67 F.3d 956 (D.C. Cir. 1995), 92-3146, United States v. Lucas

Docket Nº:92-3146, 93-3200.
Citation:67 F.3d 956
Party Name:UNITED STATES of America, Appellee, v. Charles Joseph LUCAS, Appellant.
Case Date:October 20, 1995
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit
 
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Page 956

67 F.3d 956 (D.C. Cir. 1995)

UNITED STATES of America, Appellee,

v.

Charles Joseph LUCAS, Appellant.

Nos. 92-3146, 93-3200.

United States Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit

October 20, 1995

Argued Sept. 15, 1995.

Page 957

Appeals from the United States District Court for the District of Columbia (No. 91cr00716-03).

Allen E. Burns, Assistant Federal Public Defender, argued the cause for appellant, with whom A.J. Kramer, Federal Public Defender, Washington, DC, was on the briefs.

E. Vaughn Dunnigan, Assistant United States Attorney, argued the cause for appellee, with whom Eric H. Holder, Jr., United States Attorney, and John R. Fisher, Assistant United States Attorney, Washington, DC, were on the brief for appellee. Elizabeth Trosman, Assistant United States Attorney, entered an appearance for appellee.

Before: EDWARDS, Chief Judge, and SENTELLE and TATEL, Circuit Judges.

HARRY T. EDWARDS, Chief Judge:

In late 1991, a team of police officers searched an apartment in Southeast Washington, D.C., and found drugs, drug paraphernalia, cash and a gun, concealed in a number of places, whereupon they arrested Alphonso Lucas ("Al") who was in the apartment at the time. Al's cousin, Charles Lucas, the appellant in this case, had rented the apartment in 1977. But appellant had moved out of the apartment in 1984, at which time he sublet the residence to Al. From 1984 until 1992 (when he was incarcerated), appellant lived with his wife in their home in Temple Hills, Maryland, and he worked as a correctional counselor in the D.C. Department of Corrections. There is no evidence that he had any regular connection with the apartment, other than occasionally collecting rent from Al. Indeed, he did not even retain a key to the apartment.

Even though appellant had vacated the apartment in 1984, had no ongoing contact there, and had no apparent connection to the drugs, paraphernalia, and cash found there, he was arrested and indicted for possession of marijuana, possession of heroin with intent to distribute, and knowingly and intentionally making the apartment available for drug trafficking. It is undisputed that appellant remained the nominal "tenant" of the apartment, but the Government offered no other meaningful evidence to connect him to the apartment or the activities therein. Rather, the Government attempted to prove appellant's knowledge of drugs and drug-dealing in the apartment through a single, ambiguously dated laundry receipt and some undated, randomly-discovered fingerprints. Despite the prosecution's lack of any meaningful evidence, the jury convicted appellant on all three counts.

In considering appellant's claim that the evidence was insufficient to support the verdict, we draw all inferences in favor of the Government. Even under this standard, however, we have no trouble concluding that the Government completely failed to prove that appellant had knowledge of the drugs at the apartment. No rational jury could find appellant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Accordingly, we reverse without reaching appellant's other claims of error, and we direct the District Court to enter a judgment of acquittal.

I. BACKGROUND

The indictment, returned against Charles Lucas on December 19, 1991, charged appellant and his cousins, Al and Gregory Lucas ("Greg"), each with one count of possession with intent to distribute at least 100 grams of heroin, in violation of 21 U.S.C. Sec. 841(a)(1) (1988) and 18 U.S.C. Sec. 2 (1988), and one count of possession of marijuana, in violation of 21 U.S.C. Sec. 844(a) (1988). The indictment also charged that appellant controlled the apartment and knowingly and intentionally made it available for the purpose of unlawfully manufacturing, storing, distributing, and using heroin, in violation of 21 U.S.C. Sec. 856(a)(2) (1988). 1 Just before opening

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statements on March 9, 1992, Al Lucas pleaded guilty to the two drug possession counts. Appellant and Greg Lucas then proceeded to trial before a jury.

The Government presented little evidence linking appellant to the apartment in the months or even years before the raid. The Government did not dispute that appellant had moved out of the apartment in 1984, and had lived with his wife in Temple Hills, Maryland ever since. Appellant and his wife testified that he sublet the apartment informally to Al, because Al was "family" and could not rent an apartment himself due to his bad credit history. Al either paid directly or reimbursed appellant for paying the post-1984 rent and utility bills, which the Government introduced. The Government stipulated that Al forged appellant's signature on the money orders used to pay bills. The apartment manager explained the need for this arrangement by testifying that the landlord does not permit subletting and insists that checks or money orders used to pay rent bear the lessee's name.

In an attempt to show that appellant occasionally had entered the apartment after moving out, the Government introduced a laundry receipt found in a bedroom closet that bore the handwritten name "C. Lucas" and argued that it was dated "7/25/91." On cross-examination, the officer who presented the receipt conceded that he had no personal knowledge of its age, and that the year could have been "81," but opined that it looked more like "91." Neither this nor any other evidence contradicted appellant's testimony that he rarely visited the apartment and did not have a key. If he needed to pick up money for rent or bills from Al, appellant testified that he would usually call ahead and meet Al at the door or in the parking lot. Appellant said he would occasionally briefly enter the apartment to use the bathroom, but he never saw drugs or drug paraphernalia. Almost all the drugs and drug paraphernalia found by the police were hidden in a locked cabinet, in a safe in a closet, in a shoe box under a bed, and in the pocket of a jacket in a closet. Only one small wax-paper packet of heroin was found unconcealed. So, even if appellant had occasionally entered the apartment between 1984 and 1991, there was nothing to suggest that he would have seen any drugs.

The Government introduced evidence to prove the presence of drugs and drug paraphernalia at the apartment. But the prosecutor could not connect them to appellant. Appellant's fingerprints were found on the shoe box, but the Government could not date the prints, and Al's and Greg's fingerprints were also on the box. Appellant explained that during a brief visit "quite a while" ago, he had seen the shoe box, opened it, and set it down after seeing only women's shoes in it. While no other drug-related evidence bore appellant's fingerprints, the locked cabinet bore the fingerprints of Al and Greg. The police also found a key in the apartment that later turned out to open a bank safe deposit box containing a large amount of cash. However, the evidence showed that appellant had never entered the safe deposit box, and was not among those authorized to open it.

The court denied appellant's motion for judgment of acquittal, but did acquit Greg. On March 12, 1992, the jury convicted appellant of all three counts. On May 12, 1992, the court sentenced appellant to two terms of 63 months and one term of 12 months of incarceration to run concurrently, to be followed by three consecutive terms of supervised release.

On January 7, 1993, appellant moved for a new trial. The District Court denied the motion on October 18, 1993. Under a practice adopted in...

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