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In re D.P.

Court of Appeals of Columbia District

August 13, 2015

IN RE D.P., APPELLANT

Argued May 14, 2015

Page 904

Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. (DEL-2275-12). (Hon. Florence Y. Pan, Trial Judge).

Aaron Marr Page, with whom Randy Evan McDonald was on the brief, for appellant.

John D. Martorana, Assistant Attorney General, with whom Eugene A. Adams, Interim Attorney General for the District of Columbia, Todd S. Kim, Solicitor General, Rosalyn Calbert Groce, Deputy Solicitor General, and John J. Woykovsky, Assistant Attorney General, were on the brief, for appellee.

Before FISHER and EASTERLY, Associate Judges, and FARRELL, Senior Judge.

OPINION

Page 905

Easterly, Associate Judge :

As sixteen-year-old D.P. was traveling home from school on a crowded Metrobus, she and two girlfriends started a fight with M.G., another girl from a different high school. The entire incident was captured on video by the Metrobus camera. From start to finish, the fight lasted approximately fourteen seconds. D.P. and her friends pushed through other passengers standing in the aisle to get at M.G., exchanged blows with M.G., and then got off the bus. M.G. stood her ground for most of the incident but, at the very end, disappeared from view. Apparently, she hit her head on a pole, and she was knocked unconscious. A friend of M.G.'s helped her into a seat, where she quickly revived. Minutes later, M.G. walked off the bus and declined to go to the hospital.

One of D.P.'s friends pled out to simple assault, a misdemeanor, and the other friend's case was apparently never adjudicated. But D.P. went to trial. The trial court adjudicated her delinquent after finding her involved in the most severe form of assault in the District, aggravated assault, as well as its lesser included offense, assault with significant bodily injury, both felonies. D.P. now appeals, arguing that the evidence was insufficient to support a finding of her guilt of (or involvement in) either crime. We agree.

Fights on public transit are unquestionably a cause for concern, and D.P.'s actions cannot be condoned, but D.P. did not engage in felonious conduct in this case. As to aggravated assault, the evidence is at the very least inadequate to demonstrate that D.P. possessed the requisite mens rea under the government's theory of the case: extreme indifference to human life, equivalent to the mental state required for second-degree murder. As to assault with significant bodily injury (" felony assault" ), M.G.'s minimal bruising and brief unconsciousness do not, under this court's binding precedent, amount to the kind of " significant" injury that would take this incident out of the realm of simple assault. Thus, we reverse and remand.

I. Facts[1]

Around 3:35 p.m. on September 27, 2012, sixteen-year-old D.P. boarded a Metrobus along with several other teenage companions, including codefendants M.P. and I.C. The group, identifiable as students from the same school by their matching school uniforms, filed onto the bus and seated themselves in the rearmost several rows.

Page 906

There, the schoolmates engaged in typical teenage socializing and horsing around. One student shared his snacks with M.P. and I.C.; another young man perched briefly on M.P.'s lap; and a third student showed off a dance move. D.P. and her schoolmates chatted and laughed, gestured across the aisle, and stood frequently to switch seats.

Then, around 3:45 p.m., fifteen-year-old M.G. boarded the bus with H.A. and another group of teenagers; they were also wearing school uniforms, but theirs were different from those of D.P. and her companions. M.G. and her schoolmates moved to the center area of the articulated (double-length) bus. By this time, the bus was quite crowded, and there were no more seats available. M.G. and H.A. squeezed in alongside other standing passengers, holding onto the bus railings.

M.G. noticed D.P. and her friends in the back of the bus; she testified that they were being " loud," and were shouting for the students from M.G.'s school to come to the back of the bus. H.A. additionally testified that teenagers at the back of the bus were " yelling" that students from his and M.G.'s school were " ...


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