Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Virginia
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The Supreme Court affirmed in part and vacated in part the judgment of the court of appeals affirming Defendant's conviction for misdemeanor failure to stop at the scene of an accident in violation of Va. Code 46.2-894, holding that the court of appeals correctly found that the evidence was sufficient to prove that Defendant had failed to satisfy either of two post-accident reporting requirements in the statute. Upon affirming Defendant's conviction, the court of appeals further held that "to meet the statutory command, [Defendant] only needed to report forthwith the required information to one person described in the statutory list." The Supreme Court vacated this portion of the court of appeals' opinion, holding that the court of appeals did not have to agree with Defendant's concession of law that the statute's reporting requirements are disjunctive and that it was logically unnecessary for the court of appeals to address this undisputed legal issue. View "Butcher v. Commonwealth" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals upholding Appellant's conviction, holding that the evidence was sufficient to sustain Appellant's conviction for felony homicide because felony hit and run may serve as a predicate offense for a felony homicide conviction. Appellant was charged with felony hit and run and felony homicide for a single incident. Counsel for Appellant moved to strike the felony homicide charge at the close of the Commonwealth's evidence, arguing that a hit and run in violation of Va. Code 46.2-894 was insufficient as a matter of law to support a conviction of felony homicide. In response, the Commonwealth argued that a felony homicide was proper because the homicide was within the res gestae of the predicate hit and run. The trial court denied the motion to strike and found Appellant guilty of both charges. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the evidence was sufficient to establish that Appellant committed the hit and run with malice sufficient to elevate the killing to second-degree murder and that the victim's death occurred within the res gestae of the underlying hit and run. View "Flanders v. Commonwealth" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals upholding the trial court's conviction of Defendant of attempted identity theft, holding that one can commit attempted identity theft under Va. Code 18.2-186.3 when using his or her own identifying information to obtain money. Defendant stole a check, made it payable to herself, and forged the account owner's signature. Using her own driver's license as identification, Defendant presented the check to a bank teller for cash but left the bank before completing the transaction. Defendant was subsequently convicted of attempted identity theft. The Supreme Court upheld the conviction, holding that the evidence was sufficient to support Defendant's conviction for attempted identity theft under section 18.2-186.3. View "Taylor v. Commonwealth" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the court of appeals affirming Defendant's conviction for driving after forfeiture of her license, third offense in ten years, holding that the court of appeals did not err in finding that the evidence was sufficient to support Defendant's conviction. On appeal, Defendant argued that the evidence was insufficient to prove that she had had actual notice that her license was revoked on the date of the instant offense. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that, based on the evidence, a rational fact-finder could reasonably infer that Defendant was driving without any "legal right to do so," and therefore, the court of appeals did not err in finding the evidence sufficient to support Defendant's conviction. View "Yoder v. Commonwealth" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals upholding Defendant's conviction of second degree murder, holding that the evidence was sufficient to support the murder conviction. On appeal, Defendant argued that the evidence was insufficient to establish malice because his actions were not intentionally committed toward the victim. The court of appeals affirmed, reasoning that a rational trier of fact could have found that Appellant was attempting to shoot a specific person when he fired a deadly weapon multiple times. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the evidence of Defendant's actions implied sufficient malice even though Defendant did not target another with his actions. View "Watson-Scott v. Commonwealth" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the court of appeals affirming Defendant's conviction of forcible sodomy and aggravated sexual battery, holding that the trial court did not err in instructing the jury. In its published opinion the court of appeals refused Defendant's assignment of error challenging the sufficiency of the evidence but considered the assignment of error regarding whether the trial court erred in giving jury instruction that combined the alternative theories of force, the victim's mental incapacity or physical helplessness as the means by which the sexual acts were committed against the victim's will. The court of appeals held that the trial court correctly instructed the jury because the evidence was sufficient to support a finding that Defendant committed both crimes against the victim's will by each of the means contained in the instructions - force, the victim's physical helplessness, or her mental incapacity. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the analysis, reasoning and holdings of the court of appeals were correct. View "Davison v. Commonwealth" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the trial court convicting Defendant of first-degree murder, robbery, and related offenses, holding that the trial court did not err by excluding expert testimony regarding eyewitness confidence and unconscious transference and did not err in refusing Defendant's proffered jury instruction on eyewitness identification testimony. Specifically, the Court held (1) the trial court in this case did not abuse its discretion in excluding the testimony concerning eyewitness confidence and excluding as irrelevant the testimony regarding unconscious transference; and (2) in light of the totality of the record, the trial court did not err by refusing the jury instruction regarding eyewitness identifications. View "Watson v. Commonwealth" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals upholding Defendants conviction for felony destruction of property, holding that the evidence presented at Defendant's trial was sufficient to affirm his conviction. At issue in this case was whether the trial court erred when it held that the Commonwealth sufficiently established that the fair market replacement value of the electronic grocery store scale that Defendant destroyed exceeded $1,000 for a felony conviction. The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals upholding Defendant's conviction for felony destruction of property, holding that the circuit court's finding that the fair market replacement value of the scale was $1,000 or more was neither plainly wrong nor without evidentiary support. View "Spratley v. Commonwealth" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the court of appeals affirming the trial court's revocation of Appellant's suspended sentence in a criminal case, holding that Appellant could not collaterally attack the trial court's order as void ab initio and that the court of appeals did not err in affirming the judgment of the trial court. Appellant had an extensive history of violating her probation by committing new felony offenses. Ultimately, the trial court found Appellant in violation of her probation, revoked a portion of her suspended sentence, and terminated her supervised probation. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) Appellant's argument that a September 2009 order was void ab initio because the trial court lacked subject matter jurisdiction to enter it, and consequently, a January 2010 order was also void was without merit; and (2) there was no merit to Appellant's argument that her probation terminated automatically when she completed her substance abuse treatment program in January 2013, long before the trial court entered its final revocation order. View "Cilwa v. Commonwealth" on Justia Law

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In this case involving the revocation of two suspended sentences, one for a felony and the other for a misdemeanor, the Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the judgment of the trial court revoking and re-suspending the remaining portions of Defendant's sentences, holding that the trial court could revoke and re-suspend Defendant's felony sentence but erred in doing the same for Defendant's misdemeanor conviction. Defendant's original sentencing order imposed suspended sentences for his offenses, placed Defendant on supervised probation and contained an express condition that Defendant be of good behavior. A subsequent probation revocation order concerning the same offenses did not contain an express good behavior requirement. After Defendant was discharged from probation, the trial court issued a show-cause order based on new felony convictions. Defendant moved to dismiss, arguing that the later probation revocation order superseded the original sentencing order. The trial court rejected the argument. The Supreme Court held (1) the later order, by failing to mention a requirement of good behavior, did not eliminate that requirement altogether; and (2) by operation of Va. Code 19.2-306, Defendant could not have the misdemeanor portion of his suspended sentence revoked following an order to show cause that was issued after the one-year period of suspension had ended. View "Burnham v. Commonwealth" on Justia Law