Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Virginia
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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the court of appeals affirming the trial court's denial of Defendant's motion to suppress and affirming Defendant's convictions, holding that that trial court did not err in denying Defendant's motion to suppress. Defendant was convicted of first degree murder and robbery and sentenced to life imprisonment. Defendant appealed the denial of his motion to suppress evidence obtained as a result of a police interrogation, arguing that his constitutional rights under Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966), and its progeny were denied because the interrogation took place under circumstances requiring Miranda warnings prior to questioning and that the warnings he was given were constitutionally insufficient. The court of appeals affirmed the convictions, holding that Defendant was effectively advised under Miranda. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the trial court properly found that no Miranda warnings were required; and (2) the warnings given to Defendant were a fully effective equivalent of the warnings required by Miranda. View "Spinner v. Commonwealth" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed and vacated the decisions of the court of appeals reversing Defendant's conviction for criminal solicitation of a sixteen-year-old female high school student (A.L.) using a communications system in violation of Va. Code 18.2-374.3(D) and entered final judgment reinstating Defendant's conviction, holding that the court of appeals erred in reversing and vacating Defendant's conviction. At issue on appeal was whether the evidence was sufficient to establish beyond a reasonable doubt that Defendant's communications with A.L., when viewed in the overall context of his relationship with A.L., constituted a violation of section 18.2-374.3(D). The Supreme Court concluded that it was, holding that the court of appeals erred in finding that the evidence adduced at trial, and the reasonable inferences that the fact-finder could draw therefrom, was insufficient to support Defendant's conviction for violating section 18.2-374.3(D). View "Commonwealth v. Murgia" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals affirming the judgment of the circuit court refusing to set aside Defendant's guilty plea, holding that the court of appeals did not abuse its discretion in denying Defendant's motion to withdraw her guilty plea. Defendant pled guilty to petit larceny. Before the circuit court entered the final sentencing order, Defendant filed a motion to withdraw her guilty plea. The circuit court denied the motion and entered the final sentencing order. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the "manifest injustice" standard governs a motion to withdraw a guilty plea made after sentence was pronounced but before the sentencing order was entered; and (2) the grounds Defendant advanced to withdraw her guilty plea did not warrant vacating the guilty plea under the post-sentencing "manifest injustice" standard. View "Brown v. Commonwealth" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals upholding Appellant's conviction for failure to register as a sexually violent sex offender, holding that Appellant was properly classified as a sexually violent offender and convicted for failing to register within the relevant statutory ninety-day period. In 2004, Appellant was convicted in Idaho of sexual abuse of a child under the age of sixteen and ordered to register as a sex offender with the State of Idaho. In 2016, Appellant moved to Virginia and registered as a sex offender. Appellant was later convicted for failing to reregister as a sexually violent offender. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that, under Va. Code 9.1-902(F)(ii), Appellant was required to register as a sexually violent offender in Virginia. View "Turner v. Commonwealth" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court dismissed Petitioner's petition for writ of habeas corpus, holding that the petition was untimely under Va. Code 8.01-654(A)(2). In 1970, Petitioner was convicted of murder and sentenced to death. Petitioner was subsequently resentenced to life imprisonment. In 2016, Petitioner filed the present petition for a writ of habeas corpus, asserting that new evidence exculpated him. While acknowledging that his petition was untimely, Petitioner argued that the limitation period violated the Suspension Clause of Va. Const. Art. I, 9. The Supreme Court disagreed, holding (1) Petitioner's petition was time barred; and (2) Petitioner's inability to question and present new evidence bearing on his factual guilt or innocence did not violate the Suspension Clause. View "Brown v. Warden" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals affirming Defendant's conviction of voluntary manslaughter, holding that the trial court did not abuse its discretion when it permitted the admission of Defendant's statement, "It's my second one," which was made to a witness immediately following the shooting of the victim. The court of appeals held that any error in admitting evidence of the statement was harmless because Defendant had a fair trial on the merits and that substantial justice was reached. The Supreme Court held that because Defendant failed to assign error to the appellate court's holding that any error was harmless, the court of appeals judgment is affirmed. View "Rankin v. Commonwealth" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the court of appeals affirming Defendant's conviction after the trial court had denied Defendant's motion to suppress, holding that the exclusionary rule did not apply under the facts of this case. Defendant was convicted of stolen property. At issue on appeal was whether the trial court should have excluded evidence obtained by police officers during a warrantless search of a motorcycle parked on a private residential driveway. The case made its way to the United States Supreme Court, which held that the automobile exception to the Fourth Amendment does not permit a police officer to enter the curtilage of a home without a warrant in order to search a vehicle parked on that curtilage. The Supreme Court left for resolution on remand whether the warrantless intrusion on Defendant's house may have been reasonable on a different basis. On remand, the Supreme Court affirmed the trial court's denial of Defendant's motion to suppress, holding that the good faith exception to the exclusionary rule applied because, at the time of the search, a reasonably well-trained police officer would not have known that the automobile exception did not permit him to search a motorcycle located a few feet across the curtilage boundary of a private driveway. View "Collins v. Commonwealth" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court granted Petitioner’s petition for a writ of actual innocence based on biological evidence pursuant to Va. Code 19.2-327.2 et seq. and vacated Petitioner’s conviction, holding that the totality of the evidence led to the conclusion that the writ of actual innocence must be issued. Petitioner was convicted of rape, carnal knowledge, and burglary. Years later, after Petitioner received Department of Forensic Science test results eliminating him as a contributor of a semen stain found on the jeans worn by the victim, Petitioner filed a petition for writ of actual innocence in the Supreme Court. The Court granted the petition, holding that the totality of the evidence showed that Petitioner proved, by clear and convincing evidence, all of the allegations required under section 19.2-327.3(A) and that no rational trier of fact would have found Petitioner guilty beyond reasonable doubt where Petitioner had been scientifically proven by DNA analysis not to be the source of the sperm found on the victim’s jeans or the male DNA found on the vaginal swab obtained from the victim. View "In re Scott" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the court of appeals affirming the judgment of the circuit court sentencing Defendant, as to his five cocaine distribution offenses, to an active sentence equal to the mandatory minimum sentence of three years’ imprisonment on each offense under Va. Code 18.2-248(C), holding that the circuit court did not err in rejecting Defendant’s request for application of the so-called “safety valve” provision as to his convictions on these offenses. On appeal, Defendant argued that the court of appeals erred in upholding the circuit court’s ruling that Defendant did not qualify under the safety valve provision of section 18.2-248(C) for exemption from the three-years mandatory minimum sentences on four of his five cocaine distribution offenses. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the safety valve provision of the statute did not apply to Defendant’s case. View "Stone v. Commonwealth" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the trial court denying an information for the forfeiture of a vehicle used by Defendant during a sale of illegal drugs, holding that the trial court incorrectly interpreted Va. Code 19.2-386.22(A), the applicable civil forfeiture statute. Specifically, the trial court held that section 19.2-386.22(A) does not authorize the forfeiture of property used in a single episode of illegal drug distribution, and therefore, Defendant’s one-time use of his pickup truck to sell illegal drugs did not render it subject to civil forfeiture. The Supreme Court disagreed, holding (1) civil forfeiture under section 19.2-386.22(A) does not require a certain number of uses but instead requires that the vehicle be used in substantial connection with illegal drug activity; and (2) the undisputed facts proved by clear and convincing evidence that Defendant used the pickup truck in substantial connection with the illegal distribution of a controlled substance. View "Commonwealth v. Hall" on Justia Law