Justia Constitutional Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Virginia Supreme Court

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Appellant was convicted of carrying a concealed weapon in violation of "Henrico County Ordinance 22-2 incorporating Virginia Code Section 18.2-308." Appellant appealed, arguing that the trial court erred in denying his motion to suppress. After Appellant's appeal was denied, he filed a motion for a rehearing, adding an additional assignment of error, which stated that the conviction was void as a matter of law because there existed no Henrico County Ordinance 22-2 incorporating Virginia Code Section 18.2-308. The court of appeals refused to address whether Appellant's conviction was void ab initio as a matter of law because Appellant had not included the new assignment of error in his petition for appeal. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that because the court of appeals had acquired active jurisdiction over Appellant's appeal, Appellant had the right to raise the issue of whether his conviction order was void ab initio. Remanded. View "Amin v. County of Henrico" on Justia Law

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Leone was convicted of possession of marijuana with intent to distribute in 1994. Because of that conviction, Leone suffered certain political disabilities. In 2012, Governor McDonnell restored all of Leone's civil rights except his right to ship, transport, possess or receive firearms. Leone filed a petition to have that right restored in accordance with Code § 18.2-308.2(C). The trial court granted Leone's petition, noting that the restoration did not include the right to carry a concealed weapon. The Virginia Supreme Court reversed, noting Leone admits that he does not currently reside in Virginia Beach, and did not reside in Virginia Beach when he filed his petition for restoration; the circuit court lacked territorial jurisdiction to adjudicate Leone's petition for restoration of firearms rights. View "Commonwealth v. Leone" on Justia Law

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In 2008 Prieto was convicted of a 1988 capital murder in the commission of, or subsequent to, rape, Code § 18.2-31(5); capital murder of more than one person as part of the same act or transaction, Code § 18.2-31(7); rape, Code § 18.2-61; two counts of use of a firearm in the commission of murder, Code § 18.2-53.1; and grand larceny, Code § 18.2-95, and was sentenced to death for each of the capital murder convictions and 20 years' imprisonment for the remaining convictions. Following a remand, the Virginia Supreme Court upheld the sentences and subsequently denied a petition for habeas corpus that claimed denial of effective assistance of counsel because counsel failed bring up Prieto's claimed mental retardation and failed to thoroughly investigate and review scientific evidence including DNA found in the victim’s vagina, hair found on the body, and anal swabs. The court also rejected a claims that Prieto was denied the right to a jury "of the state and district" where the crimes were committed, because a juror who did not reside in Virginia was seated at his first trial and that another juror intentionally withheld information during voir dire regarding sexual assaults the juror had suffered. View "Prieto v. Warden " on Justia Law

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Defendant pleaded guilty to carnal knowledge of a minor. At the time of his conviction, Defendant's crime was classified as a non-violent sex offense. Defendant was required to register annually for ten years, after which he could petition for expungement. The federal government subsequently enacted the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act, which resulted in Defendant's conviction being retroactively reclassified as a sexually violent offense. Consequently, Defendant was required to register every ninety days for the rest of his life with no right to petition for expungement. Defendant filed a complaint asserting that the reclassification of his offense violated his contractual and constitutional rights. The circuit court granted summary judgment for the Commonwealth. Smith appealed, arguing that his plea agreement was a contract that incorporated the sex offender registration laws in existence at the time of the agreement, and thus, the Commonwealth materially breached the plea agreement by amending the registration laws and retroactively enforcing them against him. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that there were no contractual or constitutional violations resulting from the reclassification of Defendant's conviction, and therefore, the circuit court properly dismissed Defendant's petition for expungement and for a permanent injunction. View "Smith v. Commonwealth" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff was hired by New Dimensions, Inc. (NDI) as a design and sales consultant. Plaintiff was paid a commission of 2.12 percent of her total sales, but other design and sales consultants, both male and female, previously hired by NDI were paid commissions of 2.25 percent. Plaintiff was subsequently terminated by NDI and was not paid commissions for certain sales she had secured. Plaintiff filed this amended complaint against NDI alleging breach of contract, quantum meruit, and violation of the federal Equal Pay Act (EPA). In its answer, NDI did not affirmatively plead the four defenses articulated in the statute. The circuit court determined that NDI was prohibited from presenting evidence in defense of the EPA claim and precluded the introduction of evidence related to those defenses. The circuit court ruled in favor of Plaintiff on the EPA claim. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the defenses set forth in the EPA are affirmative but were not waived under the facts presented in this case; and (2) therefore, the circuit court erred in preventing NDI from presenting evidence of its gender-neutral compensation system at trial. Remanded. View "New Dimensions, Inc. v. Tarquini" on Justia Law

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After a bench trial, Defendant was found guilty of animate object sexual penetration. Prior to his sentencing, Defendant hired a new attorney, who discovered that the Commonwealth had made a plea offer prior to trial. The circuit court found that the plea offer was not conveyed to Defendant, declared a mistrial, and ordered a new trial. Defendant subsequently entered a plea of no contest, which the circuit court accepted. The court then sentenced Defendant to thirty years' imprisonment. Thereafter, Defendant filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus, alleging ineffective assistance of counsel for his first attorney's failure to communicate to him the plea offer from the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth dismissed the petition, ruling that it lacked jurisdiction over Defendant's claim because Defendant was not being detained as a result of his first trial. The Supreme Court affirmed the dismissal of the petition, holding that, assuming that Defendant may link the first and second trials and assert ineffective assistance of counsel, Defendant could not prove he was prejudiced by counsel's performance pursuant to Missouri v. Frye, which provides the standard for proving prejudice in the plea context. View "Laster v. Russell" on Justia Law

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The Caroline County Board of Supervisors issued a special exception permit that approved the use of land adjacent to the Rappahannock River for a sand and gravel mining operation. Complainants, the Friends of the Rappahannock and several local landowners and one lessee, challenged the issuance of the permit by filing this declaratory judgment action. The circuit court dismissed the complaint, finding that Complainants lacked standing to bring the suit because the claims alleged were not supported by sufficient facts and because the allegations did not show a loss of a personal or property right different from that "suffered by the public generally." The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the circuit court did not erroneously apply the aggrieved party standard in determining standing in this case; and (2) based on the insufficiency of allegations in their complaint, the individual complainants did not have standing to proceed. View "Friends of the Rappahannock v. Caroline County Bd. of Supervisors" on Justia Law

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Petitioner was convicted of petit larceny, third or subsequent offense, and breaking and entering with the intent to commit larceny. The court of appeals denied Petitioner's appeal. Petitioner subsequently appealed to the Supreme Court and filed a pro se petition for writ of habeas corpus, challenging the legality of his confinement and asserting claims of ineffective assistance of counsel. The Supreme Court dismissed Petitioner's habeas petition, holding (1) a petition for a writ of habeas corpus and a direct appeal from a final judgment of conviction can proceed simultaneously in the Court; and (2) with regard to the claims of ineffective assistance of counsel raised in the petition, Petitioner failed to prove that, but for his counsel's alleged errors, the outcome of his trial would have been different. View "Sigmon v. Dir. of Dep't of Corr." on Justia Law

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After a jury trial, Defendant was convicted of taking indecent liberties with a child, aggravated sexual battery, and animate object penetration. Defendant appealed, contending that the Commonwealth violated Brady v. Maryland by suppressing evidence in the form of an audio tape recording of an investigative interview with the victim. The court of appeals reversed on the Brady issue and remanded the case for a new trial. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that because the recording was made available to Defendant in sufficient time for its use at trial, the Commonwealth committed no Brady violation. Remanded. View "Commonwealth v. Tuma" on Justia Law

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Defendant was indicted upon a charge of knowingly and intentionally possessing or transporting a firearm after having previously been convicted of a violent felony in violation of Va. Code Ann. 18.2-308.2(A). At a jury trial, the trial court admitted one prior conviction for robbery and four prior convictions for burglary, each of which was a violent felony. Defendant objected to the evidence, arguing that the phrase "previously convicted of a violent felony" in section 18.2-308.2(A) limited the Commonwealth to adducing evidence of only one prior conviction for a violent felony. The circuit court overruled the objection, and the jury returned a guilty verdict. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that because section 18.2-308.2(A) establishes the elements of the offense rather than a rule of evidence by which the elements may be proven, the statute does not limit the Commonwealth's prerogative to meet its burden of proof using whatever available evidence it chooses. View "Boone v. Commonwealth" on Justia Law