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The elements required to convict a defendant of a sexual offense in Virginia vary greatly based upon several factors. The age of this victim, the age of the alleged perpetrator, the degree of force used to perpetrate an assault, and the nature of an assault each factor into a determination of what crime, if any, a defendant can be charged and convicted of. The Virginia Court of Appeals recently heard an appeal by a defendant who challenged his aggravated sexual battery conviction based upon allegations that he molested a fourteen-year-old girl who was sleeping at her home.

The defendant in the recently decided appeal was charged with aggravated sexual battery after he allegedly touched the genitals of the cousin of someone he was dating who lived in their home. According to the facts discussed in the appellate opinion, the victim, who was fourteen years old at the time of the assault, had been sleeping on the couch in her home when she awoke to the defendant touching her genitals. After the victim notified other adults of what happened and authorities were notified, the defendant was arrested and charged with aggravated sexual battery.

To obtain a conviction for aggravated sexual battery, Virginia law requires the state to prove that a sexual act was accomplished against the will of a victim by force, threat, or intimidation. During a bench trial, the defense argued that because the victim was asleep at the time the attack initially occurred, that the state could not demonstrate that the attack was committed by force, threat, or intimidation under the law. The trial judge rejected the defense arguments, finding that the state proved that the criminal act was committed with “constructive force,” which is defined as an act without a victim’s consent or against their will. Based on that finding, the defendant was convicted of aggravated sexual battery and sentenced to twenty years in prison.

If you have been a longtime driver on Virginia highways, it’s possible that you have seen what law enforcement refers to as a checkpoint. These checkpoints allow officers to stop cars and see if drivers have been drinking or violating any other traffic law. Checkpoints greatly increase the number of arrests made on the roads in Virginia, and there are certain laws about what police officers can and cannot do when conducting stops in this particular way. If you are stopped at a DUI checkpoint, it is crucial that you know your rights.

General Guidelines for DUI Checkpoints

The Fourth Amendment protects individuals from unreasonable searches and seizures. On the road, this means that a police officer cannot unreasonably search your car or unreasonably seize personal items from your car. In 1990, the Supreme Court ruled that DUI checkpoints are generally legal; however, there are restrictions on the setup and implementation of these checkpoints.

In Virginia, DUI checkpoints must be designed and implemented by senior officers at the police department. Checkpoints must be safe and cannot keep drivers detained for an unreasonable amount of time. All officers working the checkpoint must be sufficiently trained, and the checkpoint cannot be unsafe for any drivers going through it.

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Tips given to law enforcement officers by confidential informants are often used to establish reasonable suspicion for a detention or probable cause for a search or arrest. State and federal constitutional protections still play a role in determining the legality of police interactions with the public, even when reliable tips from informants are involved. The Court of Appeals of Virginia recently ruled in favor of the state after a defendant challenged the legality of his detention based on a tip from a confidential informant that he was involved in commercial drug activity.

In the recently decided case, the defendant was arrested and charged with dealing drugs after police were notified of his activity by a confidential informant. Based on the tip from the informant that a man matching the description of the defendant was selling drugs on the street, detectives stopped the defendant for questioning. The defendant was handcuffed and made to wait with the police when a canine drug detection unit arrived. After the canine signaled to police that the man was in possession of narcotics, a search was performed, and police found drugs on him.

The defendant challenged the admission of the drugs at trial against him. He argued that the police did not have reasonable suspicion or probable cause to detain him while waiting for the drug dog to arrive. The trial court determined that the defendant’s detention was not an arrest and was instead an investigatory stop. Under Virginia and federal law, police are only required to show reasonable suspicion when making an investigatory stop. The trial court determined that the tip from the confidential informant was reliable enough to give the officers reasonable suspicion to detain him and wait for the dog to arrive. As a result of the decision, the defendant was convicted of the drug offenses and sentenced to three years in prison.

In a recent drug case in Virginia, the court denied the defendant’s appeal for possession of heroin. Originally, the defendant had been found guilty after overdosing on drugs in his hotel room. On appeal, the defendant argued that the officer who found the drugs violated his right to privacy by unlawfully searching through his nightstand. Additionally, he argued that because of recent changes to Virginia law, he should not be convicted if officers only found the drugs while they were providing emergency medical care. The court disagreed, ultimately denying the defendant’s appeal.

Facts of the Case

According to the opinion, an officer was dispatched to a motel room in Virginia in response to an anonymous caller claiming they saw an unresponsive male in the room. When the officer arrived, she announced her presence and entered the room, finding the defendant on the floor. He was unconscious, pale, sweating, and breathing heavily. The officer believed the defendant to be suffering from a drug overdose, so she called emergency medics, who quickly arrived and began treating the defendant. In the meantime, the officer began searching the hotel room for evidence of drug use.

The officer and her team looked around the hotel room but did not immediately see any drugs. She then searched through the defendant’s nightstand and found a clear bag with a white powdery substance that was later determined to be heroin. A few minutes later, the medics were able to revive the defendant; when they asked him what substance he took, he admitted to having snorted heroin moments before he became unconscious. The defendant was later convicted of heroin possession.

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Federal courts do not have the jurisdiction to try any alleged crime committed in the United States. For a United States District Court to entertain criminal charges against a defendant, there must be a valid statutory or constitutional basis for the federal court to exercise jurisdiction over the charge. Because of these restrictions on federal jurisdiction, laws have been creatively passed by the U.S. Congress to expand federal jurisdiction over alleged criminal conduct. 28 U.S.C. §§ 2341–2353, colloquially known as the Hobbs Act, is one such statute.

The Hobbs Act allows federal courts to take jurisdiction over crimes of robbery or extortion that disrupt interstate commerce, as the federal government has control over interstate commerce under the commerce clause of the U.S. Constitution. A federal appellate court recently heard a defendant’s appeal of several Hobbes act convictions.

In the recently decided case, the defendant was charged in federal court with three crimes related to an alleged robbery under the Hobbs act. Based on his guilty pleas, the defendant was ultimately convicted and sentenced for three crimes: conspiracy to commit a Hobbs Act robbery (Count 1), commission of a Hobbs act robbery (Count 2), and discharge of a firearm while committing a Hobbs Act robbery (Count 3). Under mandatory federal sentencing guidelines, the defendant was sentenced to 10 years in prison for Count 3, which would serve consecutively with a 46-57 month sentence that was imposed for Counts 1 and 2.

Recently, an appellate court in Virginia affirmed a DUI conviction against a defendant who was determined to be the driver at the time of the crash. The court found that there was sufficient circumstantial evidence to conclude that the defendant was the driver.

The Facts of the Case

The defendant was driving a car and was involved in a single-car accident that resulted in her co-worker, who was riding in the car at the time, being ejected from the car. A witness observed the crash while at a red light, called 911, and assisted at the scene. Officers arrived at the scene and observed the defendant with glassy eyes, slurred speech, and emitting a strong odor of alcohol. The defendant admitted to drinking alcohol that evening, and after field sobriety tests were conducted on the defendant, she was arrested for DUI. During a hearing, the officer was cross-examined and stated that he could not recall the defendant’s exact answer to his question of whether the defendant was the driver of the vehicle. The officer admitted that it could have been possible that the other officers on the scene had told him that the defendant was the driver of the vehicle, which may have been the reason why his notes did not reflect the fact that he asked the defendant who had been driving.

In a recent opinion in a Virginia drug case, the court granted the Commonwealth’s request for a new verdict. Originally, a lower court had suppressed incriminating evidence found in the defendant’s car, maintaining that the evidence should not be used because the officer’s decision to conduct the traffic stop was unjustified. The Commonwealth appealed, pointing to an agreement the defendant had signed a few months prior to the traffic stop in which he waived all rights against unreasonable searches from police officers. The court ultimately saw the agreement as valid, deciding to allow the incriminating evidence to be brought in against the defendant.

Facts of the Case

According to the opinion, the defendant was driving in Virginia when an officer stopped him, citing the reason for the stop as a defective brake light. After having stopped the defendant, the officer searched the vehicle and found heroin in the car. Based on this evidence, the defendant was later indicted for possession of a controlled substance.

Later, video footage revealed that the defendant’s brake light was not actually defective but that the officer just used this language as an excuse to stop the defendant when he had no legitimate reason to do so. After discovering this information, the defendant asked the court to suppress the incriminating evidence that the officer found in his vehicle, as the officer did not actually have a valid justification for the traffic stop. Because, according to the defendant, the stop should not have happened in the first place, the Commonwealth should not be able to use that evidence against him. The court granted the defendant’s request, and the heroin was not used to advance the Commonwealth’s case at trial. The defendant’s case was dismissed, and at the end of trial, he was free to go.

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Recently, a Virginia appellate court affirmed a conviction against a defendant who was found guilty of robbery. The court held that the conviction of robbery was appropriate given that there was a sufficient basis for finding that intimidation was involved in the robbery.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, the defendant entered a bank, passed the teller a note, and uttered that “this is a robbery.” When the teller asked her to repeat what she said, the defendant said, “Give me all the money; this is a robbery.” During her testimony, the teller stated that she was in shock and that the bank policy requires that if someone utters the word “robbery,” the teller must comply with their demands. The teller handed the defendant all the money and set off an alarm. The teller testified that at the time, she was not sure what the defendant’s intentions were, was not sure if the defendant would hurt her, and was thinking about a recent incident where four tellers at a bank were shot and killed during a robbery. After the robbery incident, the teller immediately began to cry and shake.

The defendant was convicted of robbery and appealed that conviction. The defendant argued that the lower court erred in finding that the teller gave the defendant the money as a result of intimidation and instead argued that the teller gave her the money because of the bank policy requiring a teller to comply during a robbery.

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Recently, a Virginia appellate court affirmed convictions against a defendant who had been found guilty of credit card fraud and embezzlement. The court found that the guilty verdict was appropriate, even though the defendant argued in her appeal that there was not sufficient evidence to support a finding of guilt. In the opinion, the court wrote that the evidence was not lacking and that it provided enough details to support convictions for seven counts of credit card fraud and four counts of embezzlement.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, the defendant worked as a caretaker for a woman who suffered from physical incapacities and memory loss. The defendant came to the woman’s home several times a week starting in 2015 and assisted with housecleaning, grocery shopping, and other errands. Eventually, it came to Adult Protective Service’s attention that the woman’s two credit cards were consistently showing much higher balances than they had shown before the defendant was hired. One credit card, for example, that had a balance of approximately $3,000 in 2014, had increased to a $46,000 balance by the end of 2017. The extra charges revolved around purchases that the woman herself had no memory of making: there were charges, for example, for car repairs, jewelry, children’s clothing, lingerie, alcohol, and tattoos. At trial, the woman insisted she had not made the extra purchases shown on her credit cards.

In December 2018, President Trump signed the First Step Act into law with the goal of improving criminal justice outcomes, reducing the size of the prison population, and building mechanisms that would also make sure to maintain public safety. The Act represents the culmination of years of bi-partisan pressure for criminal justice reform. In practice, the Act allows certain inmates to be released from prison earlier than anticipated, depending on the nature of their offense and the Act’s published Sentencing Guidelines.

One result of the First Step Act is that it makes it easier for criminal defendants convicted of possession of crack cocaine to serve shorter sentences. In 2010, Congress passed the Fair Sentencing Act, which had major implications for defendants charged with possession of cocaine – that is, while it used to be the case that people faced much longer sentences for possessing crack cocaine than for possessing the same amount of powder cocaine, today, the difference in the sentences is much smaller.

Once it is determined that a defendant’s offense is one that is covered by the First Step Act, a court is free to recalculate the defendant’s sentence. The First Step Act and the Fair Sentencing Act can allow a court to significantly reduce the amount of time a defendant must stay incarcerated.

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