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Hollis v. United States

Court of Appeals of The District of Columbia

May 3, 2018

Cephus Hollis, Appellant,
v.
United States, Appellee.

          Argued May 2, 2017

          Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (CF3-6192-15) Hon. Lynn Leibovitz, Trial Judge

          Deborah A. Persico for appellant.

          Valinda Jones, Assistant United States Attorney, with whom Channing D. Phillips, United States Attorney at the time the brief was filed, Elizabeth Trosman, Chrisellen R. Kolb, Christopher Bruckmann, and Katherine Earnest, Assistant United States Attorneys, were on the brief, for appellee.

          Before Fisher and McLeese, Associate Judges, and Steadman, Senior Judge.

          STEADMAN, SENIOR JUDGE:

         A jury found appellant Cephus Hollis guilty of fifteen criminal offenses relating to his vicious conduct in two separate incidents five days apart, the first with Mr. Hampton Gathers as the victim and the second with Mr. Zhong Zu as the victim. At issue in this appeal are his two convictions for aggravated assault causing serious bodily injury and his three convictions for unauthorized use of a vehicle during or to facilitate a crime of violence resulting in serious bodily injury (UUV/COV/SBI). Appellant challenges whether the evidence was sufficient to establish that he caused "serious bodily injury" to either of his two victims. In addition, appellant challenges whether the evidence was sufficient to establish that his unauthorized use of a vehicle occurred "during the course of or to facilitate" a crime of violence. We affirm the convictions.

         I. Facts of the Assaults

         A. The Gathers Incident

         On September 7, 2014, appellant and his cousin Khyree Waters set out on foot to steal cars. Appellant told Waters to target Dodges and Chryslers because these brands were relatively easy to steal, as well as to look out for delivery people, who he said typically leave the car keys in the vehicle while making deliveries. Appellant spotted a Dodge Stratus near where they lived, punched out the ignition, and drove off in the car with his cousin to look for other opportunities.

         As time passed, they spotted a Dodge Avenger that was used by Mr. Gathers, a Washington Post delivery person. Appellant hopped into the driver's seat of the Avenger but found no keys. As Mr. Gathers was returning to his car, appellant got out of the car and accosted Mr. Gathers, demanding the keys. When Mr. Gathers refused, appellant began beating and punching Mr. Gathers until Mr. Gathers fell to the ground. Appellant's cousin came to join the fray and both men continued to kick Mr. Gathers mercilessly until he finally let go of the keys. Leaving Mr. Gathers lying on the ground, appellant drove off in Mr. Gathers' Avenger, which contained newspapers as well as a cell phone and other items belonging to Mr. Gathers. Appellant's cousin also left, driving the previously stolen Stratus. The next thing Mr. Gathers recalled was waking up in the hospital. The nature and extent of his injuries are discussed in part III(A) of this opinion.

         B. The Zu Incident

         Five days later, Mr. Zu, who delivered food for a Chinese restaurant, approached appellant's dwelling with a food order. Appellant opened the door wielding a knife two or three inches in length and, without a word, began to stab Mr. Zu in the head. Appellant continued to stab Mr. Zu "many" times and, even after Mr. Zu fell and lost his glasses and perhaps dropped the keys to his car. Mr. Zu managed to briefly escape from appellant and, while yelling for help, ran to his delivery car and jumped in the driver's seat. Now holding the keys, appellant pursued Mr. Zu, jumped into the front passenger seat and demanded that Mr. Zu exit the car, repeatedly stabbing Mr. Zu in the face. When appellant got out and walked around to the driver's side of the vehicle, Mr. Zu exited the vehicle and tried to block appellant's continued knife thrusts with his hands. Mr. Zu struggled to hold the driver's door to prevent appellant from leaving, but appellant's cousin, who had now joined the action, pushed Mr. Zu, his face and body covered with blood, to the ground as appellant drove away in the vehicle. Among Mr. Zu's belongings in the car was his wallet containing $3, 400 in cash. An ambulance took Mr. Zu to a hospital. The nature and extent of his injuries are described in part III(B) of this opinion.

         II. Aggravated Assault

         The evolution of the offense of assault in the District of Columbia into the current three-tier classification has been set forth in a number of our prior opinions. Briefly put, prior to 2007, only two levels of assault existed in the District of Columbia. The basic statute of simple assault, now D.C. Code § 22-404 (a)(1) (June 2017 Cum. Supp.), required no injury and was punishable by a fine of no more than $1, 000 and imprisonment of no more than 180 days. The more serious aggravated assault, now D.C. Code § 22-404.01 (a) (June 2017 Cum. Supp.), required serious bodily injury and was punishable by a fine of not more than $10, 000 and imprisonment of not more than ten years.[1] "Serious bodily injury" was not defined in the statute, leaving the courts to define the term.

         These two classifications of assault proved problematic in circumstances where the injury was more than "mere 'bodily injury' [such as slapping] but less serious than 'serious bodily injury.'" Belt v. United States,149 A.3d 1048, 1054 (D.C. 2016) (brackets in original). To fill the gap, the Council of the District of Columbia added a new category of felony assault, D.C. Code § 22-404 (a)(2), effective on April 24, 2007, that required significant bodily injury and was punishable by a fine of no more than $3, 000 and imprisonment of no more than three years. The Council defined "significant bodily injury" as an injury that "requires hospitalization or immediate medical attention." D.C. Code § 22-404 (a)(2) (2012 Repl). However, the legislation adding felony assault did not amend the two ...


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