Saidi v. U.S.: No Special Findings in Defense-of-Property Case

by Jamison Koehler on March 3, 2015

You are allowed to use a reasonable amount of force to protect property.  This is true “regardless of any actual or threatened injury to the property by the trespasser.”  Moreover, upon timely request with sufficient clarity for special findings under D.C. Rule of Criminal Procedure 23(c), “the trial judge must articulate findings specific to all issues of fact and law materially in dispute between the parties and fairly raised by the evidence and the party’s request.”

In Ben Saidi v. United States, 110 A.3d 606 (D.C. 2015), the complainant entered the defendant’s apartment with permission from one of the apartment’s occupants to investigate a dispute between the defendant and his two roommates.  The complainant mediated a peaceful settlement of the dispute requiring both roommates to leave the apartment.  When Saidi started to follow them out of the apartment, the complainant stepped in his way and told him to sit down.  Saidi punched the wall and told the complainant to “get out.”  When the complainant refused to comply with this order, Saidi punched him in the chest with a closed fist.

The defendant asserted a defense-of-property defense at trial.  Moreover, prior to trial, the defendant’s lawyer informed trial judge Ronna Beck that he would be requesting “specific factual findings under D.C. Criminal Rule 23(c).”  According to this rule, “[i]n a case tried without a jury the Court shall make a general finding and shall in addition, on request made before the general finding, find the facts specially.”

The D.C. Court of Appeals rejected the defendant’s argument with respect to the sufficiency of the evidence.  Specifically, although a defense-of-property defense was fairly raised by the evidence, the government was able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt not only that Saidi punched the complainant but also that (1) the complainant was not a trespasser in the apartment at the time Saidi hit him, (2) Saidi hit the complainant for a reason other than ejecting him from the apartment, and (3) even if Saidi’s purpose had to be get the complainant to leave the apartment, Saidi used more force than reasonably necessary to achieve that objective.

At the same time, because of the trial court’s failure to “make the requisite findings on all disputed issues of fact and law essential to the resolution of a defense-of-property defense advanced by Mr. Saidi at trial,” the Court remanded the case to Judge Beck for further proceedings.  Ideally, a party making a request for special findings under Rule 23(e) would identify the specific factual and legal issues that need to be addressed.  Ideally, the party would also “complain” about the “incompleteness of the trial judge’s findings” at the time of trial.  Had counsel done so in this case, “the trial judge likely could have addressed the shortcomings of her ruling and avoided the need for this appeal and a remand more than a year later.”  At the same time, the defendant’s failure to do either in this case did not relieve the trial judge of the burden of making specific findings “on at least enough of the disputed issues to resolve Mr. Saidi’s defense of property defense.”

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