Criminal Law Blog

First-Degree burglary statute covers the common hallway of an occupied residential apartment building.

Hallway by Jack Zalium, licensed under Creative Commons

Ruffin v. U.S., 15-CF-1378 (decided November 21, 2019)

  • Holding 1: Proof that appellant pushed complainant at knife-point through the entrance and into the common hallway of her multi-unit row house apartment building was sufficient to establish that he “enter[ed] . . . [a] dwelling” as required for the crime of first-degree burglary, even though appellant did not enter into any apartment before he fled the scene. A “dwelling” includes “any enclosed space used for human habitation,” such as a residential apartment building. Slip Op. at 9. The common hallway at issue, located behind a locked door, was “in no way . . . so open to the public at large as to be considered outside” and was therefore “part of the private dwelling.” Id. at 12.

  • Holding 2: The evidence presented was sufficient to establish kidnapping, notwithstanding withstanding appellant’s argument that the only detention of complainant was brief and incidental to the assault and robbery complainant suffered. Id. at 14-15.

  • Holding 3: Where the government sent DNA profiles generated by one laboratory (DFS) to be interpreted by a second laboratory (Bode), amid reports of serious flaws in DFS’s interpretation procedures, the trial court did not abuse its discretion by allowing a Bode expert to testify regarding opinions that she derived from the data that DFS generated. The court had no reason to think the DFS data was unreliable given that “the criticisms of DFS pertained only to its statistical interpretation of DNA data,” not the procedures used to generate profiles, and given the Bode expert’s testimony that it was not uncommon for one laboratory to review and analyze data provided by another. Id. at 20.

  • Holding 4: The trial court did not err in admitting into evidence a silver and black folding knife that police found in appellant’s jean pocket months after the attack on complainant, given that it fit complainant’s general description of the knife used during the attack. Although complainant never identified appellant’s knife or mentioned its black handle in describing the knife used by her attacker, and although there was a seven-week gap between the attack and when appellant would stipulate that his knife was in his possession, none of these factors was significant enough to deprive the knife of any probative value. Id. at 24-25.

Read the full opinion here.

Relevant portions of this post have been added to Expert Testimony section and Physical Evidence section of The (Early) Year in Review (Part 2), as well as the Elements/Sufficiency of the Evidence section of The (Early) Year in Review (Part 3).