08 March 2005

Cases Fresh from the Virginia Supreme Court

Lewis v. Commonwealth
Lewis was convicted of four counts of attempted robbery and acquitted of the other charges by a jury. The Virginia Court of Appeals upheld the Circuit Courts decision in refusing to grant a mistrial based on improper impeachment by the prosecutor. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded. The Court held on March 3rd that Lewis’ right to a fair trial was prejudiced when the prosecutor implied that the witness and defendant engaged in criminal activity unrelated to the charged offenses. The Court found that the prosecutor’s implication of illegal drug activity of the defendant with the witness was unfounded. The Court states “that we live in a ‘time of widespread revulsion against the [illegal] use of controlled drugs.’” (Quoting King v. Commonwealth, 217 Va. 912, 915 (1977)). Thus, the Court held that the unfounded implication of illegal drug use during cross examination by a prosecutor is improper impeachment, resulting in a mistrial.

Palmer v. Commonwealth
Palmer was convicted of possession of a firearm when under the age of 29 after having been convicted of a delinquent act as a juvenile that would have been a felony if committed by an adult under Virginia Code Section 18.2–308.2. The Supreme Court stated that when a prior conviction is an element of a charged offense, the burden is on the Commonwealth to prove the conviction beyond a reasonable doubt. As provided by Virginia Code Section 19.2-307 a judgment order must reflect the plea of the defendant, the verdict or findings of the fact finder, and the adjudication and sentence of the court. In Palmer’s case, the juvenile and domestic relations district court records do not show that he was convicted of any particular delinquent act. The Supreme Court held that since the lower court does not know what acts Palmer committed as a delinquent, the “court may not engage in conjecture or surmise in determining the offense for which a defendant was convicted.” The Court held a bright line rule in this case: when the commonwealth seeks to prove a prior conviction as an element of a crime by presenting an order in a prior case, the order must show that a judgment of conviction was entered.

No comments: