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United States v. Smoot

United States Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit

March 19, 2019

United States of America, Appellee
Charles Lee Smoot, Appellant

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Columbia (No. 1:17-cr-00137-1)

          Dennis M. Hart, appointed by the court, argued the cause and filed the brief for appellant.

          Daniel J. Lenerz, Assistant U.S. Attorney, argued the cause for appellee. With him on the brief were Jessie K. Liu, U.S. Attorney, and Elizabeth Trosman and Suzanne Grealy Curt, Assistant U.S. Attorneys.

          Before: Srinivasan, Circuit Judge, and Edwards and Randolph, Senior Circuit Judges.



         On September 20, 2017, Appellant, Charles Smoot, pled guilty to one count of bank robbery in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2113(a). He was subsequently sentenced to 96 months of incarceration. He now appeals to overturn his conviction and sentence.

         In support of his appeal, Appellant raises three claims of ineffective assistance of counsel. He contends, first, that his counsel was inadequately prepared for trial, second, that his counsel failed to object to an erroneous finding allegedly made by the District Court during sentencing and, third, that a conflict of interest existed between him and his counsel. Appellant's first claim of ineffective assistance of counsel fails because, even assuming that counsel was inadequately prepared, Appellant has failed to show that this caused him to plead guilty. Appellant's second claim fails because it is based on a mischaracterization of the record. Appellant asserts that the District Court erroneously found, at sentencing, that Appellant possessed a gun during the robbery, and that counsel for Appellant should have objected to that finding. The record is clear, however, that the District Court made no such finding and, therefore, counsel could not have been ineffective for failing to object. Appellant's third claim fails because he has not even alleged that the purported conflict of interest actually affected his counsel's performance.

         Appellant also argues that his plea agreement is invalid because the District Court impermissibly participated in plea bargaining in violation of Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure ("Rule 11"). However, we find no merit in this claim because the record establishes that the trial judge did not attempt to influence or coerce Appellant into taking a plea, nor did the judge otherwise inappropriately participate in plea bargaining.

         Because Appellant has failed to show that he was prejudiced by his counsel's performance and, further, because the record shows that the District Court did not inappropriately participate in plea bargaining, we affirm.

         I. Background

         On July 5, 2017, at 9:45 a.m., the TD Bank on Rhode Island Avenue in Washington, D.C., was robbed by a man wearing a hat with a skull on it, sunglasses, jeans with frayed cuffs and an insignia, a large black watch with a white border, and light gray shoes with white soles. The robber was also carrying a magazine and a black bag with an Under Armour logo on it. The robber passed demand notes to two tellers, and he said something along the lines of "Give me all your money or I'll kill everyone in here." The tellers gave him approximately $5, 000. The money that was handed over by the tellers included GPS trackers. The robber did not brandish a weapon, but he did keep one hand concealed in the bag throughout the robbery. The robbery was captured on high definition surveillance cameras from several angles in the bank.

         Shortly after the robbery, the police began tracking the money using data coming from the GPS devices. The two tracking devices appeared together for a period of time before separating near 62nd Street N.E. Officers found one tracking device along with some of the money in a black plastic bag near 308 63rd Street N.E. Data from the second tracking device led them to a residence at 405 60th Street N.E. They began surveilling the house and saw a man later identified as Appellant. His clothing did not match the clothes seen on the robber, but he was wearing a watch and sneakers that appeared to be the same as those worn by the robber. The officers observed Appellant holding what appeared to be a large wad of currency. They also saw a different individual put a GPS tracking device in a storm drain in front of the house, where it was later found. Appellant then drove away from the house. The officers attempted to conduct a traffic stop to detain Appellant, but he fled.

         Officers then obtained a warrant to search 405 60th Street N.E., a residence where approximately a dozen individuals, including Appellant, were living at the time. During the search, officers found, on a washing machine in the house, the pants with the frayed hem and emblem that the bank robber wore. The officers also found a bag that looked like the Under Armour duffel bag carried by the robber. Another resident of the house told the officers that the bag belonged to "Chuck," or Charles Smoot. That resident also informed officers that Appellant had been in the house that morning, left for a period of time, and then returned to the house. She told officers that Appellant was wearing a hat with a skull on it, like the hat worn by the bank robber.

         Appellant was arrested two days later. At the time of his arrest, he was wearing gray sneakers with white soles like those worn by the bank robber. He was also wearing a large black watch with a white border, like the watch worn by the robber. A DNA examiner concluded that Appellant's DNA was on the Under Armour bag found at 405 60th Street N.E. A handwriting expert who analyzed the demand notes at the bank concluded that they were likely written by Appellant. Appellant's fingerprints were found on the magazine carried by the robber, which had ...

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