Articles Posted in Constitutional Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant’s convictions and sentences for the capital murder of two individuals within a three-year period in violation of Va. Code 18.2-31(8), holding that the punishments did not violate the Double Jeopardy Clause of the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution. In a multi-count indictment, Defendant was charged with the capital murder of Ronald Kirby in 2013 and the capital murder of Ruthanne Lodato in 2014. Both counts relied upon Va. Code 18.2-31(8), which states that the “willful, deliberate and premeditated killing of more than one person within a three-year period” is capital murder. A jury found Defendant guilty of both charges, concluding that he murdered Kirby within three years of Lodato and that he murdered Lodato within three years of murdering Kirby. Prior to sentencing, Defendant argued that punishing him for two capital murder convictions under section 18.2-31(8) would violate double jeopardy. The trial court rejected the double jeopardy argument, convicted Defendant of two counts of capital murder, and imposed two life sentences. The Court of Appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Defendant was not punished twice for on criminal act because “killing two victims at two different times in two different places constitutes two different criminal acts.” View "Severance v. Commonwealth" on Justia Law

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The circuit court did not err in declaring the constitutional validity of Virginia General Assembly legislative districts that were allegedly drawn in violation of the compartment requirement expressed in Va. Const. art. II, 6. Plaintiffs filed a complaint against the Virginia State Board of Elections and several of its officers in their official capacities, seeking a declaratory judgment that the challenged legislative districts violate the Virginia Constitution. Specifically, Plaintiffs claimed that the challenged districts were not, in fact, compact as constitutionally required. The circuit court denied Plaintiffs’ request that the challenged district be declared unconstitutional. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the circuit court did not err in concluding that evidence was presented at trial that would lead reasonable and objective people to differ regarding the compactness of the challenged districts and confirming the constitutional validity of the legislative districts under the fairly debatable standard applied to determinations made by the legislature. View "Vesilind v. Board of Elections" on Justia Law

Posted in: Constitutional Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the final judgment of the trial court in this eminent domain case granting $167,866 in damages to the landowner, holding that the trial court erred in disallowing the expert witness for the Commissioner of Highways from testifying. The Commissioner initiated this condemnation proceeding to acquire a strip of commercial property to create a multi-use trial. At trial to determine just compensation, the trial court allowed the landowner’s expert witness to testify that the take caused $193,270 in damages to the remainder but disallowed the Commissioner’s expert witness from testifying that the take caused $0 in damages to the remainder. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded the case for retrial, holding that the trial court erred by excluding the Commissioner’s expert witness testimony. View "Commissioner of Highways v. Karverly, Inc." on Justia Law

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In this appeal from a state employee grievance proceeding, a hearing officer’s decision upholding the termination of Nathan Osborn, a special agent with the Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC), was not contrary to law. ABC terminated Osburn’s employment after receiving a complaint that Osburn rummaged, without permission, through the business records of a business owner who had applied for a retail alcohol license. A hearing officer upheld Osburn’s termination, concluding that the warrantless search was not permissible, resulting in a violation of the applicant’s constitutional rights. The circuit court upheld the hearing officer’s determination. The court of appeals affirmed the circuit court’s determination that Osborn violated the Fourth Amendment. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Osburn’s warrantless inspection of the office of the applicant’s business was not permissible under the highly regulated industry exception to the warrant requirement and that the business owner did not consent to Osburn’s warrantless search of the office. View "Osburn v. Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the trial court denying Appellant’s petition to change his name. Appellant, Brian Wendall Jordan, was serving a term of incarceration when he underwent a religious conversion. Appellant filed a petition to change his name to Abdul-Wakeel Mutawakkil Jordan, adding that he would not be hindered from the free exercise of his religion if not allowed to change his name. The circuit court found that Appellant’s application frustrated a legitimate law-enforcement purpose and, thus, the provisions of Va. Code 8.01-217(D) were not satisfied. Specifically, the court concluded that, due to the gravity and brutality of Defendant’s crimes, Defendant must retain his given name for the peace of mind of the victims and the victims’ families. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the basis articulated by the trial court for denying Appellant’s petition did not fall outside the scope of its broad discretion. View "Jordan v. Commonwealth" on Justia Law

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Shin was arrested for DWI. Shin declined the arresting officer's demand that he provide a blood and breath sample. The officer then read Form DC-233, “Implied Consent Declaration” to Shin, Code 18.2-268.3(C), which stated: “You shall submit to a breath test. If the breath test is unavailable or you are physically unable to submit to the breath test, a blood test shall be given.” Shin refused to provide a sample and signed a “Declaration of Refusal,” stating that he had been advised of the law and the penalty for unreasonably refusing to provide samples. Shin was convicted of DWI - second offense, unreasonable refusal of a breath or blood test - first offense, and improper lane change. A jury subsequently acquitted Shin of DWI but convicted him of improper lane change. The circuit court found Shin’s refusal unreasonable, in violation of Code 18.2-268.3, and suspended Shin’s license for one year. The Supreme Court of Virginia affirmed, rejecting Shin’s arguments that the implied consent law imposed an unconstitutional condition upon the privilege of driving, was unconstitutionally vague for lacking an objective definition of reasonable refusal, and violated Article I, section 8 of the Virginia Constitution by compelling him to provide the Commonwealth with potentially incriminatory evidence. View "Shin v. Commonwealth" on Justia Law

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Pijor was found guilty of perjury, Code 18.2-434, based on testimony Pijor gave during a larceny trial in which he was acquitted. Pijor, having testified that he had not taken his ex-girlfriend’s dog, was later found to be in possession of the dog. Pijor claimed he had found the dog after the trial. The Court of Appeals rejected Pijor’s arguments that the Commonwealth was collaterally estopped from indicting him for perjury due to his previous acquittal and that the evidence was insufficient to prove he committed perjury. The Supreme Court of Virginia affirmed. Pijor failed to prove that the precise issue of fact he sought to preclude--that he had not seen and had no information about the dog-- was determined in the larceny trial. A rational factfinder could have found all of the necessary elements for the crime of perjury established beyond a reasonable doubt. View "Pijor v. Commonwealth" on Justia Law

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At issue was whether evidence of a search must be suppressed under Va. Code 19.2-54 because a magistrate incorrectly faxed only portions of a search warrant to the clerk of the circuit court. Defendant was charged with manufacturing methamphetamine. Defendant moved to suppress the evidence, arguing that the magistrate’s failure to properly fax the search warrant to the clerk’s office rendered the warrant invalid. The trial court agreed that the warrant was defective but denied the suppression motion on the ground that the search was justified by exigent circumstances. The court of appeals reversed, arguing that section 19.2-54 rendered the fruits of the search inadmissible as a matter of law. The Supreme Court reversed and reinstated the trial court’s order of conviction, holding that, even assuming that the magistrate’s incomplete faxing rendered the search warrant invalid under section 19.2-54, the search was justified as a warrantless search under the exigent circumstances exception to the warrant requirement. View "Commonwealth v. Campbell" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals regarding its ruling on the law of the case doctrine but affirmed its judgment regarding its rulings on the admission of certain strip search evidence and Defendant’s conviction for possession of cocaine with the intent to distribute. Defendant was indicted for possession with the intent to distribute. Prior to trial, Defendant filed a motion to suppress evidence from a strip search. The circuit court granted the motion to suppress the evidence recovered from the strip search on the grounds that it violated Defendant’s Fourth Amendment rights. The court of appeals reversed the grant of the motion to suppress. After Defendant was convicted, he appealed. The court of appeals concluded (1) its review of its ruling on the motion to suppress and the constitutionality of the strip search was precluded by the law of the case doctrine; and (2) the evidence was sufficient to uphold Defendant’s conviction. Although the Supreme Court held (1) the court of appeals was authorized to reconsider the constitutionality of the strip search and the admissibility of the strip search evidence on direct appeal; and (2) the court of appeals’ did not err in its rulings on the admission of the strip search evidence and Defendant’s conviction. View "Cole v. Commonwealth" on Justia Law

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In these consolidated appeals, the Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the State Corporation Commission upholding the constitutionality of Va. Code 56-585.1:1, which suspended the Commission’s biennial base rate reviews for Appalachian Power Company (APCO) and Virginia Electric and Power Company, d/b/a Dominion Virginia Power (Dominion Power) until the years 2020 and 2021, respectively. Appellants - Old Dominion Committee for Fair Utility Rates, VML/VACO APCO Steering Committee and Karen Torrent - appealed. In affirming, the Supreme Court held that section 56-585.1:1 is constitutional under Va. Const. art. IX, 2 because article IX, section 2 does not prohibit the general assembly from suspending the Commission’s biennial base rate reviews. View "Old Dominion Committee for Fair Utility Rates v. State Corp. Commission" on Justia Law