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Crawford v. District of Columbia

Court of Appeals of The District of Columbia

September 6, 2018

James Crawford, Appellant,
v.
District of Columbia, Appellee.

          Submitted September 28, 2017

          Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (CTF-18758-13) Hon. Yvonne Williams, Trial Judge

          Rupa Ranga Puttagunta was on the brief for appellant.

          Karl A. Racine, Attorney General for the District of Columbia, Todd S. Kim, Solicitor General at the time the brief was filed, Rosalyn C. Groce, Deputy Solicitor General, and John D. Martorana, Assistant Attorney General, were on the brief for appellee.

          Before Blackburne-Rigsby, Chief Judge, McLeese, Associate Judge, and Nebeker, Senior Judge.

          OPINION

          BLACKBURNE-RIGSBY, CHIEF JUDGE

         Appellant Crawford James Jr.[1] appeals his conviction for one count of leaving after colliding with property damage (LAC-PD) in violation of D.C. Code § 50-2201.05c (2013 Supp.).[2] On appeal, appellant alleges that there was insufficient evidence to satisfy the mens rea element of the offense, which requires that the appellant "know[] or ha[ve] reason to believe that his . . . vehicle has been in a collision." D.C. Code § 50-2201.05c (a). Because we have no basis for determining whether the trial court's verdict properly incorporated the mens rea element, we vacate appellant's conviction and remand the case for the court to reweigh the evidence and to render a new verdict.

         I.

         On October 15, 2013, around 10:25 p.m., appellant was attempting to move his car out of a parallel parking space near the 1700 block of Bay Street, Southeast, Washington, D.C. At this same time, Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) Officers Naples and Barriteau were on the same block responding to a family disturbance call when they heard a "loud crash." Officer Naples turned around and observed a burgundy Ford Explorer "up against the vehicle in front of it" and stated that it looked like the Ford Explorer had "collided" with this vehicle. He observed the driver of the Ford Explorer, later identified as appellant, put the vehicle in reverse, move out of the parking space, and start driving away at about ten miles per hour.

         The officers chased after the Ford Explorer, which stopped halfway down the block. Officer Naples instructed appellant to exit the vehicle. As appellant exited the vehicle, Officer Naples noticed that appellant's balance was unsteady and his eyes seemed heavy and bloodshot. The officers advised appellant that they believed he had struck a vehicle, and Officer Naples testified that appellant "had no idea what we were talking about[, ]" and that "[h]e didn't know that he had collided with a vehicle." Officer Naples also testified that he noticed an alcoholic beverage odor coming from appellant's person, and thus, proceeded to conduct the standard field sobriety tests. Appellant failed the field sobriety tests and was placed under arrest.

         At trial, the owner of the Volvo, Robert Southern, testified that he noticed, sometime during the week of October 15, 2013, that someone had hit his car as he observed "a white streak along the back left side rear bumper that had not been there before." Appellant testified that he did not hit the Volvo. The trial court found appellant guilty of LAC-PD.

         II.

         In evaluating 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). "Where the evidentiary record is sufficient to support the verdict in a bench trial, but the findings of fact underlying the verdict are insufficient, we therefore have deemed it appropriate to remand for the judge to augment those findings as necessary to clarify whether the verdict can stand." Warner v. United States, 124 A.3d 79, 89 (D.C. 2015).

         Appellant contends that there was insufficient evidence of the requisite mens rea to find him guilty of leaving after colliding with property damage. The statute requires that the person operating the vehicle must "know[] or ha[ve] reason to believe" that their vehicle was in an accident. D.C. Code ยง 50-2201.05c (a). In ruling, the trial ...


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