Criminal Law Blog

Data from ankle monitor and treatment for a concussion were sufficient to establish robbery and assault with significant bodily injury.

 

Stephon Brown v. United States (decided September 1, 2016).

Players: Associate Judges Thompson and Beckwith, Senior Judge King. Opinion by Thompson. Sicilia Englert for Mr. Brown.  Trial judge: Todd E. Edelman

Facts: On December 15, 2014, while he was attempting to make a food delivery for a restaurant, two men attacked Gregory Dowell by repeatedly punching and kicking him in the head and body. They then took his phone, wallet, and vest, and one man rode away on Mr. Dowell’s bicycle. After Mr. Dowell reported the incident, police ran a check to determine if anyone’s GPS monitoring device was in the area at the time of the incident. Through that check, police learned that Stephon Brown had been in the area. Police then went to his house, where they located Mr. Dowell’s bicycle. 

Due to the attack, Mr. Dowell experienced headaches but declined to go to the hospital despite being urged to go by both the paramedics who responded to the scene and a friend, who was a nurse. Mr. Dowell did not want to go because he did not have insurance. But five days later, when he was still experiencing pain, he went and was diagnosed with a concussion and underwent a CAT scan. 

The jury convicted Mr. Brown of robbery and assault with significant bodily injury. 

Issue 1:  Was the evidence sufficient to establish Mr. Brown committed the robbery?

Holding: Yes. Mr. Brown admitted there was evidence to place him in the area of the robbery close to the time it occurred and he admitted that the stolen bicycle was found at his house only a few hours after the robbery, but claimed he found an abandoned bike and rode it home. The court ruled there was sufficient evidence to connect him to the robbery. Mr. Dowell testified that two men walked past him around 8:50 pm on North Capitol Street, SE, between T Street and Seaton Place. The two men then returned, attacked him, and fled north on North Capitol before making a right turn. 

Mr. Brown’s main contention was that the GPS data was inconsistent with the complainant’s testimony. The court disagreed. One, the complainant testified he did not see anyone else in the area at the time. Two, though the tracking data showed that he moved farther south down North Capitol than the complainant had said, “the [complainant’s] testimony did not eliminate the possibility that the attackers did precisely that while [the complainant] was distracted” trying to make the food delivery. And three, testimony established that the GPS monitoring data generally are accurate within a fifty-foot radius of each point plotted on a map, allowing the jury to conclude that Mr. Brown was even closer to the location of the assault than the plotted points indicated. Those facts, plus the bike being found at his house shortly after the robbery, established sufficient evidence to support the jury’s verdict for robbery. 

Issue 2: Was the evidence sufficient to establish that Dowell suffered significant bodily injury?

Holding: Yes. To prove significant bodily injury there must be an injury “that requires hospitalization or immediate medical attention.” The complainant sustained “a lot of rapid blows” to the head, and suffered a laceration on his forehead and ears, and multiple bright red areas on his scalp, neck, and ears. He testified that afterwards, he felt “loopy” and “dazed,” that his head hurt, and that the pain lasted for several days. He finally went to the hospital after several days, even though he did not have insurance, because a friend offered to pay for his medical expenses. At the hospital, he described his pain as “unacceptable” and a “constant headache.” He was diagnosed with a concussion. The treating doctor testified that it is “important for people with concussions to seek medical treatment” and that doctors “want anyone who has a head injury to come in and be evaluated[.]” Also, the doctor testified she ordered a CAT scan, which is the typical test for anyone complaining of a head injury. The doctor admitted, however, that some people who do not follow the recommended course of treatment for a concussion “may do okay on their own.”

Referring to this case as “perhaps a closer one than we have seen in some previous cases,” the Court nonetheless concluded the evidence was sufficient to establish significant bodily injury. The Court cited the number of blows to the head, the amount of pain in the moment, the amount of lingering pain, and the recommendations that Mr. Dowell seek medical treatment immediately. Further, when he did go to the hospital, he did not receive a “mere diagnosis,” but underwent treatment, including a CAT scan and was prescribed limitations on his activities to avoid worsening his symptoms. Lastly, the Court noted that the doctor testifying someone might have “do[ne] okay” on his own” does not undermine the seriousness of the injury when it is one that otherwise would typically require “immediate medical attention” by a professional with “true medical expertise.” BM

Read full opinion here.