Gang Initiation Turns Deadly

A case that got appealed to the Circuit Court of the District of Columbia following a conviction for second-degree murder has been overturned in the defendant’s favor because the prosecutor made an interesting mistake: He got the law wrong.

The case began in Germany, when ex-military member Rico Williams, who had stayed abroad to be with his wife, who was still a service member, and several others in his gang took a prospective member through the initiation process. The process involved six current gang members beating up the initiate for a full six minutes, punching the initiate repeatedly between the neck and waist. If the initiate wanted it to stop, he would not be allowed to join the gang.

However, Williams changed these rules for the initiation of Juwan Johnson. Williams brought nine gang members instead of six and struck several blows to Johnson’s head. Throughout the initiation, Johnson told them to continue, even after he fell to the ground and the gang members started kicking him. Hours after the initiation, Johnson died.

Murder Charges Filed

For his role in Johnson’s death, Williams was charged with second-degree murder, which was pursued in federal court because of his status as the spouse of a service member abroad. His case went before the federal district court in the District of Columbia.

Prosecutor’s Legal Mistake Opens Up Appeal

Legally, when the charge is for second-degree murder or manslaughter, the consent of the deceased cannot be used as a defense. Even if the victim had told the defendant to do what he did, that permission does not make it okay for the defendant to kill the victim.

However, second-degree murder, which carries a higher punishment than manslaughter, requires the prosecutor to show that the defendant had “malice aforethought,” or had intended to commit the crime. Consent by the victim can have an impact on this intention.

Therefore, it became a problem when all of the evidence was presented and the prosecutor rose to give a closing statement, in which the prosecutor told the jury that they could not consider Johnson’s consent to the beating in their determination as to whether Williams was guilty as charged.

When the jury came back with a guilty verdict, Williams appealed the conviction, claiming that the misstatement made by the prosecutor had impacted the verdict.

Appellate Court Sides with Defendant

The Circuit Court for the District of Columbia heard the case and determined that the prosecutor’s mistake because it was not corrected by the judge, was not only wrong, but also prejudicial enough to the defendant that a new trial should be awarded.

Federal Criminal Law Center Handles Federal Appeals

There are too many different ways to appeal an adverse court order to count. Sometimes, like in this case, it is just a tiny misstatement by the other side in their closing argument that can open the door to challenging the court’s decision or the jury’s verdict.

If you are considering appealing a court’s ruling on your federal criminal charge, contact the Federal Criminal Law Center online.