Justia Virginia Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Criminal Law
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The Supreme Court granted Petitioner's petition seeking a writ of habeas corpus and issued the writ directed to the Director of the Virginia Department of Corrections ordering that Petitioner be released from custody, holding that Petitioner was entitled to relief on his claim that he was wrongfully denied earned sentence credits on his convictions for attempted murder that, if awarded, would result in his immediate release from incarceration.In his habeas corpus petition, Petitioner argued that he was wrongfully denied earned sentence credits on his convictions for attempted aggravated murder. Specifically, Petitioner argued that the Virginia Department of Corrections misinterpreted Va. Code 53.1-202.3(A) and, as a result, miscalculated his release date. The Supreme Court agreed, granted Petitioner's petition, and ordered that Petitioner be released from custody, holding that Petitioner established that he was entitled to relief. View "Prease v. Clarke" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the court of appeals affirming Defendant's conviction of abuse or neglect of an incapacitated adult causing serious injury, holding that the trial court, sitting as fact-finder, rationally determined that Defendant's abuse and neglect of her mother caused the mother to suffer a "serious bodily injury" under Va. Code 18.2-369(B).Defendant's mother required emergency medical care and hospitalization after lying in a squalid condition on the floor of her apartment for at least two days. The Commonwealth charged Defendant under section 18.2-369(B) and, after a trial, the court found Defendant guilty of the abuse or neglect of an incapacitated adult causing serious injury. On appeal, Defendant argued that no rational fact-finder could conclude that her mother's bedsores constituted "serious bodily injury" under section 18.2-369(B)-(C). The Supreme Court disagreed and affirmed, holding that a rational trier of fact could have found beyond a reasonable doubt that Defendant's mother suffered a "serious bodily injury" under section 18.2-369(C). View "Tomlin v. Commonwealth" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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In this criminal case, the Supreme Court held that the Due Process Clause of the United States Constitution does not require a court to pre-screen eyewitness identification testimony before the eyewitness can be permitted to make an identification of the defendant for the first time in open court.Defendant was indicted on four counts of robbery and four counts of use of a firearm in the commission of a felony for robbing a bank. After a jury trial, Defendant was convicted and sentenced to forty-five years' imprisonment. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) due process did not compel the circuit court to pre-screen the identification at issue when that identification was made for the first time in court; (2) the circuit court did not abuse its discretion in ruling that Defendant's identification was more probative than prejudicial; and (3) Defendant was properly convicted of a second or subsequent offense of use of a firearm in the commission of a felony. View "Walker v. Commonwealth" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the circuit court denying Appellant's petition for an expungement under Va. Code 19.2-392.2, holding that, in light of this Court's clarification of the standard that applies to the review of expungement petitions when the claim is that the original charge was "otherwise dismissed," remand was appropriate.Appellant was arrested on the charge of accessory after the fact of homicide and pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice, an amended charge. Appellant later filed a petition for expungement, arguing that the accessory after the fact of homicide charge qualified for expungement because it was "otherwise dismissed." The circuit court denied the petition on the grounds that the original charge that was later amended was not "completely separate and unrelated." The Supreme Court reversed, holding that where the circuit court did not rely on a Blockburger comparison of the elements to deny the expungement petition, remand was necessary. View "Williams v. Commonwealth" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals vacating a jury verdict convicting Defendant of using a firearm during the commission of a robbery, holding that the court of appeals erred in holding that the trial court abused its discretion as to a jury instruction and in holding that the evidence was insufficient to sustain the conviction.Defendant handed a note to a cashier demanding money or her life and then put her hand in a pocket and pointed what appeared to be a handgun at the cashier, who took the threat seriously. The jury convicted Defendant of using a firearm during the commission of a robbery. The court of appeals vacated the verdict, holding that the trial court abused its discretion by not granting at least one of Defendant's ten supplemental jury instructions and that the Commonwealth failed to present sufficient evidence to prove that the bulge in Defendant's pocket was a firearm. The Supreme Court reversed and reinstated the convictions, holding (1) the trial court did not abuse its discretion by not supplementing an agreed-upon jury instruction defining a firearm; and (2) the evidence was sufficient to sustain the guilty verdict. View "Commonwealth v. Barney" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the trial court entering judgment upon the jury's verdict in favor of the estate of Jeffrey Tyree on a battery count but for the defense on a gross negligence count, holding that the circuit court erred in declining to grant the motion to strike filed by Detective Bradley Colas.Colas, a police officer, shot and killed Tyree. Tyree's estate brought this action against Colas and another police officer, Officer Nigal Tuft-Williams, alleging gross negligence and battery. During trial, the trial court granted Tuft-Williams' motion to strike and denied Colas' motions to strike. After the jury found for the estate on the battery count Colas appealed, challenging the denial of his motion to strike. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that, under the circumstances of this case, the circuit court erred in declining to grant Colas' motion to strike. View "Colas v. Tyree" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the circuit court dismissing Appellant's petition seeking to expunge a felony driving while intoxicated (DWI) charge from his record, holding that the circuit court did not err.Appellant was arrested and charged with felony DWI. When it was determined that Appellant did not have a prior felony DWI conviction the arrest warrant was subsequently amended to charge Appellant with a misdemeanor DWI. Appellant was found guilty of the misdemeanor DWI. While his appeal was pending, Appellant filed a petition seeking to expunge the felony DWI charge from his record. The trial court denied the petition. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the amendment to the arrest warrant did not render the felony DWI charge "otherwise dismissed" for the purposes of Va. Code 19.2-392.2. View "Forness v. Commonwealth" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals upholding Defendant's conviction for carrying a concealed weapon while intoxicated under Va. Code 18.2-308.012, holding that, under the facts of this case, Defendant did not "carry" the handgun, as contemplated by the statute.A police officer performed a traffic stop of a vehicle seen driving "erratically." Defendant, the driver, provided the officer With a valid weapons permit after informing the officer that a gun was next to him in a zipped bag on his front passenger seat. Defendant was arrested for driving under the influence and subsequently found guilty of carrying a concealed weapon while intoxicated, driving under the influence, and impersonating a police officer. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed Defendant's conviction under section 18.2-308.012, holding (1) "carry" within the meaning of section 18.2-308.012 is limited to physically carrying the handgun on one's person such that it moves when he moves; and (2) Defendant did not "carry" the handgun under the statute. View "Morgan v. Commonwealth" on Justia Law

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