Justia Virginia Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Civil Rights
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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 affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals upholding Defendant's convictions for conspiracy to distribute oxycodone and distribution of oxycodone, third or subsequent offense, holding that Defendant was not deprived of his right to counsel during a critical stage of a criminal prosecution.On appeal, Defendant alleged that at a hearing, at which Defendant appeared without counsel, he was deprived of his Sixth Amendment right to counsel. The reason for the hearing was to advise Defendant as to the status of his case and to ascertain what his wishes were with respect to having counsel of his choice after his attorney was suspended. Defendant argued that he should have been afforded the assistance of counsel before being required to make a decision about whether to proceed with the scheduled trial without the assistance of his then-suspended counsel. The court of appeals affirmed Defendant's convictions. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the hearing did not require Defendant to have the assistance of counsel to formulate his response, and thus, this was not a critical stage of the criminal proceedings that would give rise to a presumption of prejudice as a result of Defendant not having counsel at that time. View "Weatherholt v. Commonwealth" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the circuit court granting the motion to strike the evidence of Monica Cromartie's claims against Brian Billings, a former police officer, for an unlawful search based on Va. Code 19.2-59, for excessive force under 42 U.S.C. 1983, and for false arrest under section 1983, holding that the circuit court erred by granting Billings' motion to strike the three claims based on sovereign immunity and qualified immunity.At the close of Cromartie's case-in-chief the circuit court granted Billings' motion to strike the section 1983 and section 19.2-59 claims on the grounds of qualified immunity and sovereign immunity, respectively. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) Billings' search was performed contrary to well-established law and violated Cromartie's Fourth Amendment rights, and therefore, the circuit court erred by granting the motion to strike based on sovereign immunity for the section 19.2-59 claim for unlawful search; (2) the circuit court erred by striking the section 1983 claim for false arrest based upon qualified immunity; and (3) Billings' use of force was unreasonable under the circumstances, and therefore, the section 1983 excessive force claim failed both prongs of the qualified immunity analysis at the motion to strike stage. View "Cromartie v. Billings" 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 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 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

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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 the judgment of the circuit court dismissing a school board's disciplinary proceedings against S.C., a high school student, with prejudice, holding that the circuit court misapplied the governing legal standards and misinterpreted the factual record of the disciplinary proceedings.The Fairfax County School Board disciplined S.C. for nonconsensual, sexual touching of three students at school. The circuit court dismissed the disciplinary proceedings, finding that the school board's decision was arbitrary, in violation of S.C.'s due process rights. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that, applying the "intensely practical" principles of due process applicable to school disciplinary proceedings, nothing in the record suggested that the school board acted arbitrarily in violation of S.C.'s due process rights. View "Fairfax County School Board v. S.C." on Justia Law