Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Virginia
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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant's conviction for rape, holding that Defendant did not suffer any violation of his rights under the Confrontation Clause of the United States Constitution.On appeal, Defendant argued that the prosecution violated his right to confrontation by failing to produce as a witness a police officer who translated for a police detective at the crime scene. At trial, the Commonwealth offered the testimony of a different police officer who, separately, translated the exchange between Defendant and the detective. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that there was no constitutional requirement for the officer at issue to be confronted at trial. View "Cortez-Rivas v. Commonwealth" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals affirming the revocation of Defendant's deferred disposition and conviction for possession of heroin due to Defendant's failure to pay court costs, holding that there was no error.Pursuant to a plea agreement, Defendant pleaded guilty to possession of heroin. The agreement specified that Defendant would pay all court costs and the costs of any programs ordered by Defendant's probation officer. The circuit court deferred its finding that the facts were sufficient for a finding of guilt for one year subject to the terms and conditions in the plea agreement. The court further ordered that Defendant pay the costs of prosecution. The circuit court subsequently revoked Defendant's deferred disposition and adjudicated him guilty for failure to pay his court costs. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the circuit court did not err. View "Smallwood v. Commonwealth" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals reversing Defendant's conviction for conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance and reinstated that conviction, holding that the court of appeals erred in reversing Defendant's conviction for conspiracy.In reversing Defendant's conviction, the court of appeals ruled that the circuit court abused its discretion in denying two proffered jury instructions regarding the single-buyer/seller relationship exception to conspiracy liability. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the circuit court did not abuse its discretion in denying the proffered jury instructions concerning a single-buyer/seller relationship. View "Commonwealth v. Richard" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant's conviction of battering a police officer under Va. Code 18.2-57(C), holding that Defendant's contentions on appeal were without merit.Defendant was charged with assault and battery on a police officer, a felony. At trial, Defendant argued that she had used force to expel a trespasser, and therefore, her use of force was not unlawful. The court of appeals affirmed, concluding that the convictions was supported by sufficient evidence. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the circuit court did not err in concluding that Defendant's use of force was not justified by the law of trespass. View "Carter v. Commonwealth" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals reversing a misdemeanor conviction based upon a jury verdict finding Defendant guilty of reckless driving, holding that the court of appeals erroneously held as a matter of law that no rational jury could have found Defendant guilty of reckless driving.The Commonwealth alleged that Defendant, while driving along a two-lane road, abandoned his duty to keep a proper lookout for a substantial period of time and recklessly struck and killed a motorcyclist who had stopped to make a left turn. The court of appeals reversed. The Supreme Court reversed the court of appeals and reinstated the trial court's conviction order, holding that, viewed in the light most favorable to the Commonwealth, the evidence supported the jury's verdict. View "Commonwealth v. Cady" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court answered a certified question regarding whether, under Virginia common law, an individual can be convicted of robbery by means of threatening to accuse the victim of having committed sodomy, in the positive and that the accusation of "sodomy" involves a crime against nature under extant criminal law.In a federal district court, Defendant pleaded guilty to being a felon in possession of a firearm. Defendant objected to the United States' request that he receive an enhanced sentence based on his prior convictions for three predicate violent felonies, including a Virginia robbery conviction, arguing that under the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA), 18 U.S.C. 924(e)(1), a felony is defined as a violent felony only if it categorically requires a physical force element and that the physical force element is not always required to prove robbery in Virginia. The Supreme Court agreed, held that Virginia's longstanding common-law robbery doctrine, which recognizes that threatening to accuse someone of committing a crime against nature can be constructive violence, remains the law of the Commonwealth. View "White v. United States" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals affirming the decision of the circuit court refusing to instruct the jury "with the model instruction regarding a claim-of-right defense," holding that the claim-of-right defense did not apply under these circumstances.Defendant was convicted of first degree felony murder, robbery, conspiracy to commit robbery, and the use of a firearm in the commission of a felony. At trial, Defendant asserted a claim-of-right defense, arguing that he lacked the requisite criminal intent to be convicted of robbery or the other offenses that relied on the robbery charge. The circuit court, however, refused to give the model jury instruction regarding the claim-of-right defense. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the circuit court did not err when it refused to instruct the jury regarding the claim-of-right defense. View "Pinedo v. Commonwealth" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals dismissing Appellant's appeal of her condition of driving on a suspended license, fifth offense, on the basis that her notice of appeal was fatally defective, holding that Appellant's notice of appeal was adequate.After oral argument on the merits, the court of appeals sua sponte raised the inconsistency between Appellant's notice of appeal, which identified the Commonwealth of Virginia as the prosecuting authority, and the circuit court's sentencing order, which named Albermarle County as the prosecuting authority. On remand, the circuit court entered an order nunc pro tunc that retained Albemarle County as the prosecuting authority. The court of appeals dismissed the appeal as "fatally defective." The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) while the notice of appeal incorrectly named the Commonwealth rather than Albemarle County, that defect was not fatal and was subject to waiver; and (2) because Albemarle County entered a general appearance, any defect associated with a failure to notify the County was waived. View "Nicholson v. Commonwealth" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals affirming Defendant's misdemeanor conviction for attempting to purchase a firearm while subject to a protective order, holding that the admission of certain evidence did not violate Defendant's confrontation right.At issue was whether a return of service on a preliminary protective order, which included the serving deputy's signature and the time and date of service, was testimonial evidence subject to exclusion under the Confrontation Clause of the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution. The court of appeals concluded that the signing and dating of the return of service was a ministerial duty on the part of the deputy sheriff that was functionally distinct from the delivery of live testimony. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the return of service was intended to serve a primarily administrative purpose, not to create an out-of-court substitute for trial testimony, and therefore, the admission of the evidence did not violate Defendant's constitutional right to confrontation. View "Logan v. Commonwealth" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed Defendant's conviction of carrying a concealed weapon, second offense, in violation of Va. Code 18.2-308, holding that the trial court erred by failing to apply the statutory exception to criminal liability recognized in subsection 18.2-308(C)(8).The court of appeals affirmed Defendant's conviction for violating section 18.2-308(A). On appeal, Defendant argued that the statutory exception to criminal liability recognized by subsection 18.2-308(C)(8) applied to the undisputed facts of this case. The Supreme Court agreed and reversed, holding that Defendant was entitled to the protection of subsection (C)(8)'s exception to criminal liability for carrying a concealed weapon because the handgun at issue in this case was secured in a container within Defendant's personal, private vehicle. View "Myers v. Commonwealth" on Justia Law