D.C. court orders new trial for arrestee in traffic incident

Jessica M. Karmasek Sep. 21, 2010, 3:21pm

WASHINGTON (Legal Newsline) - The District of Columbia Court of Appeals has ordered a new trial in the case of a man who sued the district for false arrest following a traffic incident.

The court, in its decision filed late last week, vacated the judgment of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia.

The arrest of Michael Enders came as a result of an impact between Enders' car and a car driven by Kathleen Cravedi.

Enders, who represented himself at trial as he did on appeal, testified that he saw Cravedi sitting in a car that he believed was parked too far from the curb, near the intersection of 44th and Jenifer Streets in Northwest.

He pulled up next to Cravedi's car -- which was facing the opposite direction from his -- rolled down his window, and asked her why she was parked so far into the street. Cravedi dismissed him, returning to a conversation on her cell phone, he said.

Enders then made a U-turn and pulled his car behind Cravedi's, testifying he was planning to honk his horn from that position to indicate how far she had parked from the curb. He testified that
he pulled up too close to Cravedi's car and inadvertently "tapped" her bumper, as one would if he or she was parallel parking.

Embarrassed, and feeling as though he no longer had a right to chastise Cravedi about her parking, Enders pulled away, turned his car around and drove home, which was on nearby Harrison Street.

As he was walking to his door, Officer Sylvania Davis approached him and asked him if he had been involved in a collision on 44th Street, and when he said he had, the officer asked Enders if he would accompany him back to the scene.

Cravedi, on the other hand, testified that she started to get scared and thought Enders was going to hit her car when he pulled his car behind hers. Soon after, she felt what she described as "a big bang," saying it wasn't just a tap.

It was after she was hit, and Enders subsequently drove off, she ran to a nearby police cruiser and told the officer, Davis, what had happened. Davis then departed and returned a few minutes later with Enders.

After Enders returned to the scene, several other officers arrived, and after an hour of discussion among the officers and the two motorists, Enders was placed under arrest.

Enders was told he was being charged with assault with a deadly or dangerous weapon, his car. He also received a notice of infraction charging him with fleeing the scene of an accident after causing personal injury or substantial property damage.

Following a trial and a jury verdict in the district's favor, Enders filed an appeal. He asserted that the trial court's instructions misled the jury into believing the arrest could be justified on less than was actually required.

Specifically, he challenged the instruction that a warrantless arrest is justified if a law enforcement officer has probable cause to believe that "a crime" has been or is about to be committed.

Enders argued, citing D.C. code, that an officer may lawfully arrest without a warrant only for a felony or for a misdemeanor committed either in the officer's presence or under certain other, limited, circumstances.

The district did not address this or any of Enders' other arguments, but instead asserted that the appeals court should affirm the judgment on the basis of two alternative grounds.

First, the district argued that Enders did not comply with the mandatory pre-litigation notice requirement. Second, it argued that on this record, as a matter of law, the officers had probable cause to arrest for the felony of malicious destruction of property exceeding $200.

In its ruling, the appeals court agreed with Enders that the trial court's jury instructions were prejudicially in error. It also was not persuaded by either of the district's proposed alternative grounds for affirmance.

Senior Judge John M. Steadman, who authored the appeals court's decision, wrote, "Where, as here, the evidence of the amount of the damage was so limited and in conflict, we simply cannot conclude that there was 'undisputed evidence requiring a conclusion, as a matter of law, that the officers had a reasonable, good faith belief in the lawfulness of the arrest.'"

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by e-mail at jessica@legalnewsline.com.

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