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United States v. Payne

United States District Court, D. Maryland

March 1, 2017

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
ERIC PAYNE, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          THEODORE D. CHUANG UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         On June 8, 2016, Defendant Eric Payne was convicted of misdemeanor simple assault, 18 U.S.C. S 113(a)(5) (2012), at a bench trial before a United States Magistrate Judge. Payne now appeals on the basis that the evidence at trial was insufficient to sustain the conviction. For the reasons set forth below, the conviction is affirmed.

         BACKGROUND

         The following facts were presented at trial. On the evening of November 12, 2015, Payne, a military veteran, went to The Club at Andrews ("the Club"), a restaurant and recreation facility located within Joint Base Andrews, a federal military installation. Payne uses a wheelchair because he has had his right leg amputated; he does not wear a prosthetic limb. That evening, the Club was hosting karaoke night, and the music was very loud.

         Donnell Barnett ("Barnett",, a cook, was working at the Club that night. Barnettss wife, Yoshiko Barnett, was also at the Club to celebrate a friend's birthday. When Barnettss shift ended at approximately 10:00 p.m., he sat down at the bar with a bottle of beer, approximately ten feet away from Yoshiko Barnett and her friend.

         Looking towards the dance floor, Barnett observed Payne speaking with Yoshiko Barnett and her friend and showing them pictures. Barnett was familiar with Payne and, in fact, had served him food and had a conversation with him that very night. Barnett watched as Payne put his arm around Yoshiko Barnettss shoulders and placed his hand near her buttocks. Unhappy with this turn of events, Barnett approached Payne, tapped him on the shoulder, and "asked him to back up because that was my wife and he was too close." Tr. at 105, Gov't Ex. 2, ECF No. 1-2. Because the music was loud, Barnett stood close to Payne while making this request. Barnett spoke loudly enough that Patricia Williams, a Club employee whose shift had also just ended, could hear him over the music while she was sitting at the bar.

         According to Barnett, Payne then became angry, used his arms to push himself out of his wheelchair, and hit Barnett twice in the chest with his open palms. The force of the strikes was not enough to cause Barnett to spill his beer. Shocked, Barnett put down his beer bottle, but before he could otherwise react, Williams and another co-worker intervened and escorted Barnett outside the Club. Barnett did not have any further interaction with Payne that night.

         Williams testified that she did not see the person Barnett had confronted. She did not see Payne at the Club that night, and did not see him put his hands on Barnett. Williams testified that she escorted Barnett from the club because she did not want him to get in trouble. Joyce Tyler, a bartender whose shift had also ended at 10:00 p.m., testified that while she was sitting at the bar listening to the karaoke music, she saw Barnett stand up behind his wife and speak to Payne, but she did not see Payne touch Barnett.

         Barnett did not report the incident. However, on November 25, 2015, the police contacted him, and he spoke to them about the alleged assault. On November 30, 2015, at the request of the police, he and Yoshiko Barnett went to the police station, where he signed a statement describing the incident. Yoshiko Barnett also gave a statement. On December 2, 2015, the police approached Williams and interviewed her about the incident. The police asked Tyler for a statement on December 8, 2015.

         Payne was charged in a superseding criminal complaint with simple assault upon Barnett, in violation of 18 U.S.C. S 113(a)(5). The superseding criminal complaint also charged Payne with a number of other misdemeanoss that he allegedly committed at Joint Base Andrews, including charges stemming from a traffic stop and from a separate incident at the Club. The charges resulted in three separate trials, each held before United States Magistrate Judge Charles B.Day on June 12, 2016.

         At the trial on the simple assault charge, the Government's only witness was Barnett. At the close of Barnettss testimony, Payne moved for judgment of acquittal. The Court denied the motion. The defense then called Williams and Tyler as witnesses. After hearing the testimony, the Magistrate Judge found Payne guilty of the assault of Donnell Barnett and sentenced him to a fine of $250 and a $10 special assessmen..

         DISCUSSION

         The sole issue on appeal is whether the Government presented sufficient evidence to support Payne's conviction for simple assault pursuant to 18 U.S.C. S 113(a)(5). Payne argues that the discrepancies in the trial testimony of Barnett, Williams, and Tyler preclude a finding of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. The Government urges the Court to affirm based on the Magistrate Judgess factual findings, particularly his determinaiion that Barnettss testimony was credible.

         I. ...


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