September 30, 2015.
from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia.
(CMD-955-14). (Hon. Truman A. Morrison III, Trial Judge).
Koehler was on the brief for appellant.
C. Machen Jr., United States Attorney at the time the brief
was filed, and Elizabeth Trosman and David P. Saybolt,
Assistant United States Attorneys, were on the brief for
BLACKBURNE-RIGSBY and MCLEESE, Associate Judges, and FARRELL,
McLeese, Associate Judge:
Appellant DeAndre Brooks seeks reversal of his convictions
for assault on a police officer and possession of drug
paraphernalia. Mr. Brooks challenges the sufficiency of the
evidence to support his conviction for possession of drug
paraphernalia. He also argues that the trial court abused its
discretion by refusing to continue the trial to permit
further plea negotiations. We hold that the evidence was
insufficient to support Mr. Brooks's conviction for
possession of drug paraphernalia. We also hold that the trial
court acted within its discretion in denying a continuance.
United States's evidence at trial was as follows. United
States Park Police investigators encountered Mr. Brooks and
three other men while searching for robbery suspects. One of
the men was arrested after he fled and discarded a backpack
containing a handgun. When the police asked Mr. Brooks and
the other two men to stop, Mr. Brooks turned and walked away.
An officer touched Mr. Brooks's shoulder, and Mr. Brooks
" swatted" away the officer's hand and struck
the officer's forearm. The officer attempted to place Mr.
Brooks under arrest, but Mr. Brooks flailed about, kicking
and trying to break free. The police arrested Mr. Brooks for
assaulting a police officer.
search incident to the arrest, one of the officers, a
twelve-year veteran assigned to investigate narcotics and
vice offenses, found in Mr. Brooks's pants pocket "
a metal grinder with a picture of Bob Marley on the front
that is commonly used for grinding up marijuana."
Another officer, who was assigned to the Narcotics Unit and
had been involved in over 500 drug operations, testified that
he had recovered grinders numerous times. That officer
further explained that grinders are used to grind up
marijuana by people who smoke marijuana, and that when
officers arrest people with grinders, there typically is
green plant material in the grinders. Police also seized a
black ski mask and four cell phones from Mr. Brooks.
defense put on no witnesses. After closing arguments, the
trial court found Mr. Brooks guilty, explaining:
I find that although there is not a rich amount of detail
about Bob Marley grinders, the last witness has told us that
he has seized them on many occasions, that they are commonly
used to grind marijuana and I think that is enough to infer
an intent to use in the absence of any other explanation
emerging from the evidence that would cast a doubt on that .
. . .
Brooks challenges his conviction for possession of drug
paraphernalia, arguing that there was insufficient evidence
that he intended to use the grinder for drug-related
purposes. See D.C. Code § 48-1103 (a)(1) (2015
Supp.) (prohibiting possession of drug paraphernalia with
intent to use to, e.g., " process," "
prepare," " contain," " or otherwise
introduce into the human body a controlled substance" ).
considering a challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence,
" we view the evidence in the light most favorable to
the government, giving full play to the right of the
[fact-finder] to determine credibility, weigh the evidence,
and draw justifiable inferences of fact, and making no
distinction between direct and circumstantial evidence."
Medley v. United States, 104 A.3d 115, 127 n.16
(D.C. 2014) (internal quotation marks omitted). " [T]he
evidence is sufficient if, after viewing it in the light most
favorable to the prosecution, any rational trier of
fact could have found the essential elements of the crime
beyond a reasonable doubt . . . ." (
Tamara) Smith v. United States, 55 A.3d 884, 887
(D.C. 2012) (internal quotation marks omitted). This court
will not reverse a trial court's factual findings after a
bench trial unless those findings are " plainly wrong or
without evidence to support [them]." D.C. Code §
17-305 (a) (2012 Repl.). On the other hand, " although a
[fact-finder] is entitled to draw a vast range of reasonable
inferences from evidence, [the fact-finder] may not base a
verdict on mere speculation." Schools v. United
States, 84 A.3d 503, 508 (D.C. 2013) (internal quotation
marks and citation omitted). " [A]ppellate review of
sufficiency of the evidence is [not] toothless," and
" [w]e have an obligation to take seriously the
requirement that the evidence in a criminal prosecution must
be strong enough that a [fact-finder] behaving rationally
really could find it persuasive beyond a reasonable
doubt." Rivas v. United States, 783 A.2d 125,
134 (D.C. 2001) (en banc).
with other forms of intent, a defendant's intent to use
drug paraphernalia unlawfully may be proved not only through
direct evidence but also circumstantially or inferentially.
See, e.g., (Sandra) Williams v. United
States, 604 A.2d 420, 421 (D.C. 1992) (jury could
reasonably infer that defendant used or intended to use scale
in connection with drug operation); see generally,
e.g.,Abdulshakur v. District of Columbia, 589
A.2d 1258, 1263 (D.C. 1991) (" Intent is a state of
mind, and must ordinarily be proved circumstantially."
); cf.Fatumabahirtu v. United States, 26
A.3d 322, 335-36 (D.C. 2011) (intent element of different
subsection of drug-paraphernalia provision may be proven
" by credible and compelling direct, indirect, or
circumstantial evidence" ). In this case, there was no
evidence that anyone saw Mr. Brooks use the grinder in any
way. Nor was there evidence that Mr. Brooks made any
statements suggesting an intent to use the grinder for
drug-related purposes. Nor, finally, was there any evidence
that Mr. Brooks possessed or used drugs, either at the time
of the offense or at any previous time. Rather, the United
States argues that Mr. Brooks's intent to use the grinder
for drug-related purposes can be inferred from ...