Sunday, April 20, 2003

Last week's criminal cases from Virginia Supreme Court

In Lenz v. Warden, the petitioner obtained a reversal of fortune in a death penalty, as the Court agreed that the verdict form was defective and the petitioner could raise the issue by way of a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel. The verdict was defective in that it "failed to inform the jury that it could sentence petitioner to life imprisonment even if the jury found petitioner guilty of both aggravating factors beyond a reasonable doubt." Chief Justice Hassell wrote the opinion.

In Rose v. Commonwealth, the Court considered the dreaded habitual offender statute, which makes it a crime for a person who has been adjudged in a civil proceeding to be a habitual offender gets caught driving. Remarkably, the defendant won the appeal, because the adjudication order was not filled out correctly, and the Supreme Court concluded that "that an 'incomplete' order which adjudicates a person as an habitual offender, but "erroneously" fails to impose the required prohibition against that person operating a motor vehicle, does not satisfy the Commonwealth's burden of proof in a subsequent trial charging that person with violating" Va. Code § 46.2-357. Also interesting is the fact the Court of Appeals affirmed the conviction, and both it and the litigants apparently focused on other issues, about a collateral attack on the adjudication.

In Commonwealth v. Hudson, the Supreme Court reinstated a second-degree murder conviction that had been thrown out by the Court of Appeals for insufficient evidence. Not to put too fine a point on it, it looks to me like the Supreme Court by Judge Lemons thought the Court of Appeals (in an opinion by Judge Agee, who is now on the Supreme Court, and so Senior Justice Compton took his place on this last appeal) messed up every which way, as the opinion says: "In the case before us, the analysis of the Court of Appeals viewed the evidence in the light most favorable to Hudson rather than to the Commonwealth as required. Additionally, the Court of Appeals emphasized Hudson's evidence rather than the totality of the evidence as required. Finally, the Court of Appeals' analysis did not give proper deference to the province of the jury to consider the testimony and the credibility of the witnesses to determine reasonable inferences from such evidence, and reject as unreasonable the hypotheses offered by Hudson."

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