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Articles Posted in Court Procedure

Both the United States Constitution and the Virginia State Constitution contain provisions that prevent a criminal defendant from being charged or punished twice for the same offense. These protections from “double jeopardy” help form the backbone of the procedural due process rights that criminal defendants are entitled to under both the state and federal constitutions. The Virginia Court of Appeals recently decided to reverse a defendant’s convictions on these grounds, finding that he could not be convicted of two charges for the same conduct, and that the prosecution would have to choose one or the other charge upon a retrial.

The defendant in the recently decided case was charged with several crimes after an alleged burglary. Police were tipped off to the defendant after he was observed spending some old currency that appeared to be the same as that which was reported missing from the victim’s home. After serving a search warrant at the defendant’s house, police found allegedly stolen items in his possession, including jewelry, currency, firearms, and ammunition. Among other charges, the defendant was charged with possession of a firearm by a felon as well as possession of ammunition by a felon. At trial, the defendant was ultimately convicted of several crimes, including both the enhanced firearm and ammunition offenses.

The defendant appealed his conviction, arguing that the offenses of possession of a firearm by a felon and possession of ammunition by a felon cannot be charged together under the circumstances of the case without violating constitutional double jeopardy clauses. The defendant convinced the appellate court that because the two charges arose out of the same occurrence, by the same factual pattern, and were not two separate incidents of possession, that he could not be punished for both. The Virginia Court of Appeals reversed both of the defendant’s convictions and instructed the prosecution to choose one or the other charge and retry the defendant.

Earlier this year, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a Virginia case involving a woman convicted of driving on a suspended license. The appeal involves the lower court’s decision preventing the defendant from pursuing an appeal of her conviction. Ultimately, the court concluded that the defendant’s appeal was proper and that the lower court should not have precluded her from bringing her appeal.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, the defendant was issued a summons on July 15, 2016, indicating that she was charged with driving on a suspended license. It was her fifth offense. The woman was convicted and filed an appeal with the circuit court. Defendants convicted in the district court have an automatic right to a new trial in circuit court.

In her appeal, the defendant raised several challenges to her conviction. However, the circuit court rejected each of her claims, and she was again convicted. The defendant then filed another appeal, this time to the appellate court. She referenced the circuit court case in her filing, naming a county official as the “appellee,” which is the party who is supposed to respond to the appeal.

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The Virginia criminal justice system is a complex institution that often leaves criminal defendants confused about their rights and remedies. In most Virginia criminal cases, a defendant can appeal a conviction after a court or jury finds them guilty. The United States Constitution and state laws govern what cases and issues a defendant may appeal. Many defendants unknowingly forfeit their rights to appeal because of the fundamental disparity in power during these proceedings. Appeals can take a significant amount of time, and it is essential that criminal defendants seek assistance to ensure that they present all relevant appeals to the court.

In some cases, a criminal defendant may appeal several issues based on various procedural or statutory errors. For instance, recently, a Virginia defendant appealed his conviction based on eight issues. The defendant appealed his drug possession with intent to distribute conviction and his revocation of a suspended sentence. His crux of the appeal was based on an alleged violation of his Fourth Amendment rights and his assertion that the Commonwealth made erroneous additions to his transcript.

In cases where a Virginia appellant contests their conviction, the court should address each assignment of error. Here, the appeals court addressed each issue in their opinion and ultimately affirmed the conviction. In some instances, a court may deny an otherwise meritorious appeal because of a procedural issue. These situations illustrate the importance of retaining a criminal defense attorney who has a comprehensive understanding of Virginia criminal procedure.

The Commonwealth has various statutes that govern Virginia gun offenses. The statutes delineate what constitutes a weapon or firearm, who can possess the weapon, and what processes the owner must go through to obtain and maintain a firearm legally. Further, criminal laws address what actions constitute a Virginia weapons offense and the commiserate punishment for violating a statute. These laws typically involve the complicated interplay between various statutes, and it is essential that those accused of a Virginia gun offense contact a dedicated criminal defense attorney.

For example, recently, the Court of Appeals of Virginia issued an opinion in the combined appeals of two defendants arguing that Virginia’s successive prosecution code bars their prosecutions for possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. In this case, two defendants argued that the court should dismiss their convictions for possession of a firearm as a convicted felon.

At issue was Virginia Code section 19.2-294, which covers dual charging. The code addresses limiting prosecutions in cases where double jeopardy is irrelevant. Specifically, if a defendant’s act is a “violation of two or more statutes or two or more ordinances,” conviction under one of the statutes or ordinances “shall be a bar to a prosecution proceeding under the other or others.” Moreover, if the offense is a violation of a statute and federal statute, prosecution under the federal statute will bar prosecution under the state statute. The statute is designed to prevent an accused from multiple prosecutions. However, unlike double jeopardy rules, the statute does not consider the elements of an offense, and instead limits prosecution to an act instead of a crime. It only applies if there has been a “conviction,” not just a proceeding or prosecution.

The Coronavirus pandemic has shut down much of society, including many courts across the country. While any court closure has an impact on those with pending cases, the closing of a criminal court – where many of those who are impacted are in custody – raises obvious concerns.

On March 16, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Virginia issued an order declaring a judicial emergency. In effect, the order suspended all deadlines and closed the courts for all non-emergency, non-essential functions. Initially, the order was for 21 days, and was set to expire on April 6. However, on March 27, the Chief Justice issued another order extending the judicial emergency until April 26.

Under the original order, all non-essential, non-emergency proceedings are to be continued. This means that all jury trials and trials held in front of a judge will be continued until at least April 26. However, the Court’s order does allow for specific procedures to continue. For example, the following hearings and proceedings can still be conducted during the judicial emergency:

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