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Ruffin v. United States

Court of Appeals of The District of Columbia

November 21, 2019

Levi RUFFIN, Appellant,
v.
UNITED STATES, Appellee.

         Argued January 16, 2018

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          Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia, (CF1-13804-14), (Hon. Rhonda Reid-Winston, Trial Judge)

         Debra Soltis, with whom Paul Y. Kiyonaga and Marcus Massey, Washington, were on the brief, for appellant.

         Kristina Ament, with whom Channing D. Phillips, United States Attorney at the time the brief was filed, and Elizabeth Trosman, Washington, John P. Mannarino, Kenechukwu O. Okocha, Akhi Johnson, and Eric S. Nguyen, Assistant United States Attorneys, were on the brief, for appellee.

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

         OPINION

         Glickman, Associate Judge

          Appellant, Levi Ruffin, was convicted after a jury trial of the following offenses: first-degree burglary while armed; kidnapping while armed; third-degree sexual abuse while armed; attempted robbery while armed; assault with a dangerous weapon; and assault with significant bodily injury. In this appeal, he contends the evidence was insufficient to sustain his convictions for first-degree burglary and kidnapping, and that the trial court erred in denying his motions to exclude DNA test results and a knife found in his possession at the time of his arrest. Concluding that these contentions lack merit, we affirm appellant’s convictions.

          I. The Evidence at Trial

          The complaining witness at appellant’s trial, whom we shall refer to as J.C., testified that a man wielding a silver folding knife attacked her when she arrived home on the evening of September 14, 2013. J.C. lived at the time in one of three apartments in a row house in Northwest Washington, D.C. Her assailant, who was later identified as appellant, came up behind her as she was unlocking the front door to the building. Putting his hand over her mouth and holding the knife to her face, appellant told her not to move and to drop what she was holding. He then pushed J.C. through the entrance into the common hallway of the row house, followed her in, and closed

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the door behind them. Alone with her in the hallway, and continuing to hold the knife to her face, appellant demanded her money. J.C. started to hand him her debit and credit cards, but appellant slapped them away. He then lifted her dress and rubbed his fingers against her genital area through her underwear.

          At that point, J.C. grabbed the hand in which appellant was holding the knife and pushed him away. A fight ensued, during which appellant bit J.C. on her left cheek and her back. She yelled at him to stop. He pushed her to the floor and fled out the front door of the row house. After he was gone, J.C. went into her apartment and called the police.

          A neighbor in an apartment down the hallway heard and saw part of the attack through the peephole of her door and called the police. The recording of that call was played at trial. It captured over 90 seconds of the assault.

         J.C. was taken to the hospital by ambulance. She was treated for the bite wounds on her cheek and back, and for a lacerated finger (which required six stitches) and other knife cuts on her hands. A nurse swabbed J.C.’s bite wounds for biological evidence that could help identify her attacker.

         After several months, the police acquired information linking appellant to the assault.[1] In August 2014, officers went to his apartment to arrest him. In a pair of jeans that appellant asked to put on, the officers found a folding knife with a silver blade and a black handle. Over appellant’s objection to its relevance, this knife was admitted in evidence against him at trial, along with the parties’ stipulation that it had been in appellant’s possession "as early as November 2, 2013" (i.e., about seven weeks after the assault on J.C.).[2]

         DNA testing identified appellant as J.C.’s assailant. Two forensic scientists from the District of Columbia Department of Forensic Sciences (DFS) testified that they received and tested the swabs taken from J.C.’s cheek and back wounds and a swab taken from appellant’s cheek following his arrest in this case. These scientists performed the extraction, quantification, and amplification of DNA from each of those sources and generated DNA profiles from them for subsequent interpretation and comparison. They did not testify to that interpretation and comparison, however, because flaws had been detected in DFS’s statistical computation procedures. These flaws reportedly "resulted in DFS’s overstating the rarity of certain mixture profiles,"[3] i.e., profiles obtained from samples containing DNA from more than one person. A panel of experts convened by the ...


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