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Johnson v. United States

Court of Appeals of The District of Columbia

May 9, 2019

Adrienne Johnson, Appellant,
v.
United States, Appellee.

          Submitted January 29, 2019

          Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia DVM-625-17, Hon. Judith A. Smith, Trial Judge

          Sweta Patel was on the brief for appellant.

          Jessie K. Liu, United States Attorney, and Elizabeth Trosman, Nicholas P. Coleman, Janani Iyengar, and Kristina L. Ament, Assistant United States Attorneys, were on the brief for appellee.

          Before Beckwith and McLeese, Associate Judges, and Nebeker, Senior Judge.

          Nebeker, Senior Judge

         Following a bench trial in the Criminal Division of the Superior Court, appellant Adrienne Johnson was found guilty of attempted second-degree cruelty to children and attempted possession of a prohibited weapon (PPW). Appellant argues that the trial court erred when it denied her motion to suppress her statements to the police and that the evidence was insufficient to support her convictions. For the following reasons, we affirm.

         I.

         On May 14, 2017, appellant beat her thirteen-year-old son A.J. with a wooden stick about the size of a broomstick. Appellant repeatedly hit A.J. with the stick while he sat on the floor in the corner of his room and raised his left arm to block his face. The stick broke during the beating, and appellant continued to strike A.J. with the two broken pieces. As a result of the beating, A.J. sustained bruises and marks to his arms, shoulder, and legs, and had a mark behind his left ear.

         On May 15, 2017, Ricky Clayton, a social worker for the Child and Family Services Agency (CFSA), called appellant to follow up on her case that was already open with CFSA.[1] During that phone call, appellant stated that she beat A.J. because he "broke into her room" and retrieved his Kindle Fire tablet that appellant kept in her room as a punishment. That same day, Metropolitan Police Department Detective Karane Williams-Thomas was assigned to appellant's case as a "hot case," and she went to appellant's home with her partner Detective Aaron Mackinoff and social worker Kimberly Hayes to interview appellant and her two younger sons. Appellant answered the front door, and Detective Williams-Thomas introduced herself, stating that she was investigating an allegation of physical abuse. At appellant's home, individuals from CFSA's Homebuilders program were already present. Appellant admitted the detectives and social worker into her home and gave them permission to interview her two younger sons while she spoke with the individuals from the Homebuilders program. Detective Williams-Thomas's service revolver was underneath her jacket, and she was not with any uniformed police officer. After the detective interviewed appellant's sons, she interviewed appellant in her living room for about thirty minutes. During the interview, Detective Williams-Thomas was just standing off the stairwell while appellant was at a desk, and Detective Mackinoff was outside of the house, making phone calls near the front door. Detective Williams-Thomas testified that she never took handcuffs out, she never touched appellant, she never threatened appellant, and she never told appellant that she was under arrest.

         On May 16, 2017, appellant was charged with two counts of attempted second-degree cruelty to children, in violation of D.C. Code § 22-1101(b) (2012 Repl.), and two counts of attempted PPW, in violation of D.C. Code § 22-4514(b) (2012 Repl.), one set of counts involving a stick and the other set involving a belt. On June 26, 2017, appellant filed a pretrial motion to suppress her statements to the police at her home, alleging that the statements were obtained in violation of the Fifth Amendment. A bench trial was held on September 8, 14, and 18, 2017. During the trial, the court denied appellant's motion to suppress, and, on October 2, 2017, the court found appellant guilty of one count of attempted second-degree cruelty to children and one count of attempted PPW, each involving the stick, and not guilty of the remaining counts involving the belt. Appellant was sentenced to ninety days' imprisonment on each count, with the execution of the sentence suspended, and was placed on one year of supervised probation. This appeal followed.

         II.

         1. Motion to Suppress

         Appellant argues that the trial court erred when it denied her motion to suppress her statements to the police because she was subject to custodial interrogation but was not advised of her Miranda rights.[2] Appellant contends that she was in custody because both detectives were armed, she was never informed that she was free to leave or that she could refuse questioning, she was interrogated about a crime, and Detective Mackinoff's presence near the door created an impression that ...


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