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Defendant’s Conviction Reversed After Virginia Court Finds Her Appeal Wasn’t “Fatally Defective”

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.

The appellate court noted that there was an inconsistency in the defendant’s appeal. Specifically, her appeal named the county as the prosecuting authority, while the circuit court’s sentencing order named the Commonwealth of Virginia as the prosecuting authority. After providing the defendant the opportunity to clarify her filing, the court rejected her appeal, finding that it was fatally defective. The court determined that the defendant failed to specifically identify the offense she was contesting on appeal.

The Court’s Opinion

On appeal, the court found in favor of the defendant, noting that any defect in her appeal was procedural. The court explained that “the purpose of the notice of appeal is merely to
place the opposing party on notice and to direct the clerk to prepare the record on appeal.” To meet the requirements of an appeal, a defendant need only put the court and the prosecuting authority on notice of the correct case. Further, the court noted that “any defect in the
notice of appeal that does not touch on its timeliness or the identity of the case to be appealed is procedural only.”

Here, the court explained that the defendant’s notice of appeal was timely. Thus, any error in naming the correct prosecuting authority was merely procedural, which was not a valid basis for denying her appeal altogether. The court noted that the defendant correctly “listed her name, the date of the final order, the court in which the conviction originated, and the correct docket number.” Thus, the court found that it sufficiently complied with the law to allow her to correct any procedural defect. As a result of the court’s opinion, the defendant’s conviction was reversed, and the case was remanded to the lower court to consider the merits of her appeal.

Have You Been Cited for a Virginia Traffic Offense?

The above case illustrates the very real challenges a party faces when attempting to navigate the complex criminal justice system. If you were recently arrested or cited for a Virginia DUI or other traffic offense, reach out to Robinson Law for immediate assistance. Our dedicated team of Virginia criminal defense lawyers handles all types of drunk driving cases, as well as license suspension stemming from traffic violations. To learn more, give us a call at 888-259-9787 today. You can also reach us through our online form.

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