperly admonished a witness to " tell the truth" in the jury's presence, and impermissibly based appellant's sentence in part on finding that appellant was armed when he threatened the complaining witness, even though the jury acquitted him of the weapons offenses. We conclude that appellant did not suffer substantial prejudice as a result of the asserted errors, and affirm the convictions.


All charges arise from a single incident on October 11, 2011, when appellant approached a neighbor, D.J., and threatened to shoot him. D.J. and a friend who witnessed the encounter testified that they saw appellant reach into the waist or pocket of his jeans to reveal what looked like the handle of a gun. As the jury learned, this was not the first hostile interaction between appellant and D.J. They had met about one year before, right after D.J. had moved to the 37th Street, S.E. neighborhood, when appellant put a gun to D.J.'s head and told him to " give me all your shit." D.J. said at trial that the weapon appellant put to his head, which he saw from the " corner of [his] eye," looked " like a toy gun," like a " gray or black" 9-mm gun. When D.J. resisted, appellant tried to " jack" [6] him and asked him to go to the " cut," an invitation that D.J. refused because he did not want appellant " to shoot" him. D.J. also testified that after that initial encounter appellant would call him " bitch ass" and taunt him on " a weekly or monthly basis" about D.J.'s former neighborhood, as " everybody" did.


On appeal, appellant contends that the jury should not have been allowed to hear evidence that: (1) he had once assaulted and made many taunting remarks to D.J. during the course of the year prior to the October 11, 2011, incident that underlay the charges, and (2) he was armed with what looked like a gray or black 9-mm gun a year before the charged offenses. The court admitted evidence of appellant's past taunts and armed assault against D.J. as relevant to the felony threats count because it showed the relationship between the parties and explained why D.J. would have believed that appellant was reaching for a gun. The trial court ruled that evidence that appellant had brandished a weapon at D.J. in the past was also relevant to the ADW and PFCV counts, insofar as it provided reason to think that appellant owned the weapon used to commit the charged offenses. The trial judge considered that " the probative value is clearly far greater than any prejudicial effect."

We review the trial court's evidentiary rulings for abuse of discretion. See ( Markus ) Johnson v. United States, 960 A.2d 281, 294 (D.C. 2008). We apply a five-step analysis in reviewing whether the trial court has properly exercised discretion. Id. at 295 (citing ( James ) Johnson v. United States, 398 A.2d 354, 363-67 (D.C. 1979)). Part of the abuse of discretion standard includes an inquiry into whether substantial prejudice has ensued as a result of the trial court's discretionary action. Id.

It is a longstanding rule in this jurisdiction that in order to safeguard the presumption of innocence, evidence of a defendant's past bad acts is inadmissible to prove disposition to commit the charged crimes. See, e.g., Harris v. ...

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