Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Virginia
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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

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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