Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Virginia
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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 Defendant moved to dismiss, arguing that the later probation revocation order superseded the original sentencing order.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

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The Supreme Court affirmed in part in part and vacated in part the judgment of the court of appeals upholding Defendant's convictions and affirming the restitution award, holding that that the restitution award was improperly calculated. Defendant was convicted of two counts of welfare fraud for obtaining assistance or benefits to which she was not entitled during two periods. The circuit court sentenced Defendant to six years' imprisonment with six years suspended and ordered Defendant to pay restitution of $3,436.14, which was the total amount of overpayments in benefits received under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and fuel assistance. The court of appeals affirmed the convictions and sentences. The Supreme Court (1) affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals upholding the convictions; but (2) vacated the judgment of the court of appeals affirming the restitution award, holding that the restitution award was based on the Pittsylvania County Department of Social Services' improper calculation of overpayments in SNAP benefits. View "Jefferson 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 possession of cocaine with intent to distribute, second offense, upon Defendant's conditional guilty plea, holding that the trial court did not err in denying Defendant's pretrial motion to suppress. At issue in this case was whether, at the time Defendant was seized by detectives, the detectives had reasonable suspicion to believe that they were about to be assaulted with a weapon. Defendant argued on appeal that the detectives seized him in violation of the reasonable suspicion standard adopted in Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968). The Supreme Court disagreed, holding that, considering the totality of the circumstances, the detectives in this case had the same practical, experience-based concern for their safety as the police officer had in Terry, and therefore, the trial court correctly denied Defendant's motion to suppress. View "Hill 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 first-degree murder, holding that the trial court did not violate the holding of Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79 (1986) by permitting the prosecutor to exercise a peremptory strike of an African-American juror. Defendant's counsel conceded in the trial court that the prosecutor gave a race-neutral reason for the peremptory strike. However, at a post-trial hearing, Defendant's counsel told the trial court that the prosecutor's stated reason for the strike was not supported by the transcript. On appeal, Defendant argued that the strike was racially motivated. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the trial court did not err in denying Defendant's motion to set aside the verdict based upon his Batson challenge because the record provided ample support for the trial court's finding that Defendant had not met his burden of proving purposeful racial discrimination. View "Bethea v. Commonwealth" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court dismissed Petitioner's habeas corpus petition without prejudice to Petitioner filing a habeas petition challenging Va. Code 19.2-169.3(F) or his seeking expedited review so as to permit timely resolution of his claim, holding that Petitioner's petition must be dismissed. Petitioner challenged the legality of his confinement under a circuit court order ordering him to periods of confinement in a state psychiatric hospital for "continued treatment" and requested dismissal of his capital murder indictment. Since filing this habeas petition, Petitioner's confinement pursuant to the order had ended and twice received evidence and reexamined whether Petitioner satisfied the factual requirements of Va. Code 19.2-169.3(F). The Supreme Court dismissed the petition, holding that because Petitioner was not currently detained pursuant to the challenged order or the evidence supporting it, a determination by the Court that the order was incorrect or improper could not directly impact Petitioner's present confinement. View "Trevathan v. Commonwealth" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the court of appeals dismissing Appellant's appeal from his conviction, pursuant to guilty pleas, of multiple felonies and misdemeanors, holding that the court of appeals erred in determining that Appellant's guilty pleas waived his right to appeal. On appeal, Appellant argued that his convictions were void because the trial court did not find that his pleas were knowing, intelligent, and voluntary. The court of appeals rejected Appellant's argument and further determined that Appellant waived his right to appeal. The court then dismissed the appeal. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) Appellant's guilty pleas did not waive his right to appeal; and (2) when entry of a guilty plea waives an issue for appeal, the correct disposition is denial, not dismissal. View "Henderson v. Cook" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant's conviction for violating Va. Code 18.2-374.3(C) by using a computer for the purpose of soliciting a minor, holding that the trial court and the court of appeals did not err in concluding that the statute did not violate Defendant's freedom of speech or his due process rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution. After the jury convicted Defendant he moved for a new trial, claiming that the statute was unconstitutionally vague in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment and overbroad in violation of the First Amendment. The trial court denied the motion. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that there was no merit in Defendant's vagueness or overbreadth challenges to section 18.2-374.3(C). View "Stoltz v. Commonwealth" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the court of appeals affirming Defendant's convictions for grand larceny, conspiracy to commit grand larceny, and providing false identification to a law enforcement officer, holding that Defendant's right to a speedy trial was not violated. In this case, Defendant had been continuously incarcerated since a March 2, 2016 preliminary hearing. For purposes of speedy trial, Defendant's trial should have commenced within five months of the preliminary hearing date. Defendant was not tried until November 14, 2016. The court of appeals found that that the trial court's continuance from August 2016 until November 2016 was a court-ordered continuance that was not counted against the Commonwealth. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Defendant's failure to make an affirmative objection to the trial court's continuation of the case was dispositive and that Defendant's speedy trial rights were not violated. View "Young v. Commonwealth" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals affirming the ruling of the trial court finding Defendant in violation of the terms of his suspended sentences, holding that, assuming a proffer of evidence made at Defendant's probation revocation hearing was in error, any error was harmless on the facts of this case. According to the prosecutor in this case, the proffer of evidence quoted testimony from a newspaper article that detailed testimony from a victim of Defendant's crimes. The article, however, was never admitted into evidence. On appeal, Defendant argued that the proffer violated his due process rights. The court of appeals affirmed the trial court's decision overruling Defendant's objection to the proffer, holding that the proffer did not violate Defendant's due process rights because the newspaper article from which the prosecutor quoted was not testimonial hearsay. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that any alleged error in allowing the prosecutor to read from the newspaper article was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. View "Mooney v. Commonwealth" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court held that Respondents, who were both previously adjudicated to be sexually violent predators and were committed to the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services after a trial court determined that they had violated the terms of their conditional release, were not entitled to a State-appointed psychological expert to assist them in a hearing. Respondents filed motions asking for a court-appointed psychological expert to assist them in a hearing to determine whether they violated the conditions of their release and whether those violations rendered them unsuitable for conditional release. Specifically, Respondents argued that, because they were indigent, the Due Process Clause required the appointment of an expert. The circuit courts denied the motions and determined that Respondents violated the conditions of their release. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that given the temporary, expedited nature of the hearing and the other protections afforded Respondents, including the right to counsel, the Due Process Clause did not require the State to appoint an expert. View "Harvey v. Commonwealth" on Justia Law