Petition for Rehearing En Banc Denied November 14, 1966.
Statement on Denial of Rehearing En Banc Filed November 29, 1966.
Certiorari Denied February 27, 1967. See 87 S.Ct. 979.
This appeal is from a jury conviction for rape and simple assault. It presents no issue as to whether the rape occurred under the circumstances of time and place alleged, but only of whether the verdict against appellant (who interposed an alibi defense) can stand as against the claim that it rested upon an inadequate quantum of proof, or that certain testimony was received under conditions constituting prejudicial error. This latter had to do with the Government's impeachment of two of its own witnesses pursuant to a claim of surprise, as provided in 14 D.C.Code § 102 (Supp.V, 1966). We have concluded to affirm; and we confine our detailed discussion to the impeachment matter because
Our resolution of the weight of the evidence issue has, of course, been made without reference to the substance of any of the matters which were disclosed in the course of the impeachment. The Government's case consisted principally of (1) undisputed evidence that the complaining witness had been attacked and raped while walking down R. Street, N. W., after having gotten off a bus at the corner of 14th and R in the course of coming home from work; (2) testimony by one Beaner that he was standing on the street corner with appellant and other young men when a woman wearing a coat of the color of that worn by the complaining witness appeared, appellant explained "Look at that woman," appellant and another set off after her, and Beaner shortly saw a "female" down the street surrounded by two "fellows"; and (3) evidence of a benzedrine test for the presence of blood on appellant, which test appellant agreed to take and which turned out positive, and in respect of which appellant responded negatively to a police inquiry as to whether there was any reason why there should have been blood on him.
Two of the witnesses placed on the stand by the Government were among those named by Beaner as having been in the group on the corner; and the impeachment issue arises with respect to their testimony. One of such witnesses, Hosley, testified on direct examination that he did not know appellant and that he did not see appellant in the group. This had the effect of contradicting Beaner's testimony; and the prosecutor invoked the statute. The court concluded that there had been surprise, and permitted the prosecutor to examine Hosley as a hostile witness.
The second such witness, Flournoy, gave the prosecutor similar difficulties. Flournoy got as far on direct as admitting
It is urged upon us that it was reversible error for the trial court to permit the prosecutor to read both these statements in their entirety to the jury in the course of his use of them for impeachment. It is further argued that it was plain error for the trial court not to have cautioned the jury at the time it permitted impeachment that the resulting evidence was to be considered by the jury only in relation to credibility, especially since the prosecutor in his closing argument is also said to have fatally infected the record with references to the matters contained in the statements as if they were evidence bearing upon guilt or innocence. The trial court did charge the jury fully and properly in this regard at the end of the case, and there was no defense request that it do so earlier.
These contentions are strikingly parallel to those made to this court in Wheeler v. United States, 93 U.S.App. D.C. 159, 211 F.2d 19 (1953), cert. denied, 347 U.S. 1019, 74 S.Ct. 876, 98 L. Ed. 1140 (1954). They were all rejected in that case as necessitating reversal, although one judge dissented because of the comments made by the prosecutor in his jury argument and also doubted that the trial court should have permitted the reading of all of the witness's prior statement because it was prejudicially replete with the sordid details of a sexual attack by an adult on a small child. With respect to this latter point, the statements here involved are not of that character. In any event, the majority in Wheeler thought that, since impeachment to some extent was proper, this issue lay within the traditional discretion of the trial judge to admit as much of the impeaching statement as is "essential to appraise the contradiction uttered from the witness stand." As in Wheeler, we cannot say that, applying this standard, there was a clear abuse of discretion in the record before us which makes a new trial inescapable.
In the same way, we see no reason to treat differently than did Wheeler the unchallenged comments in the closing argument, and the failure sua sponte to immediately caution as to the limited purpose for which the statements were being received. There is, as we have remarked before, an anomalous aspect to finding abuse in a discretion which has never been invoked; and we are far from persuaded that a failure to reverse for these reasons raises, any more than it did in Wheeler, the spectre of the conviction of an innocent person.
Thus we leave this conviction undisturbed. This record serves to remind us, however, of the difficulties inherent in achieving the legislative purpose, clearly stated in Section 102, of limiting the effect of impeaching statements to the credibility issue. See Byrd v. United States, 119 U.S.App.D.C. 360, 342 F.2d 939 (1965). In Wheeler we did say that a limiting caution at the time of impeachment, as well as in the final charge, "would certainly have been desirable." The passage of time since Wheeler has not altered that view; and this case is ample proof of the wisdom of our precatory expression in Wheeler.
The statute which embodies the impeaching privilege says nothing about cautionary instructions at any time. But we have said that a failure to give any instruction at all, even though never requested, vitiates the privilege accorded under the statute and may require reversal. Bartley v. United States, 115 U.S. App.D.C. 316, 319 F.2d 717 (1963). We see no reason why the effort to effectuate the spirit of the statute should not
From this day forward, therefore, we read the statute as contemplating a ruling by the trial court which comprehends, in addition to a finding of surprise, an immediate representation to the jury as to the purpose for which the impeaching statements are being permitted to come in. Any other course is unnecessarily pregnant with dangers to the cause of justice as well as to economy in the employment of our already strained judicial resources; and both these interests are too important to be left to the alertness of defense counsel when there is an easy and obvious way to safeguard them at all events. The prospective operation we give this new approach is, we think, consistent with the interests of justice. Compare Johnson and Cassidy v. New Jersey, Note 1, supra. But it is those same interests which will be significantly advanced by our new interpretation and, in trials held hereafter, it is not to be the less rigorously observed because we have seen fit to make it prospective.
The judgment appealed from is
STATEMENT OF CHIEF JUDGE BAZELON WHY HE BELIEVES THE PETITION FOR REHEARING EN BANC SHOULD BE GRANTED
BAZELON, Chief Judge (statement on denial of rehearing en banc):
I vote for rehearing en banc. In this case the Court determined that a new rule was required because "any other course is unnecessarily pregnant with dangers to the cause of justice." Despite this reason, the Court refused to apply the rule to Coleman, who had urged it on direct appeal. This refusal, I think, raises questions of sufficient importance to warrant rehearing en banc.
J. SKELLY WRIGHT, Circuit Judge, would grant petition for rehearing en banc.