Ronald J. Jackson, Appellant,
United States, Appellee.
March 13, 2019
from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia
CF3-15862-15) (Hon. Marisa J. Demeo, Trial Judge
A. Daniels for appellant.
Hansford, Assistant United States Attorney, with whom Jessie
K. Liu, United States Attorney, and Elizabeth Trosman,
Michael P. McCarthy, and Ryan Creighton, Assistant United
States Attorneys, were on the brief, for appellee.
Fisher and Beckwith, Associate Judges, and Ferren, Senior
FISHER, ASSOCIATE JUDGE
found appellant Ronald Jackson guilty of assault with a
dangerous weapon. The sole question before this court is
whether the trial court abused its discretion by admitting
evidence that appellant used PCP eighteen hours before the
attack without any accompanying expert testimony enabling the
jury to evaluate whether Jackson was under the influence of
the drug at the time of the assault. We reverse and remand
for a new trial.
Ronald Jackson and Desmon Beasley had been best friends for
over forty years. In 2014, Jackson moved into Beasley's
apartment. At that time, Beasley weighed over 600 pounds and,
as a result, had limited mobility. Jackson paid Beasley a
small amount in rent and assisted Beasley with daily
November 2015, the situation between Beasley and Jackson had
changed, and Beasley wanted Jackson to move out. Beasley had
lost a considerable amount of weight and was better able to
move around. He began to pursue a romantic relationship with
his friend, Erika Williams, and found it difficult to do so
with Jackson in the apartment. Additionally, Beasley was
frustrated by Jackson's inability to maintain a steady
job and had difficulty supporting both himself and Jackson on
his Social Security income.
between Jackson and Beasley came to a head on November 13,
2015. That morning, Beasley told Jackson to leave the
apartment and offered him money for a Metro fare. Beasley
heard Jackson leave, and then went back to sleep in the
bedroom with Williams. Later that afternoon, Williams woke up
and asked Beasley to escort her to the bathroom. From the
hallway, Beasley saw Jackson sitting on the couch in the
living room, shucking clams and eating ice cream.
to the evidence at trial, Beasley approached Jackson and
demanded multiple times that he leave the apartment. Jackson
did not respond to Beasley and, instead, stared at the
television with a blank face and glassy eyes. Beasley grew
upset that Jackson was not responding to him. Although
Beasley and Jackson had never physically fought during their
forty-year friendship, Beasley struck Jackson hard on the
head. During the ensuing scuffle, Jackson picked up the knife
he was using to shuck clams and swung it at Beasley's
face, striking him in the eye. By all accounts, the attack
was out of character for Jackson, who is normally a peaceful
person. The attack left Beasley blind in his left eye.
Relevant Trial Testimony
Evidence of Drug Use
to trial, the government moved in limine to admit evidence
that Jackson used phencyclidine (PCP) on November 12, 2015,
the night before the fight. The government contended that
such evidence provided important context that would serve to
explain Jackson's odd behavior, why Beasley wanted
Jackson to leave the apartment, and why Beasley was in the
living room when he was assaulted. Jackson opposed the
motion, arguing that any evidence of PCP use was evidence of
other crimes or bad acts which was unfairly prejudicial.
Marisa Demeo ruled the evidence admissible. Citing cases
which we discuss below, the court found that such testimony
would provide context and serve to explain the witnesses'
observations, beliefs, and behaviors. The court determined
that there was a close temporal relationship between
Jackson's use of PCP on November 12 and the attack the
following afternoon. After reviewing the proffered evidence,
the court found that its probative value was not
substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice.
The court denied the government's request to admit
testimony of Jackson's use of PCP prior to November 12,
trial, both Williams and Beasley testified that they smelled
PCP in the apartment prior to the assault. Williams testified
that at around 8:00 p.m. on November 12, while she was at the
apartment, she saw Jackson smoke a cigarette which had a
"plastic" odor, similar to embalming fluid. Over
objection, Williams testified that the cigarette smelled like
PCP, an odor she recognized from walking past individuals
smoking it on the streets. Williams further testified that
Jackson began acting strangely after smoking the cigarette.
She described Jackson's movements as being
"disconjointed" and "demonic." Williams
stated that the apartment smelled like PCP the following
morning as well. Beasley, who had used PCP in the past,
corroborated this testimony, stating that he smelled the odor
in the apartment on November 13. Williams testified that
because she felt uncomfortable around PCP, and
"wasn't sure what was ...