Recently, an appellate court in Fairfax County determined that the trial judge incorrectly allowed a trial to proceed in a criminal defendant’s drug case. Because the lower court improperly allowed the defendant’s case to move forward, the defendant was entitled to a reversal. The court then vacated the defendant’s conviction.
Facts of the Case
According to the opinion, the defendant in this case was charged with two counts of possessing a controlled substance with intent to distribute, what courts often abbreviate as “PWID.” Going into the trial, the Commonwealth argued that the defendant was convicted of a similar offense twice before; thus, because this was his third PWID offense, he should be subject to significant time in prison.
At trial, however, the defendant argued that the Commonwealth’s evidence proving that he was convicted of two previous PWID offenses was insufficient. The documents were not authenticated and showed inconsistent information. The court agreed with the defendant and allowed him to strike the evidence from the record.
Instead of automatically deciding that the defendant could not be found guilty for a third PWID offense, given there was no sufficient proof of the first two offenses, the court allowed the Commonwealth to submit additional evidence supporting the claim that the defendant had been found guilty of the first two offenses. When it heard this additional evidence, the court then decided that there was enough evidence to convict the defendant of a third PWID.
As a result of trial, the defendant was found guilty PWID as a third offense.
On appeal, the defendant argued that if the court decided there was insufficient evidence to support a third PWID offense, the court should have automatically entered a judgment of acquittal. The fact that the court decided the evidence was insufficient then immediately proceeded to hear the Commonwealth’s additional evidence on the issue was a clear violation of Virginia law. Under criminal statutes in Virginia, once a court grants a motion to strike, the court must not allow additional evidence to be presented on the same subject.
Here, the defendant was on trial for a third PWID, and the fact that he was convicted of two prior qualifying convictions was necessary for him to be found guilty of the third PWID. So, when the court found that the Commonwealth’s evidence fell short of proving the defendant had been convicted of two prior qualifying convictions, it was legally obligated to enter a judgment of acquittal. The court was not permitted to both decide that evidence was insufficient to support a guilty verdict and simultaneously fail to acquit the defendant of that same charge.
The court vacated the defendant’s conviction for PWID, deciding the defendant was correct and that the court should not have allowed the jury to proceed and find him guilty of a third PWID.
Are You Facing Drug Charges in Fairfax County?
At Robinson Law, PLLC, we understand that the last place you want to be is facing a jury trial on your criminal charges. If you have charged with a drug crime in Fairfax County, give our office a call, and we can advise you on how to best fight the charges so that you never have to face trial in the first place. We not only handle drug cases, but we also take cases related to DUIs, assault and battery, guns, and domestic violence. For your free and confidential consultation, call us today at (703) 844-3746.