COURT OF APPEALS OF VIRGINIA
Present: Judges Willis, Fitzpatrick and Annunziata
Argued at Alexandria, Virginia
JAMES CHRISTIAN CATTERTON
Record No. 2890-95-4
COMMONWEALTH OF VIRGINIA
JUDGE JERE M. H. WILLIS, JR.
NOVEMBER 12, 1996
FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF THE CITY OF ALEXANDRIA
Donald H. Kent, Judge
Richard C. Goemann, Senior Assistant Public
Defender, for appellant.
Steven A. Witmer, Assistant Attorney General
(James S. Gilmore, III, Attorney General, on
brief), for appellee.
On appeal from his bench trial conviction of grand larceny
of a motor vehicle, in violation of Code § 18.2-95, James
Christian Catterton contends that the trial court erred in
denying his motion to strike the evidence, because the evidence
did not preclude a reasonable inference that the car was taken
with the permission of the repair shop bailee, an alternative
"owner" of the vehicle.
We find no error and affirm the judgment
of the trial court.
The indictment against Catterton charged that he "did
unlawfully and feloniously, take, steal, and carry away a 1986
Ford Bronco, . . . belonging to Debora Brooke, with the intent to
permanently deprive the owner thereof."
On appeal, we view the evidence in the light most favorable
to the Commonwealth, granting to it all reasonable inferences
fairly deducible therefrom.
Higginbotham v. Commonwealth, 216
Va. 349, 352, 218 S.E.2d 534, 537 (1975).
The judgment of the
trial court sitting without a jury will not be set aside unless
plainly wrong or without evidence to support it.
Commonwealth, 4 Va. App. 438, 443, 358 S.E.2d 415, 418 (1987).
In April 1995, Deborah Brooke took her 1986 Ford Bronco to a
mechanic's shop for repairs.
When she returned to pick it up, it
She testified that she gave no one permission to
take the Bronco from the repair shop.
She did not know
The mechanic did not testify.
On May 19, 1995, Officers McMean and Booth pursued the Ford
Bronco, which had been involved in a hit-and-run accident.
dead end, the vehicle stopped and a single figure ran from the
driver's side into a park.
about the vehicle.
The officers saw no one else in or
Officer McMean subsequently apprehended
Catterton in the park.
Catterton told the officers that "Fred"
had been driving the vehicle.
Catterton, a convicted felon, testified that earlier on the
evening of May 18, 1995, a person named Tony took him in the
Bronco to several bars and that he assumed the Bronco belonged to
Catterton did not know Tony's last name.
testified that Tony stayed at a bar with a woman and allowed
Catterton to drive the Bronco home.
In every criminal prosecution, "It devolves
upon the Commonwealth to prove, first, the
corpus delicti, that is, the fact that the
crime charged has been actually perpetrated;
and secondly, that it was committed by the
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accused. To justify a conviction, the
evidence must be so convincing as to exclude
every reasonable doubt of the guilt of the
Maughs v. Commonwealth, 181 Va. 117, 120, 23 S.E.2d 784, 786
(1943) (citation omitted).
To support a conviction of larceny,
the Commonwealth must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that there
has been an unlawful taking of property from the owner and that
the taking was committed by the defendant.
See id. at 120-21, 23
S.E.2d at 786.
Catterton contends that when Ms. Brooke left the Bronco at
the repair shop, the repairman, as bailee, became the "owner" of
the car for the purpose of proving larceny.
When Ms. Brooke took her vehicle to the repair shop, she
relinquished possession to the repair shop only for the special
purpose of fixing her brakes.
She retained both her ownership
and her right to reclaim possession.
Ownership for purposes of
proving larceny may belong either to the true owner or to the
"To sustain an indictment for larceny . . .
it is sufficient that the goods alleged to
have been stolen are proved to be either the
absolute or special property of the alleged
"'Where there is both a general and special
owner, the rule is nearly universal that the
pleader may charge the goods as belonging to
either, though often the convenience of
making proof will suggest practical grounds
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"'The rule is general . . . that where
chattels are taken feloniously from any
bailee or other special owner . . . the
ownership may be laid either in such
possessor or the real owner, at the election
of the pleader.'"
Latham v. Commonwealth, 184 Va. 934, 940, 37 S.E.2d 36, 38-39
(1946) (citations omitted).
The indictment sufficiently charged larceny by alleging
theft of the Bronco from its general owner, Ms. Brooke.
evidence proved that charge.
Ms. Brooke authorized no one to
take the vehicle from the repair shop.
Specifically, she gave no
such permission to Catterton.
"Once [larceny] is established, the unexplained possession
of recently stolen [property] permits an inference of larceny by
Bright v. Commonwealth, 4 Va. App. 248, 251, 356
S.E.2d 443, 444 (1987).
Catterton's possession of the Bronco,
his flight, and his patently incredible and totally unsupported
explanation of his possession support the inference that he was
The judgment of the trial court is affirmed.
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