McCorkle v. United States

Decision Date25 September 2014
Docket NumberNos. 11–CF–1667,11–CF–1668.,s. 11–CF–1667
Citation100 A.3d 116
CourtD.C. Court of Appeals
PartiesWilliam McCORKLE and Andre Clinkscale, Appellants, v. UNITED STATES, Appellee.

Jessica Brand, Public Defender Service, with whom James Klein and Samia Fam, Public Defender Service, were on the brief, for appellant William McCorkle.

Andrew R. Szekely, Greenbelt, MD, for appellant Andre Clinkscale.

James M. Perez, Assistant United States Attorney, with whom Ronald C. Machen Jr., United States Attorney, and Elizabeth Trosman, Elizabeth H. Danello, Jennifer Kerkhoff, and J.P. Cooney, Assistant United States Attorneys, were on the brief, for appellee.

Before WASHINGTON, Chief Judge, FISHER, Associate Judge, and RUIZ, Senior Judge.

Opinion

FISHER, Associate Judge:

On May 31, 2008, Duane Hough, Johnny Jeter, and Anthony Mincey were shot to death after an early-morning altercation at a gas station. Appellants William McCorkle and Andre Clinkscale were later indicted on a variety of charges stemming from that triple homicide and their subsequent attempts to obstruct justice. After a jury trial, McCorkle was convicted on fourteen charges and sentenced to 144 years of incarceration. The jury found Clinkscale guilty on seven charges, and he was later sentenced to 105 years in prison. On appeal, both appellants contend that the first prong of the Laumer test for admitting statements against penal interest,1 which requires a trial court to assess the veracity of the witness who has offered to repeat the statement in court, unconstitutionally invades the province of the jury and has been implicitly overruled. Finding no reversible error on this or other grounds raised, we affirm.

I. Factual Background

At trial, the government's case primarily focused on events that took place shortly after 4:00 a.m. on May 31, 2008. An altercation began that morning after McCorkle cut in front of Hough at the attendant's window of a gas station. The conflict escalated, and six eyewitnesses testified that they saw the shooting. A firearms expert determined that two different semi-automatic pistols were used in the murders, and medical examiners testified that Hough had been shot seventeen times, Jeter nine times, and Mincey eleven times. None of the witnesses, including McCorkle, said that they saw the victims with any weapons that morning. No guns belonging to the victims were found at the scene.

Harlenia Ray, a teenage girl from the neighborhood, testified in support of one of the obstruction of justice charges. She said that shortly after she was questioned by police, she received a visit from McCorkle and another man. They called her into a pickup truck and McCorkle told her, “don't say nothing” to the detectives.

McCorkle admitted that he shot Hough and Jeter, but claimed that he acted in self-defense. He took the stand and recounted that, after he provoked Hough's ire by cutting the line, he made every effort to calm the other man down and eventually tried to leave the gas station to prevent trouble. McCorkle said that Hough followed him as he tried to walk away toward Holbrook Street and that Hough's associates cut him off with their vehicle near the exit from the gas station “on Holbrook Street closer to [Morse].” Hough was still outside the vehicle. When Hough and the driver made reaching motions, McCorkle thought they were reaching for firearms, so he pulled his semi-automatic pistol and began firing. McCorkle was in the street, with his back to the gas station lot, when he commenced firing at Hough. McCorkle said that he heard other shots and “thought the dude was shooting at me.” McCorkle testified that, as he fled, he looked back and saw a friend of his, Trey Joyner, standing in front of Hough's black SUV and firing into it. By the time of trial, Trey Joyner was dead.

Clinkscale's defense was that he was not present and that “all acts attributed to him by the Government or the witnesses were committed by Trey Joyner.” In addition to relying on McCorkle's testimony to this effect, Clinkscale sought to introduce the testimony of Tywon Hager, who was prepared to testify that Trey Joyner had admitted participating in the triple homicide, contrary to his penal interest. During an evidentiary hearing at which Mr. Hager gave his proffered testimony, McCorkle also requested that the statement of Trey Joyner be admitted. After the hearing, the trial court found that Hager was not credible and that the defendants therefore had failed to establish that Mr. Joyner “made the reported statement.”

II. The Laumer Test for Admitting Statements Against Penal Interest

Both appellants contend that the first prong of our test for admitting statements against penal interest, announced in Laumer v. United States, 409 A.2d 190 (D.C.1979) (en banc), has been implicitly invalidated. They assert that [i]n the three-and-a-half decades since Laumer was decided, the Supreme Court and this court have increasingly recognized that rules of evidence that allow a judge, rather than the jury, to assess the credibility of a live witness as a basis for excluding his fact testimony are improper.” They claim that the “first Laumer prong unconstitutionally limits the criminal defendant's right to call witnesses in his favor and present a complete defense, and further impinges on his right to trial by jury.” See U.S. Const. amends. V, VI. They therefore argue that the trial court erred when it excluded Tywon Hager's testimony based on its own assessment of his credibility.

A. The First Prong of Laumer

‘Hearsay’ is any out-of-court statement ‘offered in evidence to prove the truth of the matter asserted.’ Martin v. United States, 991 A.2d 791, 797 (D.C.2010). Although “generally not admissible at trial [,] Laumer, 409 A.2d at 194, hearsay “will be admissible if it falls under an exception.” Dutch v. United States, 997 A.2d 685, 688 (D.C.2010). Such exceptions “provide for the admission of statements because they exhibit certain indicia of reliability that overcome or outweigh the normal risks associated with the inherent dangers of hearsay statements.” Laumer, 409 A.2d at 194.

Historically, our common law did not contain a hearsay exception for statements against penal interest. See, e.g., United States v. Alexander, 430 F.2d 904, 906 (D.C.Cir.1970) (“declin[ing] appellant's invitation” to adopt the exception for hearsay statements against penal interest). However, in Laumer v. United States, this court, sitting en banc, held that the “total rejection of declarations against penal interest ... keeps reliable and probative evidence from the trier of fact[.] 409 A.2d at 197. Nevertheless, “not all confessions are admissible, and we exclude those confessions that are inherently untrustworthy.”

Id. Therefore, in adopting a hearsay exception for declarations against penal interest, we preferred the approach of the federal rule because “it not only abolishes the doctrine that totally bars declarations against penal interest from evidence, but also assures that proffered declarations against penal interest contain those indicia of reliability that are consistent with the rationale behind other hearsay exceptions.” Id. at 199.

When assessing whether a statement fits within the declaration against penal interest exception, we require a “trial judge to undertake a three-step inquiry to ascertain (1) whether the declarant, in fact, made a statement; (2) whether the declarant is unavailable; and (3) whether corroborating circumstances clearly indicate the trustworthiness of the statement.” Id. at 199. When applying the first prong of the test to determine “whether the declarant in fact made the proffered statement, the trial court's focus is not on the truth of the declaration, but on the veracity of the witness who repeats the declaration.” Id. “If the trial judge concludes that no statement was made, then no basis exists for any further inquiry, and the proffered testimony should be excluded.” Id.

The test we adopted was largely based on the federal hearsay exception for statements against penal interest, which, at the time of Laumer, required that the declarant be unavailable and that “corroborating circumstances clearly indicate the trustworthiness of the statement.” Fed.R.Evid. 804(b)(3). Although the first prong of Laumer is not explicitly set forth in the federal hearsay exception, federal appellate courts have historically been split over whether a trial court should assess the credibility of the in-court witness as part of its corroborating circumstances analysis.2

Recently, however, in conjunction with an amendment to the Federal Rules, the Advisory Committee on Evidence Rules adopted the following commentary: [T]he credibility of the witness who relates the statement is not a proper factor for the court to consider in assessing corroborating circumstances. To base admission or exclusion of a hearsay statement on the witness's credibility would usurp the jury's role of determining the credibility of testifying witnesses.” Advisory Committee Note on the 2010 Amendments to Fed.R.Evid. 804(b)(3), 28 U.S.C.A., p. 338 (West 2012). Thus far, only the Seventh Circuit has explicitly acknowledged this revised commentary and changed its stance. See United States v. Henderson, 736 F.3d 1128, 1131 (7th Cir.2013) (“The question of whether the declarant made the statement implicates the testifying witness's credibility; making credibility determinations is a role reserved to the jury.”).3 It now appears that the first prong of Laumer, which requires the trial court to assess the credibility of the in-court witness as part of the test for admitting statements against penal interest, represents a minority view.4

B. Revisiting a Prior Decision

“The rule is fundamental in our jurisprudence that ‘no division of this court will overrule a prior decision of this court.’ Washington v. Guest Servs., Inc., 718 A.2d 1071, 1075 (D.C.1998) (quoting M.A.P. v. Ryan, 285 A.2d 310, 312 (D...

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4 cases
  • Bost v. United States, s. 12–CF–1589
    • United States
    • D.C. Court of Appeals
    • 15 February 2018
    ...focus is not on the truth of the declaration, but on the veracity of the witness who repeats the declaration." McCorkle v. United States , 100 A.3d 116, 120 (D.C. 2014) (citation omitted). In finding that Best's non-verbal responses to his mother qualified as statements against his penal in......
  • Robinson v. United States, s. 11–CF–1443
    • United States
    • D.C. Court of Appeals
    • 25 September 2014
  • Walker v. United States
    • United States
    • D.C. Court of Appeals
    • 24 August 2017
    ...is presumptively for the jury to determine, but we have held that it "remains good law" in this jurisdiction. McCorkle v. United States, 100 A.3d 116, 122 (D.C. 2014).51 Ingram v. United States, 976 A.2d 180, 188 (D.C. 2009) (internal quotation marks omitted); see also Laumer, 409 A.2d at 2......
  • Walker v. United States
    • United States
    • D.C. Court of Appeals
    • 24 August 2017
    ...is presumptively for the jury to determine, but we have held that it "remains good law" in this jurisdiction. McCorkle v. United States, 100 A.3d 116, 122 (D.C. 2014). 51. Ingram v. United States, 976 A.2d 180, 188 (D.C. 2009) (internal quotation marks omitted); see also Laumer, 409 A.2d at......

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