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United States v. Joyner

United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Richmond Division

February 13, 2018



          M. Hannah Lauck Judge.

         This matter comes before the Court on Appellant George Joyner's Appeal of the Magistrate Judge's Decision to the District Court (the "Appeal"). (ECF No. 9.) Joyner filed a brief in support of the Appeal, (ECF No. 11), the United States responded, (ECF No. 22), and Joyner replied, (ECF No. 23). The Court dispenses with oral argument because the materials before it adequately present the facts and legal contentions, and argument would not aid the decisional process. The Court exercises jurisdiction pursuant to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 58(g)(2)(B).[1] For the reasons that follow, the Court will affirm Joyner's conviction and dismiss the Appeal.

         I. Procedural Background

         On January 31, 2017, the Honorable David J. Novak, United States Magistrate Judge, convicted Joyner of reckless driving under 38 C.F.R. § 1.218(b)(33).[2] Judge Novak imposed the minimum penalty: a $30 Central Violations Bureau ("CVB") processing fee and a $5 Special Assessment as penalty. Joyner noted his appeal from the conviction the same day, and timely filed his brief in support. Joyner argues that his conviction should be overturned because the magistrate judge incorrectly found the police officer who testified against Joyner credible, and because Joyner's actions did not constitute reckless driving in violation of 38 C.F.R. § 1.218 (b)(33).

         II. Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 58(g)(2)(B) Standard

         Pursuant to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 58(g)(2)(B), a defendant may appeal a magistrate judge's judgment of conviction or sentence to a district judge within fourteen days of its entry. Fed. R. Crim P. 58(g)(2)(B). "An appellate review conducted by a district court after a bench trial before a magistrate judge is not a trial de novo; rather, the district court utilizes the same standards of review applied by a court of appeals in assessing a district court conviction." United States v. Bursey, 416 F.3d 301, 305 (4th Cir. 2005) (citing Fed. R. Crim. P. 58(g)(2)(D)). The district court reviews the magistrate judge's findings of fact for clear error, and reviews the legal determinations, such as interpretations of statutes and regulations, de novo. Id. (citing United States v. Leftenant, 341 F.3d 338, 342-43 (4th Cir. 2003)). The district court must assess a defendant's challenge to the "sufficiency of the evidence by viewing it-including all reasonable inferences to be drawn therefrom-in the light most favorable to the [United States]." Id. at 306 (citing United States v. Pasquantino, 336 F.3d 321, 332 (4th Cir. 2003) (en banc)). A district court must affirm the conviction if'"any rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt.'" United States v. Uzenski, 434 F.3d 690, 700 (4th Cir. 2006) (quoting United States v. Lomax, 293 F.3d 701, 705 (4th Cir. 2002)). The determination of credibility of witnesses lies in the exclusive domain of the fact-finder and is not subject to judicial review. See Lomax, 293 F.3d at 705.

         III. Facts

         The record before the magistrate judge consisted of testimony from Officer Vincent Marcellino, a police officer with the VA, testimony from Joyner, and five defense exhibits: ten pictures of the area around the entrance of the VA's McGuire Medical Center in Richmond, Virginia (the "Medical Center").

         A. Officer Marcellino's Testimony

         Officer Marcellino testified that, on the morning of September 27, 2016, he was monitoring traffic in a marked vehicle near the entrance of the Medical Center. Officer Marcellino stated that he was familiar with the traffic patterns at the VA at that time of day. According to the officer, most of the appointments at the VA are between eight and ten in the morning, and at that time "[t]here's a huge traffic flow, very congested, very busy, several vets in and out." (Tr. 9, ECF No. 21.) The congestion at that time of day consists of both vehicle and pedestrian traffic, and people regularly utilize a bus stop in the area during those hours.

         At approximately 9:30 a.m., Officer Marcellino witnessed a black Toyota Camry, which he later learned was driven by Joyner, approach the entrance of the Medical Center. Officer Marcellino testified that he saw Joyner make "a U-turn in the middle of the street hopping the curb, which is part of the sidewalk, and then head[] back towards the main entrance of the VA." (Id. at 6.) Officer Marcellino further stated that Joyner "hop[ped]" the brick sidewalk curb in front of the bus stop, and "head[ed] back toward the main ... intersection, " where he "r[an a] stop sign, ma[de] another U-turn[, ] and head[ed] back towards [Officer Marcellino] down the same road." (Id. at 7-8.)

         After Joyner passed Officer Marcellino, the officer "activated [his] overhead emergency lights, and conducted a traffic stop." (Id. at 9.) Officer Marcellino spoke with Joyner, telling Joyner that he stopped him "for reckless driving, explaining the situation, what [the officer] witnessed." (Id. at 10.) Officer Marcellino testified that Joyner "became very upset and argumentative[, ] stating that he did not believe that those were classified as reckless driving movements." (Id.) Officer Marcellino issued Joyner a citation for violating 38 C.F.R. § l.2l8(b)(33).

         Officer Marcellino stated on cross-examination that the curb onto which Joyner drove "is a gradual slope up to an elevation." (Id. at 11.) He testified that, on the day he stopped Joyner, construction was occurring at the Medical Center approximately fifty meters from where Joyner made a U-turn.[3] Officer Marcellino further asserted that the construction would not have blocked the road in front of Joyner, but that "traffic is usually held up for people that are trying to ... get into the valet lot" for the Medical Center. (Id. at 12-13.)

         Joyner also had the following exchange with Officer Marcellino ...

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