Articles Posted in Criminal Law

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A rational fact-finder could reasonably find that the totality of the circumstances proved beyond a reasonable doubt that Defendant was the criminal agent in each of the offenses charged in this case. Defendant was convicted of two counts of breaking and entering and two counts of grand larceny. At the close of the Commonwealth’s case-in-chief and again at the close of all of the evidence Defendant moved to strike the evidence, arguing that the Commonwealth was not entitled to the inference that he committed the larcenies and burglaries. The circuit court denied the motions, finding the evidence sufficient despite the circumstantial nature of the evidence. The court of appeals reversed all four convictions, concluding (1) the burglary and larceny inferences were inapplicable because the evidence did not prove that Defendant had exclusive dominion and control over the stolen property, and (2) without the benefit of those inferences, the evidence was insufficient. The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals and reinstated the circuit court’s order of conviction, holding that the court of appeals erred in reversing the convictions. View "Commonwealth v. Moseley" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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Defendant was convicted of second-degree murder, aggravated malicious wounding, and use of a firearm during the commission of a felony. After unsuccessfully appealing to the court of appeals, Defendant petitioned the Supreme Court for an appeal, asserting eight assignments of error. The Supreme Court awarded an appeal limited to two assignments of error challenging Instruction 7, which instructed the jury on the definition of intent. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the jury instruction clearly and correctly stated the applicable law and covered all of the issues fairly raised by the evidence. View "Howsare v. Commonwealth" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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Defendant pleaded guilty to possession with intent to distribute marijuana. After both the conviction order and the sentencing order were entered, Defendant asked the trial court to reconsider the felony conviction. The trial court eventually dismissed Defendant’s motion to reduce the felony to a misdemeanor, concluding that it lacked the discretion to reduce the charge. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the court of appeals did not err in affirming the trial court’s ruling that it lacked the authority to amend the conviction after more than twenty-one days had passed since entry of the conviction and sentencing orders. View "Hackett v. Commonwealth" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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An indictment returned by a grand jury as a true bill in open court is not invalid when the order recording the indictment was not entered until after the trial on the indictment and no objection was made to the indictment until after trial. The court of appeals affirmed Defendant’s convictions for assault and battery and abduction, concluding that Defendant was properly indicted even where no order recording the presentation of the indictment in open court had been entered prior to Defendant’s trial. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) there is no time requirement for entry of an order recording the return of an indictment in open court; and (2) therefore, the circuit court’s delay in entering the order recording the grand jury’s action did not render Defendant’s indictment invalid. Further, Defendant waived his right to object to the indictment. View "Epps v. Commonwealth" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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The court of appeals reversed Defendant’s conviction for possession of heroin with the intent to distribute, third or subsequent offense, concluding that the trial court erred in denying Defendant’s pretrial motion to suppress evidence obtained after a search of Defendant’s person and that the error was not harmless. The Supreme Court reversed the court of appeals and reinstated the conviction, holding that the alleged trial court error, if error at all, was harmless as a matter of law because a rational fact-finder, beyond a reasonable doubt, would have found Defendant guilty absent the error. View "Commonwealth v. White" on Justia Law

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Defendant was charged with unreasonable refusal to submit a breath sample under Va. Code 18.2-268.3. At trial, Defendant argued that the Commonwealth failed to prove that he was operating a motor vehicle on a “highway” as defined by Va. Code 46.2-100. The trial court denied the motion. Ultimately, the trial court determined that Defendant had unreasonably refused to submit a breath sample and ordered that his license to drive be suspended for twelve months. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the roadway upon which Defendant was operating his motor vehicle did not meet the statutory definition of highway under section 46.2-100, and therefore, the implied consent statute had no applicability and Defendant was not required to submit a breath sample. View "Kim v. Commonwealth" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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After a jury trial, Defendant was convicted of carjacking and use of a firearm in the commission of carjacking, along with robbery, attempted robbery, attempted malicious wounding, and three other counts of using a firearm in the commission of these felonies. The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant’s convictions, holding (1) the trial court did not err in denying Defendant’s motion to strike the Commonwealth’s evidence as insufficient to sustain the carjacking and related firearm convictions; and (2) the trial court did not abuse its discretion in refusing Defendant’s proffered jury instruction on carjacking. View "Hilton v. Commonwealth" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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Defendant moved to suppress the fruits of the search that led to his arrest on the ground that the probable cause for the search was provided by the warrantless use of a drug-sniffing dog in violation of the Fourth Amendment. The circuit court denied the motion to suppress and found Defendant guilty of felony possession with intent to distribute. After Defendant’s conviction became legal, the United States Supreme Court decided Florida v. Jardines, which announced that use of a drug-sniffing dog on a homeowner’s porch constitutes a search within the meaning of the of the Fourth Amendment. Thereafter, Defendant filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in the circuit court, alleging that Jardines confirmed that the search of his home was invalid and that Jardines was retroactively applicable to cases on collateral review. The habeas court dismissed the petition, concluding that Jardines introduced a new rule and was not retroactive. The court also denied a plenary hearing. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) Jardines does not apply retroactively to convictions such as Defendant’s because it announced a new rule of constitutional law; and (2) the habeas court did not abuse its discretion in denying Defendant’s request for a plenary hearing. View "Oprisko v. Director" on Justia Law

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Defendant entered an Alford guilty plea to capital murder and other related charges. The trial court imposed a life sentence pursuant to the plea agreement plus a sixty-eight-year term of incarceration on the remaining charges. Defendant later filed a motion to vacate his life sentence, claiming that it violated the principles articulated in Miller v. Alabama. The trial court denied the motion. The Supreme Court affirmed. Acting on a petition for certiorari, the United States Supreme Court vacated and remanded the case for reconsideration in light of Montgomery v. Louisiana. On remand, the Supreme Court reinstated its holding in Jones I, subject to the qualifications made herein, and affirmed the trial court’s denial of Defendant’s motion to vacate, holding that Defendant need not be resentenced to a specific term of years under either Miller or Montgomery. View "Jones v. Commonwealth" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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After a jury trial, Defendant was found guilty of petit larceny, third or subsequent offense. Defendant appealed, arguing that the trial court erred in giving Instruction 16 to the jury rather than Instruction O, Defendant’s proposed alternate instruction, and that he suffered a denial of due process resulting from the challenged jury instruction. The Court of Appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the trial court did not err in refusing to give Instruction O because Instruction 16 did not impermissibly shift the burden of proof to the defense. View "Lindsey v. Commonwealth" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law