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Campbell v. United States

Court of Appeals of Columbia District

July 20, 2017

James Allen Campbell, Appellant
v.
United States, Appellee.

          Submitted February 11, 2016

         Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (CF2-10147-14) (Hon. Milton C. Lee, Trial Judge) (

          Vincent A. Jankoski was on the brief for appellant.

          Vincent H. Cohen, Jr., Acting United States Attorney at the time the briefs were filed, with whom Elizabeth Trosman, Elizabeth H. Danello, Laura Crane, Lindsey Merikas, and Kristina L. Ament, Assistant United States Attorneys, were on the brief, for appellee.

          Before Beckwith and McLeese, Associate Judges, and Belson, Senior Judge.

          Beckwith, Associate Judge.

         Appellant James Campbell challenges the sufficiency of the government's evidence that he violated the District of Columbia's open-container law when he was found sleeping in a parked vehicle on a grassy median between two church parking lots with a half-empty bottle of vodka in close reach. Mr. Campbell contends that the evidence was insufficient to establish that he possessed an open container of alcohol (POCA) in "[a] vehicle in or upon any street, alley, park, or parking area, " D.C. Code § 25-1001 (a)(2) (2012 Repl.), [1] because the meaning of "parking area" did not encompass the location in which he was arrested. We agree that Mr. Campbell's vehicle was not in a "parking area" within the meaning of the statute and reverse his conviction for POCA.

         As Mr. Campbell has waived his argument-based on the same statutory issue underlying his sufficiency claim-that the trial court should have suppressed the fruits of the search incident to his unlawful arrest for POCA, we affirm his convictions for first-degree theft and unauthorized use of a vehicle. With respect to Mr. Campbell's conviction for receiving stolen property, the government has filed in this court a consent motion seeking to vacate that conviction, and we now grant that motion.

         I.

         According to the government's evidence at trial, at around 3 a.m. on June 9, 2014, Metropolitan Police Department Officer George Poor came across a black Infiniti sedan parked on an unmarked grassy median between two parking lots just south of Mount Carmel Baptist Church at Third and I Streets, Northwest. Officer Poor testified that the vehicle was not running, its lights were off, and a towel was draped in place of a missing right rear window. Because the area was known for prostitution and because the vehicle's missing window and its location on the grass between two parking lots struck him as "odd" and "unusual, " Officer Poor proceeded to investigate.

         Officer Poor testified that he pulled his cruiser behind the Infiniti, turned on his emergency lights, and approached the vehicle on foot with a flashlight. From outside the driver's door, Officer Poor saw a man-whom he identified at trial as Mr. Campbell-reclined in the driver's seat, semiconscious or unconscious, and a half-empty bottle of Absolut vodka in the vehicle's center console. The officer rapped on the driver's window several times, roused Mr. Campbell, and had him step out of the vehicle. According to Officer Poor, when he asked Mr. Campbell whether he had been drinking, Mr. Campbell responded that he had had "a couple of sips." Officer Poor testified that he also recovered a screwdriver that was wedged between the driver's seat and the center console, but the car's ignition was intact.

         Officer Poor placed Mr. Campbell under arrest for possessing an open container of alcohol in a vehicle. In a search incident to that arrest, Officer Poor found two watches and the key to the Infiniti in Mr. Campbell's pocket and also found paperwork in the vehicle indicating that Mr. Campbell was not the car's owner. Another search of Mr. Campbell after he was taken to the First District police station uncovered four shards of glass in his pocket that, according to another officer's testimony, appeared to match the broken glass found inside the vehicle. Jose Zavala, the actual owner of the Infiniti-who was contacted by police and then came to the church-informed Officer Poor that the Infiniti was his car, that it had been stolen earlier that evening, and that the two watches also belonged to him. Mr. Zavala testified that he did not keep any alcohol or a screwdriver in the Infiniti.

         At the close of the government's case, the trial court denied Mr. Campbell's suppression motion, which the parties had agreed would be resolved on the basis of the testimony at trial, and also denied his motion for judgment of acquittal. The jury began its deliberations on the afternoon of November 4, 2014, and on the following afternoon delivered its verdicts acquitting Mr. Campbell of destruction of property (as to the vehicle) and second-degree theft and receiving stolen property (as to the watches), but convicting him of first-degree theft and receiving stolen property (as to the vehicle), unauthorized use of a vehicle, and POCA.

         II.

         On appeal, Mr. Campbell challenges (among other things[2]) the sufficiency of the evidence supporting his conviction for possessing an open container of alcohol. He contends, in particular, that his conduct does not fall within the POCA statute's prohibition on possession of an open container of alcohol in "[a] vehicle in or upon any street, alley, park, or parking area, " D.C. Code ยง 25-1001 (a)(2), because the POCA statute does not, in his view, prohibit possession of an open container of alcohol on private property and because the only evidence on the subject at trial indicated that the area between two church parking lots where he was found and arrested was private land. The government counters that Mr. Campbell did not preserve the sufficiency challenge to his POCA conviction ...


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