Criminal Law Blog

Just Because There’s A Stolen Phone In A Store You Work At Doesn’t Make You Guilty Of Receiving Stolen Property


David J. Brown v. United States (decided December 10, 2015)



Players: Associate Judges Blackburne-Rigsby and Thompson, Senior Judge Reid.  Opinion by Judge Reid.  Cecily E. Baskir for Mr. Brown.  Trial Judge: John McCabe.



Facts: Martha Bass was walking down North Capitol Street when someone grabbed her cell phone and ran off.  Using a GPS tracker on the phone, Ms. Bass and the police located the phone at an electronics repair shop.  David Brown opened the door.  After the police told him they had reason to believe a stolen phone was in the store, he went to the back of the store, brought out Ms. Bass’s phone, and asked if that was what they were looking for.  After initially telling the police the phone had arrived earlier that day in the shop and providing an invoice for the phone, he eventually told the police that he had fabricated the invoice in order to protect the store, that he knew who had brought the phone to the store, and would help the police if they did not arrest him. 



When Mr. Brown failed to make good on his promise of assistance, the police obtained a search warrant for the shop and located an additional stolen phone.  This phone belonged to Mary Register, who told the police her phone had been stolen over a month before the search warrant was executed.  The government presented no evidence at trial as to precisely who owned the store, and there was testimony that numerous people worked there and brought various pieces of property on to the premises. 



Issue 1:  Did the trial court abuse its discretion in denying Mr. Brown’s Batson challenge to the prosecution’s use of six of seven preemptory strikes against black venire members?



Holding:  No.  The defense did not meet its burden of persuasion that the race-neutral explanations given by the prosecution were pretextual.  With the exception of one strike, the defense made only the conclusory assertion that most of the strikes (six out of seven) were against black venire members.  With respect to a strike justified on the basis of the venire member’s prior criminal conviction, the trial court did not err in finding that the stricken individual was sufficiently differently situated from other venire members who had been the victim of a crime or who had relatives who had been convicted of a crime.  Finally, the DCCA rejected Mr. Brown’s argument on appeal that the trial court abused its discretion because the prosecution’s race-neutral reasons were primarily based on the body language and demeanor of the stricken venire members.



Issue 2: Was there sufficient evidence that Mr. Brown: (1) knew or had reason to believe Ms. Bass’s phone was stolen, and (2) had knowledge and constructive possession of Ms. Register’s phone.



Holding: As to (1), yes.  There was competent evidence that Mr. Brown admitted knowing Ms. Bass’s phone was stolen to the police when he admitted to producing the fake invoice.  As to (2), no.  The government failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. Brown constructively possessed Ms. Register’s phone or that Mr. Brown knew or had reason to believe the phone was stolen.  The evidence did not establish how the phone came to be in the store, and there was evidence that the items in the store were controlled by multiple people who worked there.



Note: The DCCA also reversed Mr. Brown’s conviction for trafficking in stolen goods because the trafficking statute requires the government to prove two or more instances of receipt of stolen property.  CP



Read full opinion here.