D.C. Shooting Conviction Overturned on Appeal for Judicial Error

February 12, 2013
By Daniel A. Gross on February 12, 2013 12:18 PM |

Prosecutors are deciding whether to retry a man who was convicted of assault with intent to kill in D.C., following the 2008 shooting death of a 13-year-old visiting Alabama boy. gun5.jpg

D.C. criminal defense lawyers understand that the conviction was overturned by the D.C. Court of Appeals late last month, after finding that the judge overseeing the 2011 trial did not properly instruct the jury following its return of guilty verdicts for five of the six charges of which he was accused.

According to court records, the trial actually should have ended in a hung jury. When jurors first returned to the judge with their decision, they said all but one juror was in agreement. The judge responded that they should deliberate until all of them were in agreement. What he failed to do was warn the jurors about pressuring the one who disagreed into siding with their viewpoint.

In order for a verdict to be rendered one way or another in a criminal case, the decision has to be unanimous among jurors. Even in cases where the evidence against you may be substantial, all a defense attorney has to do is convince one or two members of the jury of reasonable doubt with regard to your guilt.

This error, the appellate court found, created the potential for coercion of the juror who was not in agreement.

The fact is, this was a complicated case, with some eight suspects involved in a spree of shootings in the District's Trinidad neighborhood that summer. The boy who was killed was visiting his grandmother, and was shot in a drive-by. But prosecutors reportedly had a difficult time obtaining statements from credible witnesses.

In fact, they only had two direct witnesses to testify, and one of those had struck a deal with prosecutors on another case in exchange for his testimony. What's more, he had reportedly admitted to using multiple drugs that day, and was reported to have a history of mental health issues.

Two other men charged in the case were acquitted and the jury was hung in the case of a third. Prosecutors dropped charges against a fourth man.

The individual in this case is already serving a 10-year term after he pleading guilty to an obstruction charge in a separate murder trial.

Police have other suspects for whom they are reportedly continuing to search.

The whole spree of incidents prompted D.C. police to set up military-style checkpoints in the neighborhood, which a federal appeals court later found to be unconstitutional.

The main point in all of this is that there are almost always going to be legal technicalities in every criminal case. But the appeals process can be quite lengthy and despite the outcome here, it can be extremely difficult to be successful in having an earlier verdict completely overturned. The key is to make sure you have hired a criminal defense lawyer with extensive experience in the area of law for which you are facing charges.

If you have been arrested in Washington D.C., contact the Law Office of Daniel A. Gross, PLLC at 202-596-5716 for a free and confidential consultation to discuss your rights.

Additional Resources:
D.C. Court of Appeals overturns conviction in '08 Trinidad shooting, cites judge's error, Feb. 3, 2013, By Keith L. Alexander, The Washington Post

More Blog Entries:
A Good D.C. Criminal Defense Can't Be Mounted Alone, Jan. 31, 2013, D.C. Criminal Defense Lawyer Blog