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Coleman v. United States

Court of Appeals of The District of Columbia

October 11, 2018

Maurice Coleman, Appellant,
v.
United States, Appellee.

          Argued June 14, 2018

          Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (CMD-11325-16) (Hon. Kimberly S. Knowles, Trial Judge)

          Fletcher P. Thompson for appellant.

          Katherine M. Kelly, Assistant United States Attorney, with whom Jessie K. Liu, United States Attorney, and Elizabeth Trosman and John P. Mannarino, Assistant United States Attorneys, were on the brief, for appellee.

          Before Glickman and Fisher, Associate Judges, and Washington, Senior Judge.

          Washington, Senior Judge

         Appellant Maurice Coleman was convicted in a bench trial of three counts of simple assault on three Metropolitan Police Department ("MPD") officers, in violation of D.C. Code § 22-404 (a)(1) (2012 Repl.). Appellant urges this court to find that, in passing the Neighborhood Engagement Achieves Results Act ("NEAR Act"), the District of Columbia Council implicitly intended to limit prosecutorial discretion by requiring the government to charge defendants who assault police officers with a jury-demandable offense. In the alternative, appellant argues that, as a sanction for the exercise of that discretion, he is entitled to use a broad self-defense argument, as though the complainants were ordinary citizens and not police officers.[1] Finding no support for this interpretation of the NEAR Act in its plain language or legislative history, or for appellant's claim of a right to use self-defense in response to the officers' conduct, we affirm.

         I.

         On July 19, 2016, appellant was approached in his vehicle by three police officers for excessive window tint, in violation of D.C. Code § 50-2207.02 (a)(1) (2012 Repl.). The officers described appellant as "agitated" and "irate" and initially resistant to any attempts by officers to investigate the violation. After appellant exited the vehicle[2] and ignored one officer's verbal request to step to the rear of the vehicle so he was no longer standing in the street, one of the officers attempted to guide him by placing his hand on appellant's elbow, which appellant shrugged off. When the officer grabbed his elbow again, appellant began flinging his arms, which struck one of the officers in the jaw and another one in the back of the head. In an attempt to regain control of the situation, the officers worked together to effectuate a "tactical takedown," during which appellant tore the third officer's uniform.

         Prior to trial, appellant filed a motion seeking a jury trial. The prosecutor in this case, however, elected to charge appellant with simple assault, a lesser-included charge of assault on a police officer ("APO"), the charge for which he was arrested.[3] The trial judge thus denied appellant's motion for a jury trial concluding simple assault is not a jury demandable offense. Appellant then asserted a right to argue that he was acting in self-defense.[4] The court denied the broad self-defense claim but held the limited self-defense claim in abeyance, pending any evidence of excessive force produced at trial.

         Appellant was found guilty on all three counts. In so finding, the trial judge relied on the body camera footage, the officers' testimony, and photographs of the officers' injuries, noting that appellant possessed a different state of mind than he claimed at trial[5] and thus, found that appellant was not entitled to a limited self-defense claim.[6]

         II.

         Whether defendants who are charged with simple assault when the victim is a police officer are entitled to assert a broad right to self-defense is a question of law reviewed de novo. See Wynn v. United States, 80 A.3d 211, 217 (D.C. 2013) (statutory interpretation issue subject to de novo review); Newby v. United States, 797 A.2d 1233, 1239 (D.C. 2002) (whether simple-assault statute ...


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