Williams v. United States

Decision Date13 September 2012
Docket NumberNo. 06–CF–1148.,06–CF–1148.
Citation51 A.3d 1273
PartiesAntonio WILLIAMS, Appellant, v. UNITED STATES, Appellee.
CourtD.C. Court of Appeals

OPINION TEXT STARTS HERE

Barbara E. Kittay for appellant.

Ronald C. Machen Jr., United States Attorney, Roy W. McLeese III, Assistant United States Attorney at the time the brief was filed, Kristina L. Ament and Elizabeth H. Danello, Assistant United States Attorneys, were on the brief for appellee.

Before BLACKBURNE–RIGSBY, Associate Judge, and NEBEKER and RUIZ, * Senior Judges.

RUIZ, Senior Judge:

Antonio Williams appeals his convictions of first-degree theft,1 destruction of property,2 contempt,3 and obstruction of justice 4 in connection with several incidents of domestic violence. On appeal, he argues (1) that the evidence was insufficient to support the conviction for contempt, (2) that the court improperly instructed the jury on the intent element of contempt, (3) that the court erred in failing to give a unanimity instruction on the charges of contempt and obstruction of justice, and (4) that a portion of the jury selection violated his right to a public trial. We affirm.

I. Facts

Appellant met the complainant, Mable Flood, in mid-September 2005 and the two began a romantic relationship soon thereafter. The relationship progressed to the point that appellant began living with Flood and her two-year-old son, in Flood's apartment at 3392 Blaine Street Northeast in the District of Columbia. Soon, however, their relationship developed conflicts that involved violence. Flood testified that on December 3, 2005, after an argument about another man calling the apartment, appellant “grabbed” a knife and “came towards” her as she was lying in bed.5 She was able to stop the knife from striking her by grabbing appellant's hand. Her son, who was sleeping next to her in bed, woke up screaming, and appellant left the room. Flood testified that she did not call the police because she “had feelings” for appellant and she wanted to help him. Appellant continued to stay with Flood in her apartment.

On December 24, 2005, appellant and Flood had an argument over the length of time that Flood had left her son with appellant while she visited with family at the home of her sister Dolores. Dolores had accompanied Flood back to the apartment and intervened in the argument by telling Flood not to “run.” The argument continued and Dolores “grabbed” appellant around the neck. In response, appellant threatened to hurt Dolores. After appellant left the apartment, Flood called the police. Her nephew changed the bottom lock on her apartment door that night, and Flood and her son spent Christmas eve at Dolores's house. While Flood was at Dolores's house that night and the next morning, appellant called Flood “a lot” of times from Flood's apartment. Flood testified that the conversations contained “a lot of arguing, lot of cursing,” but she could not recall any specifics.6 When Flood returned home the following day, December 25, with her son and her oldest nephew, she found the apartment “trashed.” The contents of the refrigerator had been thrown on the walls; the words “Bitch, fuck you” had been inscribed on a wall; plants had been dumped on the carpet; two television sets had been destroyed; and the family's fish had been killed. The Christmas tree also was “trashed” and Flood's son's Christmas toys were missing, along with his Playstation video game console and his bed. The oven was left on broil and the bathtub was stopped up.

On January 17, 2006, an arrest warrant was issued for appellant. On March 4, 2006, Flood encountered appellant riding a bicycle on the 3300 block of Blaine Street Northeast. She invited appellant to her apartment, but the two soon began arguing in the bedroom. When police knocked on the door shortly thereafter, appellant hid in the closet, Flood answered the door, let the officers into her apartment, and told them that appellant was not there. 7 The officers went into the bedroom, found appellant, and arrested him. Appellant and Flood continued to communicate after his arrest. At trial, the government played a tape of a telephone conversation between appellant and Flood, in which appellant urged Flood not to testify in court. In addition, the government introduced into evidence a letter that appellant wrote to Flood at some point after the telephone conversation, asking Flood not to come to court. Flood acknowledged at trial that she still had feelings for appellant, and that she testified at trial because she had been subpoenaed to do so.

Appellant was charged with one count of assault with a dangerous weapon (ADW), three counts of threats, one count of second-degree burglary, one count of destruction of property, one count of first-degree theft, one count of contempt, and one count of obstruction of justice. At the close of trial, the court dismissed one count of threats against appellant. The jury acquitted appellant of ADW, the two remaining counts of threats, and burglary. The jury convicted appellant of destruction of property, first-degree theft, contempt, and obstruction of justice. Appellant was sentenced to seven months of imprisonment for contempt, followed by concurrent terms of eighteen months of imprisonment for destruction of property and theft and seventy-two months for obstruction of justice, and concurrent three-year terms of supervised release.

II. Contempt

Appellant argues that the evidence was insufficient to support his conviction for contempt because there was no evidence that a stay-away order issued on October 25, 2005 was in effect during the period charged in the Complaint, from December 3, 2005, to March 4, 2006. Although there was no direct evidence on the point, we conclude that the evidence was sufficient to support the contempt conviction because a juror could reasonably have inferred from the date the stay-away order was issued that it was still in effect during the relevant time period.

We will reverse a conviction for insufficiency of the evidence ‘only where the government has produced no evidence from which a reasonable mind might fairly infer guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.’ Anderson v. United States, 857 A.2d 451, 463 (D.C.2004) (quoting Zanders v. United States, 678 A.2d 556, 563 (D.C.1996)).

At trial, the parties stipulated as follows:

The parties agree that on October 25th, 2005, a District of Columbia Superior Court judge ordered the defendant, Michael Kirk, to stay away from the 3300 block of Blaine Street, Northeast, in the District of Columbia. The order was issued in a case unrelated to the current case against Mr. Kirk. Mr. Kirk acknowledged in open court that he understood the order and signed a document to that effect.

(The Michael Kirk referred to in the stipulation is appellant; that is the name by which the witnesses knew him.) No other details about the order were stipulated, or presented to the jury. The order was not introduced into evidence.

The offense of contempt requires ‘both a contemptuous act and a wrongful state of mind.’ Davis v. United States, 834 A.2d 861, 866 (D.C.2003) (quoting Swisher v. United States, 572 A.2d 85, 89 (D.C.1990)); seeD.C.Code § 11–944 (2001). Thus, to prove criminal contempt that rests on violation of a court order, “the government must present evidence proving beyond a reasonable doubt that defendant engaged in: (1) willful disobedience (2) of a protective court order.” Ba v. United States, 809 A.2d 1178, 1183 (D.C.2002). “Compliance with court orders is required until they are reversed on appeal or are later modified.” In re Dixon, 853 A.2d 708, 711–12 (D.C.2004).

Viewed “in the light most favorable to the government,” the evidence was sufficient to support appellant's conviction for contempt. Dickerson v. United States, 650 A.2d 680, 683 (D.C.1994). It was undisputed that appellant had been ordered on October 25, 2005, to stay away from the 3300 block of Blaine Street Northeast. Appellant had acknowledged that he understood the order. Even though the order was entered in an unrelated case, it pertained to the same block where Flood's apartment was located, at 3392 Blaine Street. The government presented evidence showing that appellant began living in Flood's apartment some time after they met in mid-September 2005, and that on at least three specific dates—December 3 and 24, 2005, and March 4, 2006he was in her apartment where he threatened and argued with Flood and “trashed” her apartment and possessions. A reasonable juror could infer from this evidence that appellant knew that by being present in Flood's apartment, he was disobeying the stay-away order.

Appellant argues, however, that there was no evidence from which the jury could infer that the stay-away order was in effect during the period, December 3, 2005March 4, 2006, identified in the Complaint. It is true that the government did not present any direct evidence that the stay away order was in effect on any of the three specific dates the government alleged that appellant was at Flood's apartment; as mentioned, the order itself was not introduced into evidence. The jury was not limited, however, to considering only direct evidence that the order was in effect, nor was the jury limited to finding contempt based only on the three specific dates when appellant engaged in violent behavior, so long as appellant visited the prohibited block on Blaine Street during the four-month period in the Complaint. See Dickerson, 650 A.2d at 683 (“No distinction is drawn between direct and circumstantial evidence.”). Flood testified that she met appellant on September 15, 2005, and began to see appellant “every day” two weeks later. Even though appellant did not agree to “at first,” he eventually had keys to her apartment and stayed “every night.” When asked about the state of their relationship “as the fall went on,” Flood said it was “good” and that appellant helped out and took care of her son at her...

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