Dreck S. Wilson, Appellant,
United States, Appellee.
Submitted December 12, 2017
from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia
(CF2-22192-14) (Hon. Anita Josey-Herring, Trial Judge)
E. Baskir was on the brief for appellant.
Channing D. Phillips, United States Attorney at the time the
brief was filed, and Elizabeth Trosman, John P. Mannarino,
Tamika Griffin Moses, and Elizabeth Gabriel, Assistant United
States Attorneys, were on the brief for appellee.
Blackburne-Rigsby, Chief Judge, Easterly, Associate Judge,
and Ferren, Senior Judge.
Easterly, Associate Judge
Dreck Wilson, challenges his convictions for perjury, D.C.
Code § 22-2402 (2012 Repl.), and obstruction of justice,
D.C. Code § 22-722 (a)(6) (2012 Repl.), both premised on
his allegedly false, sworn statements as a defendant in a
small claims case. In that case, Mr. Wilson testified that he
did not have possession of his vehicle, an asset the
plaintiff in that matter, Guyler Hill, sought to seize. In
this appeal, Mr. Wilson argues that (1) the trial court
plainly erred in permitting the government to constructively
amend the perjury charge in the indictment, and (2) the
government's evidence was insufficient to support his
convictions, both as to the constructively amended perjury
charge and the obstruction charge. We need not address Mr.
Wilson's claim of plain error because we agree that the
evidence is legally insufficient as to both charges and
reviewing the sufficiency of the evidence, this court
examines the evidence in the light most favorable to the
verdict to determine whether the evidence was such that no
reasonable factfinder could find guilt beyond a reasonable
doubt. Wade v. United States, 173 A.3d 87, 94 (D.C.
2017). Although "[w]e make no distinction between direct
and circumstantial evidence," we do not permit reliance
on "mere speculation." Id. Specifically
with respect to charges of perjury, "[t]he requirements
of proof . . . are the strictest known to the law, outside of
treason charges." Riley v. United States, 647
A.2d 1165, 1174 (D.C. 1994) (internal quotation marks
omitted). "To prove a defendant guilty of perjury, the
evidence must show that the defendant made a false statement
of material fact under oath with knowledge of its falsity.
Actual falsity is necessary [for a] conviction."
Gaffney v. United States, 980 A.2d 1190, 1193 (D.C.
2009) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). In
addition, "the uncorroborated oath of one witness is not
enough to establish the falsity of the testimony of the
accused set forth in the indictment as perjury."
Id. at 1194 (internal quotation marks and citations
omitted); see also Hsu v. United States, 392 A.2d
972, 981 (D.C. 1978) (explaining that under the so-called
"two-witness rule," the government need not
actually present two witnesses who provide direct evidence
that the defendant's sworn statement was false; rather
"one witness plus independent corroborative evidence
will also suffice"). The requisite corroboration
"need not be sufficient, by itself, to demonstrate
guilt," but it must corroborate "the part of the
primary witness's testimony that proves the falsity of
the defendant's statement." Gaffney, 980
A.2d at 1194; see also Boney v. United States, 396
A.2d 984, 987 (D.C. 1979) (with regard to the sufficiency of
the corroborative evidence, the test requires: "(1) that
the evidence, if true, substantiates the testimony of a
single witness who has sworn to the falsity of the alleged
perjurious statement; (2) that the corroborative evidence is
begin our analysis with the perjury charge and note
preliminarily that, although the indictment charged Mr.
Wilson with "falsely testify[ing] [on April 9, 2013]
that he did not have possession of his vehicle on April 5,
2013," the government concedes that it sought and
obtained a perjury conviction based on a different theory,
namely, that Mr. Wilson falsely testified on April 9, 2013,
that he did not have possession of his car on that day. Thus
we assess the sufficiency of the evidence to sustain a
perjury conviction based on the theory the government pursued
government argues that a reasonable juror could have
determined that Mr. Wilson falsely testified at the April 9,
2013, hearing that he did not possess his car based on (1)
the primary testimony of Mr. Hill, who the government
represents saw the car outside Mr. Wilson's home on that
day, and (2) the corroborating testimony of a representative
of the Howard University Employees Federal Credit Union, Mr.
Michael Hines, who explained that (contrary to Mr.
Wilson's purported understanding), his entity had not yet
repossessed Mr. Wilson's car on April 9, 2013, and did
not succeed in doing so until December 2014. For the
following reasons, we disagree that this evidence is
sufficient to support Mr. Wilson's perjury conviction.
Hill never unequivocally testified that he saw Mr.
Wilson's car outside Mr. Wilson's home on April 9,
2013. When he was initially asked on direct examination if he
saw the vehicle on Mr. Wilson's street at any time in
April 2013, he testified, "I cannot be sure." When
he was specifically asked about April 9, 2013, the day he and
Mr. Wilson had been in court, he repeatedly qualified his
testimony with "I think" or "I believe."
Mr. Hill's continued "I believe" answers on
cross-examination prompted defense counsel to clarify that he
was not "asking what you believe." Defense counsel
then asked Mr. Hill point blank if it was his "testimony
that you saw [Mr. Wilson] in possession of the car" on
April 9, 2013. Mr. Hill could only say that he was
"pretty sure," and declined defense counsel's
invitation to say that he was "certain."
noted above, we maintain strict standards for proving perjury
in the District of Columbia. At a minimum, the government
must produce one witness who can "in positive terms,
contradict the statement of the person indicted for
perjury." Cook v. United States, 26 App. D.C.
427, 430 (D.C. Cir. 1906); see also Gaffney v. United
States, 980 A.2d at 1195 ("The government does not
meet its burden of proof in a perjury prosecution if it fails
to pin the witness down to the specific object [of] the
questioner's inquiry.") (internal quotation marks
omitted).We are in grave doubt that Mr. Hill's
less than certain testimony that he saw Mr. Wilson's car
on April 9, 2013, amounts to evidence that unequivocally (or
in the words of Cook, "absolutely and
positively," 26 App. D.C. 430-31) contradicted Mr.
Wilson's testimony under oath that he did not have
possession of his car on that day. Riley v. United
States, 647 A.2d 1165, 1174 (D.C. 1994)
("Especially in perjury cases, defendants may not be
assumed into the penitentiary.").
even assuming the government could build a perjury case on
Mr. Hill's testimony, we do not see the requisite
corroboration in this record. Mr. Hines's testimony is
insufficient as it is unrelated to Mr. Hill's testimony.
Mr. Hines testified only that, although the Credit Union had
put a skip trace on Mr. Wilson's car in February 2013,
it did not succeed in seizing Mr. Wilson's car until
December 2014. This testimony does not make it more likely
that Mr. Hill saw Mr. Wilson's car on April 9, 2013.
Gaffney, 980 A.2d at 1194 (explaining that
"[w]hat must be corroborated is the part of the primary
witness's testimony that falsifies the defendant's
statement"). It does not even contradict Mr.
Wilson's trial testimony that, after his car was
impounded for expired plates in late March 2013, he sought to
have it towed to a Chevy dealership, but it never reached its
destination. It merely establishes that the credit
union was not responsible for the alleged disappearance of
Mr. Wilson's car before the April 9, 2013, hearing.
See id. (determining that the proffered
corroboration was inadequate where it "neither confirmed
the critical part of [the primary witness's] testimony
nor furnished independent evidence proving the falsity of
appellant's . . . statements").
to the obstruction of justice conviction, we note that the
government acknowledges that this conviction was "based
on the same conduct" as the perjury conviction. We
conclude that the two counts rise and fall together. Because
the trial evidence did not permit a reasonable juror to
conclude that Mr. Wilson perjured himself when he represented
under oath that he did not have possession of his car in
court on April 9, ...