Justia Virginia Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Criminal Law
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The Supreme Court reversed three rulings by the trial court in a pending criminal case in these consolidated appeals, holding that the trial court erred in barring public access to a pretrial bail hearing, by keeping certain motions and exhibits under seal, and by finding that the City of Newport News lacked standing to oppose any public access to sealed documents that the City had previously produced in response to a subpoena.The underlying case involved a murder indictment and ancillary charges against a Newport News police officer. Two newspaper publishers and a reporter filed an appeal challenging rulings barring access to the pretrial bail hearing and keeping motions and exhibits under seal. The City challenged the ruling that the City lacked standing to oppose public access to the sealed documents it produced in response to the subpoena. The Supreme Court reversed all three holdings, holding that the trial court erred as to all three rulings. View "Daily Press, LLC v. Commonwealth" 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 finding Appellant in violation of probation and sentencing him to serve the balance of his previously suspended sentence, holding that there was no error.On appeal, Appellant argued that the circuit court lacked jurisdiction to sentence him to serve the balance of his previously suspended sentence because the period of suspension had lapsed before his probation violation. The court of appeals disagreed, upholding the circuit court's judgment. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the circuit court's order was consistent with, not violative of, the revocation power authorized by Va. Code 19.2-306(A). View "Hill v. Commonwealth" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals reversing Defendant's conviction of three counts of computer solicitation of a minor, first offense, and two counts of computer solicitation of a minor, second offense, holding that any presumed error in excluding certain expert testimony was harmless.In his appeal, Defendant argued that the trial court erred by excluding the testimony of Dr. Maurice Fisher, which Defendant intended to use in support of his entrapment defense. The court of appeals affirmed, holding that the testimony did not express an opinion on the ultimate issue of Defendant's mental state at the time of the alleged offense. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the evidence of Defendant's prurient interest was overwhelming, and therefore, the testimony would not have influenced the jury or would have had but slight effect. View "Commonwealth v. Kilpatrick" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant's conviction for rape, holding that Defendant did not suffer any violation of his rights under the Confrontation Clause of the United States Constitution.On appeal, Defendant argued that the prosecution violated his right to confrontation by failing to produce as a witness a police officer who translated for a police detective at the crime scene. At trial, the Commonwealth offered the testimony of a different police officer who, separately, translated the exchange between Defendant and the detective. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that there was no constitutional requirement for the officer at issue to be confronted at trial. View "Cortez-Rivas v. Commonwealth" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals affirming the revocation of Defendant's deferred disposition and conviction for possession of heroin due to Defendant's failure to pay court costs, holding that there was no error.Pursuant to a plea agreement, Defendant pleaded guilty to possession of heroin. The agreement specified that Defendant would pay all court costs and the costs of any programs ordered by Defendant's probation officer. The circuit court deferred its finding that the facts were sufficient for a finding of guilt for one year subject to the terms and conditions in the plea agreement. The court further ordered that Defendant pay the costs of prosecution. The circuit court subsequently revoked Defendant's deferred disposition and adjudicated him guilty for failure to pay his court costs. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the circuit court did not err. View "Smallwood v. Commonwealth" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals reversing Defendant's conviction for conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance and reinstated that conviction, holding that the court of appeals erred in reversing Defendant's conviction for conspiracy.In reversing Defendant's conviction, the court of appeals ruled that the circuit court abused its discretion in denying two proffered jury instructions regarding the single-buyer/seller relationship exception to conspiracy liability. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the circuit court did not abuse its discretion in denying the proffered jury instructions concerning a single-buyer/seller relationship. View "Commonwealth v. Richard" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant's conviction of battering a police officer under Va. Code 18.2-57(C), holding that Defendant's contentions on appeal were without merit.Defendant was charged with assault and battery on a police officer, a felony. At trial, Defendant argued that she had used force to expel a trespasser, and therefore, her use of force was not unlawful. The court of appeals affirmed, concluding that the convictions was supported by sufficient evidence. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the circuit court did not err in concluding that Defendant's use of force was not justified by the law of trespass. View "Carter v. Commonwealth" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals reversing a misdemeanor conviction based upon a jury verdict finding Defendant guilty of reckless driving, holding that the court of appeals erroneously held as a matter of law that no rational jury could have found Defendant guilty of reckless driving.The Commonwealth alleged that Defendant, while driving along a two-lane road, abandoned his duty to keep a proper lookout for a substantial period of time and recklessly struck and killed a motorcyclist who had stopped to make a left turn. The court of appeals reversed. The Supreme Court reversed the court of appeals and reinstated the trial court's conviction order, holding that, viewed in the light most favorable to the Commonwealth, the evidence supported the jury's verdict. View "Commonwealth v. Cady" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Supreme Court answered a certified question regarding whether, under Virginia common law, an individual can be convicted of robbery by means of threatening to accuse the victim of having committed sodomy, in the positive and that the accusation of "sodomy" involves a crime against nature under extant criminal law.In a federal district court, Defendant pleaded guilty to being a felon in possession of a firearm. Defendant objected to the United States' request that he receive an enhanced sentence based on his prior convictions for three predicate violent felonies, including a Virginia robbery conviction, arguing that under the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA), 18 U.S.C. 924(e)(1), a felony is defined as a violent felony only if it categorically requires a physical force element and that the physical force element is not always required to prove robbery in Virginia. The Supreme Court agreed, held that Virginia's longstanding common-law robbery doctrine, which recognizes that threatening to accuse someone of committing a crime against nature can be constructive violence, remains the law of the Commonwealth. View "White v. United States" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals affirming the decision of the circuit court refusing to instruct the jury "with the model instruction regarding a claim-of-right defense," holding that the claim-of-right defense did not apply under these circumstances.Defendant was convicted of first degree felony murder, robbery, conspiracy to commit robbery, and the use of a firearm in the commission of a felony. At trial, Defendant asserted a claim-of-right defense, arguing that he lacked the requisite criminal intent to be convicted of robbery or the other offenses that relied on the robbery charge. The circuit court, however, refused to give the model jury instruction regarding the claim-of-right defense. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the circuit court did not err when it refused to instruct the jury regarding the claim-of-right defense. View "Pinedo v. Commonwealth" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law