Criminal Law Blog

Complainant’s failure to correct first responder’s inconsistent ID was admissible to impeach complainant; complainant’s later ID of the defendant to a detective was NOT admissible to rehabilitate complainant.

In re C.A. (decided June 14, 2018)

Players: Associate Judges Easterly and McLeese, and Senior Judge Ruiz. Opinion by Judge Easterly. PDS for C.A. Trial Judge: Kimberley S. Knowles.

Facts: The trial court found C.A. responsible for two counts of attempted first degree murder as well as related lesser charges. Complainants A.H. and M.L. testified that C.A. and his companion, Mike, wearing white and black clothing, respectively, confronted and followed them, before C.A. shot at them with a gun he got from the older Mike. Shell casings, video surveillance, and gunshot audio corroborated the complainants’ account that someone in white shot at them. However, the surveillance footage was too pixelated to corroborate that C.A. was the person in white. 

The case against C.A. rested heavily upon A.H. and M.L.’s testimony. Counsel for C.A. sought to impeach A.H.’s testimony with police body camera footage showing A.H.’s failure to correct one of the first officers to respond to the scene when that officer told another that “the one in black,” i.e., Mike, was the shooter.  The trial court prevented counsel from confronting A.H. with the body camera footage based on A.H.’s denial that he heard the officer’s statement, reasoning that counsel “could not prove” that A.H. heard the officer. The court further allowed the government to introduce A.H.’s later statement to a detective, identifying C.A. as the shooter. 

Issue 1: Did the trial court err by barring extrinsic evidence of A.H.’s failure to correct the police’s statements identifying “the one in black” as the shooter?

Holding 1: Yes. The trial court overstated the foundation required to impeach with extrinsic evidence. Impeachment requires only relevance and a “good faith basis” for the impeaching fact. A party may use extrinsic evidence to impeach as long as the impeachment does not concern a collateral matter. A.H.’s failure to correct the officer when he was within earshot was directly relevant to A.H.’s credibility. Since the line of questioning challenged the central issue at trial, the identity of the shooter, the evidence was not collateral. 

Issue 2: Did the trial court err in admitting A.H.’s identification of C.A. to the detective as a prior consistent statement?

Holding 2: Yes. A.H.’s identification of C.A. did not constitute a prior consistent statement because it occurred after the prior inconsistent statement at issue—A.H.’s failure to identify C.A. to the uniformed officers on the scene—and was neither a part of, nor designed to rebut, the prior inconsistent statement. A.H.’s identification to the detective was not “directed only at the particular impeachment that occurred” in the narrow sense contemplated by Worthy v. United States, 100 A.3d 1095 (D.C. 2012), because it happened after, not before, A.H. failed to identify C.A. to first responders and did not help to explain that failure.

Issue 3: Were trial court’s errors harmless under the Kotteakos standard for nonconstitutional error set out in? 

Holding 3: No. The errors in precluding the impeachment evidence and admitting the prior consistent statements are not harmless because of its influence on the trial court’s assessment of witness credibility, and the case against C.A. was solely built upon such witness identification. WC and Christine Liu, guest blogging.

Read the full opinion here.