Articles Posted in Virginia Supreme Court

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Defendant was convicted of rape, four counts of aggravated sexual battery, and one count of aggravated sexual battery for offenses committed against his stepdaughter. As a condition of Defendant’s probation, the court ordered that Defendant submit to warrantless, suspicionless searches of his person, property, residence, and vehicle at any time by any probation or law enforcement officer. Defendant challenged this probation condition on appeal. The court of appeals affirmed, concluding that the condition was reasonable under the facts of this case. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the probation condition at issue was not reasonable in light of the offenses for which Defendant was convicted, his background, and the surrounding circumstances. View "Murry v. Commonwealth" on Justia Law

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After a jury trial, Defendant was convicted of several crimes associated with the robbery of a victim and the invasion of his home. Defendant appealed, arguing that the trial court erred in refusing his proffered jury instruction, which should be given if a witness whose testimony is at issue is an accomplice and if his or her testimony is uncorroborated. The court of appeals affirmed the trial court’s refusal of the proposed jury instruction, concluding that the testimony at issue had been corroborated. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the witness here was an accomplice and his testimony was not corroborated, and therefore, the trial court abused its discretion in refusing Defendant’s proffered jury instruction. Remanded. View "Via v. Commonwealth" on Justia Law

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Defendant was convicted of attempted first degree murder of his wife, abduction of his father and his three children, and use of a firearm while attempting to murder his wife. The charges stemmed from an incident in which Defendant verbally threatened his wife’s life while brandishing two weapons when his children and father were present. The Court of Appeals affirmed the attempted murder and firearm convictions but reversed the abduction convictions for insufficient evidence. The Supreme Court (1) reversed the portion of the court of appeals’ judgment reversing Defendant’s convictions for abduction of his father and children, as the evidence was sufficient to prove detention by intimidation and intent to deprive the victims of their personal liberty; and (2) affirmed the portion of the court of appeals’ judgment upholding Defendant’s convictions for attempted first degree murder and use of a firearm during the commission of an attempted felony. View "Commonwealth v. Herring" on Justia Law

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Defendant was found guilty of two counts of aggravated sexual battery and one count of object sexual penetration for events alleged to have taken place during sleepovers at his home. Defendant appealed, arguing that the circuit court abused its discretion in refusing to permit him to elicit evidence of his good character through two witnesses. The Court of Appeals denied Defendant’s petition for appeal. The Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals and vacated the convictions, holding that the circuit court erred by sustaining the Commonwealth’s objection to Defendant’s question seeking admissible character evidence, and the error was not harmless. Remanded. View "Gardner v. Commonwealth" on Justia Law

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The Commonwealth filed a petition requesting the circuit court to hold that Donald Gibson was a sexually violent predator pursuant to the Civil Commitment of Sexually Violent Predators Act. After a trial, the jury found that Gibson was a sexually violent predator. Upon determining Gibson’s suitability for conditional release, the circuit court shifted the burden of proof to Gibson to demonstrate that he satisfied the criteria for conditional release. The court subsequently concluded that Gibson did not meet the criteria for conditional release and ordered that Gibson be committed to the custody of the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services for appropriate treatment and confinement. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the circuit court erred by requiring Gibson to bear the burden of proof to establish that he satisfied the criteria for conditional release. Remanded. View "Gibson v. Commonwealth" on Justia Law

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After a jury trial, Petitioner was convicted of malicious wounding and robbery. Petitioner was sentenced to ten years’ imprisonment for malicious wounding and five years’ imprisonment for robbery, to be served concurrently. On appeal, Petitioner asserted that the trial court erred in instructing the jury as to the elements of malicious wounding and that insufficient evidence supported the convictions. The court of appeals denied the appeal. Petitioner subsequently filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus, arguing, among other things, that his trial counsel rendered ineffective assistance by failing to object to the malicious wounding jury instruction. The habeas court denied relief. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the trial court improperly instructed the jury and the elements of malicious wounding; but (2) Petitioner was not prejudiced by his counsel’s failure to object to the instruction, as the erroneous malicious wounding instruction did not render the trial fundamentally unfair. View "Dominguez v. Pruett" on Justia Law

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Appellant was found guilty of felony murder and two felony drug offenses. The court of appeals reversed Appellant's felony murder conviction but refused to remand the case to the circuit court for resentencing of Appellant's two felony drug convictions on the basis that such relief was outside the scope of Appellant's assignment of error. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the court of appeals did not err in refusing to remand Appellant's two felony drug convictions for resentencing after reversing Appellant's felony murder conviction, as Appellant suffered no reviewable injury from the fact that the sentencing guidelines would have been different had he not been convicted of felony murder at the time the circuit court sentenced him for his felony drug convictions. View "Woodard v. Commonwealth" on Justia Law

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At issue in these two appeals was Va. Code Ann. 8.01-384(A), which provides that the absence of a contemporaneous objection when there is no opportunity to make a timely objection at the time a ruling or order is made shall not prejudice a party on motion for a new trial or on appeal. In both cases - Maxwell v. Commonwealth and Rowe v. Commonwealth - the court of appeals held that Va. Sup. Ct. R. 5A:18 barred consideration of issues on appeal when the litigant had failed to make a contemporaneous objection in the circuit court. The Supreme Court (1) reversed the court of appeals’ judgment in Maxwell, holding that the court of appeals erred in determining that Maxwell’s assignment of error was defaulted for lack of a contemporaneous objection because Maxwell and his counsel lacked the opportunity to make an objection contemporaneously with the circuit court’s act of proceeding in Maxwell’s absence; and (2) affirmed the court of appeals’ judgment in Rowe, as Rowe failed to articulate a cognizable objection at a time when the circuit court could take appropriate action, and Rowe did not lack the opportunity to make his objection to the circuit court. View "Maxwell v. Commonwealth" on Justia Law

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Defendant was found guilty of unreasonably refusing to submit to a breath test in violation of Va. Code Ann. 18.2-268.3. Defendant appealed, arguing in large part that the State did not establish a prima facie case of unreasonable refusal against Defendant because the arresting officer’s “Declaration and Acknowledgment of Refusal” form was erroneously admitted into evidence for lack of compliance with the procedures set forth in section 18.2-268.3(B) and (C). The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant’s conviction, holding (1) Defendant was not prejudiced by the admission of the refusal form, and its admission was, at most, harmless error; and (2) the circuit court did not err when it denied Defendant’s motion to strike the Commonwealth’s evidence on the theory that, absent the admission of the refusal form, the Commonwealth failed to prove the elements of the unreasonable refusal offense, as the evidence was sufficient to establish Defendant’s guilt as a matter of law. View "D'Amico v. Commonwealth" on Justia Law

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Antonio Amos was convicted of assaulting his estranged wife, Felecia Amos, and ordered not to contact or harass Felecia. Felecia subsequently alleged that Antonio had harassed her. The Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney sought and obtained a rule to show cause against Antonio. After a hearing on the show cause order, the trial court ruled that Antonio had not violated the terms and conditions of his probation, held Felecia in contempt of court, and sentenced Felecia to jail for ten days. Felecia appealed. The court of appeals reversed Felecia’s summary contempt conviction, concluding that the trial court deprived Felecia of any opportunity to object at the time of the ruling and that, pursuant to Va. Code Ann. 8.01-384(A), Felecia did not default the arguments raised on appeal by failing to object at the time the trial court held her in contempt. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the court of appeals did not err in holding that the contemporaneous objection exception in section 8.01-384(A) allows a litigant who was precluded by the trial court from asserting a contemporaneous objection to the court’s ruling to raise the issue on appeal, notwithstanding the provisions of Va. Sup. Ct. R. 5A:18. View "Commonwealth v. Amos" on Justia Law