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White v. United States

Court of Appeals of The District of Columbia

May 9, 2019

Dominic A. WHITE, Appellant,
v.
UNITED STATES, Appellee.

         Argued February 27, 2019

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          Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (CF3-3070-15) (Hon. Juliet J. McKenna, Trial Judge)

         Nancy E. Allen for appellant.

         Daniel J. Lenerz, Assistant United States Attorney, with whom Jessie K. Liu, United States Attorney, and Elizabeth Trosman, John P. Mannarino, and Monica Trigoso, Assistant United States Attorneys, were on the brief, for appellee.

         Before Blackburne-Rigsby, Chief Judge, and Fisher and Beckwith, Associate Judges.

          OPINION

         Fisher, Associate Judge

          Appellant Dominic A. White challenges the sufficiency of the evidence to support his convictions for insurance fraud, conspiracy, and aggravated assault while armed ("AAWA"). He also argues that the trial judge committed reversible error in

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responding to a question from the jury. Once again, this court must grapple with the question of what constitutes a "serious bodily injury," an element of proof required to convict a defendant of AAWA. We affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand for resentencing.

          I. Background

          A. The Insurance Scheme

          Phanessa Haynes filed a claim with State Farm Insurance on October 15, 2014, reporting that somebody had stolen the rims and tires from her Volkswagen Passat. She included a photograph of her car and two receipts totaling $ 5,342.04, purportedly documenting her purchase of those rims and tires. Haynes declined State Farm’s offer to replace the missing items, instead insisting that the insurance company reimburse her. Haynes hired WTF Towing to take her Volkswagen to a lot, and State Farm provided her with a temporary rental car.

          State Farm’s fraud investigation unit began reviewing Haynes’s claim on October 20. Many warning signs of fraud emerged, according to Laura Gladding, the company’s claims specialist who reviewed the matter. These included the recent purchase of the policy, the customer’s eagerness to settle the claim, and a discrepancy between the addresses on the tire merchant’s website and the receipts. Additionally, the insurance company obtained the police report filed by Haynes, in which she estimated the value of the stolen items as only about $ 1,400.

          Gladding conducted two phone interviews on October 27: one with Haynes and another with a person whom Haynes said was her brother "Dominic." The man on the latter call, who used appellant’s phone number, identified himself to Gladding as "Damon Whittaker." This man reported that the missing rims and tires had been installed by somebody named "Jay" rather than a person nicknamed "D. Money," as Haynes had stated. Gladding asked him for the contact information for "Jay" but never received it. During a call on October 30, Gladding told Haynes that State Farm would not process her claim unless she spoke under oath with a company attorney. Gladding added that the company would only pay for the car’s storage at the towing lot for a few more days.

          B. The Attack at the Towing Lot

          Haynes arrived at WTF Towing’s lot to pick up her car at about 5:00 p.m. on November 4 and saw Philip Lovell installing tires and rims on her Volkswagen. Haynes expressed her anger with Lovell about a scratch on the car as well as the "raggedy rims" that he had installed. Soon, a quarrel erupted and both parties exchanged derogatory words. Haynes, who was holding a cell phone on speakerphone, said into the phone, "I’m here now." Haynes then told Lovell, "You gonna make me call my boyfriend on you." After she demanded that Lovell "hurry up" with the installation, he responded, "Why don’t you call your punk boyfriend and ... tell him to come fix it." Haynes said to somebody on her phone that "[t]hey’re playing games with me" and that "he called you out."

          Eventually, Lovell walked away from Haynes and toward the area where tires were stored. Moments later, appellant arrived at the towing lot. Haynes pointed to Lovell and told appellant, "That’s him." Next, an onlooker screamed, "Watch out!" and Lovell turned around to see appellant swinging a metal pole at his head. The pole — an aluminum handle used to operate a car jack — struck the head of Lovell, who fell to the ground and covered his head and face. ...


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