Simms v. District Of Columbia

612 A.2d 215 (1992)


Captain Amady observed a group of people attempting to raise a parked Volkswagen Jetta automobile onto the crane of a tow truck. D was standing near a jack, and he was placing boards underneath the car. The Jetta being towed did not appear to have been there long. After a computerized check identified the Jetta as a stolen vehicle, Amady charged D with tampering with a vehicle. Hancock testified that after she had told D that she needed a grill and fender for her own Jetta, he escorted her to the stolen Jetta. Hancock examined the stolen Jetta's fender and said, 'It might work.' Hancock described the car as 'an abandoned Jetta in the bushes.' Clayton testified that the Jetta looked abandoned to him since he had seen it a couple of times over the period of a month. D also testified that he told Hancock that he had noticed 'a Jetta abandoned' in the same place for 'approximately three weeks to a month and that the windows are all busted out and the car is totally destroyed.' There were no wheels on it. Hancock returned with a tow truck, and her two brothers had tried to get the Jetta hooked up to the tow truck to pull the Jetta out of the bushes. Officer Simmons testified that he believed that the Jetta might have had a current (1991) Maryland tag on its rear and that it 'was basically pretty much stripped' at the time of D's arrest. The commissioner rejected D's defense that D believed the Jetta had been abandoned by its owner. The commissioner ruled that abandonment had to be proved by unequivocal, clear and decisive evidence. The commissioner ruled that abandonment in the nature of a mistake of fact was not a defense. D raised the abandonment claims in a Super. Ct. but the trial judge affirmed the commissioner's decision. D appealed. D maintains in part that although the hearing commissioner recognized that tampering was a general intent crime, the commissioner concluded that the offense was one of strict liability.