Via v. Commonwealth

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Justia Opinion Summary

After a jury trial, Defendant was convicted of several crimes associated with the robbery of a victim and the invasion of his home. Defendant appealed, arguing that the trial court erred in refusing his proffered jury instruction, which should be given if a witness whose testimony is at issue is an accomplice and if his or her testimony is uncorroborated. The court of appeals affirmed the trial court’s refusal of the proposed jury instruction, concluding that the testimony at issue had been corroborated. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the witness here was an accomplice and his testimony was not corroborated, and therefore, the trial court abused its discretion in refusing Defendant’s proffered jury instruction. Remanded.

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VIRGINIA: ~the.f~c~o/r~ke/dcdthe.f~C~f?lJ~inthe Cit:yo/~on the 27th Friday dayO/ June, 2014. Robert King Via, against Appellant, Record No. 131574 Court of Appeals No. 1759-12 1 Commonwealth of Virginia, Appel Upon an appeal from a judgment rendered by the Court of Appeals of Virg a. Upon consideration of the record, pleadings, briefs and argument of counsel, Court is of the opinion that there is error in judgment and, for the reasons stated below, Court of Appeals' we will reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals. On September II, 2010, three masked gunmen entered Frank Auche's residence, detained and threatened the residence, and robbed Auche. fled. ood recove for Reginald Jones. rsons in t When the police arrived, the gunmen near the crime scene matched a DNA profile When Jones was arrested, he identifi Robert King Via, Jr., Samuel Sanchez and a person known as "Carl" as participants in crime. Via was arrest and indicted for crimes associated with the invasion of Auche's home. Via denied any involvement with the crimes but admitted he knew Jones, Sanchez and Carl Gentline, the person known as "Carl." No forensic evidence connected Via to the cr Sanchez and Gentline both testif at Via's trial. testified that he had entered a plea agreement in whi provi Sanchez he agreed to truthful testimony as to any co-defendants who might be tr Gentline mainta that, while he drove the getaway car, he did so under ss because who were armed. The Commonwealth never charged Gentline with any was afraid of the other participants, crimes relating to the invasion of Auche's home. Gentline testified that a proffe a partic Both Sanchez and in the home invas the following jury instruction, Jury Instruction A, regarding Gentline's testimony: Carl Genteline [sic] has testified that was an accomplice the commission of the crimes charged in the ctments. While you may find your verdict upon his uncorroborated testimony, you shou consider s testimony with care and you are cautioned as to the danger of convict the defendant upon the uncorroborated testimony of an accomplice. Nevertheless, if you are satisfied the evidence of t guilt of the defendant beyond a reasonable doubt, the fendant may convicted upon the uncorroborated evidence of an accomplice. Although the trial court ed a similar instruction rega Sanchez' testimony, it refused Jury Instruction A d "not th jury convi ng cause the court k Mr. Gentline meets the test of an accomplice." A Via of all crimes charged, except one, and sentenced him to 128 years and one day imprisonment. Via appealed his convictions to the Court of Appeals. As relevant here, Via asserted that the trial court erred in refusing Jury Instruction A. Although the question of Gentline's status as an accomplice was inherent this assignment of error, t Appeals did not address that issue directly. Is, in a of r curiam opinion, affirmed proposed jury inst on, stating that 2 Court of Rather, the Court of trial court's re al [e]ven if Gentline was considered an accomplice to the crimes, his testimony was corroborated by that of Sanchez, who admitted that he, appellant, and Jones were the three men who entered Auche's home and threatened those inside at gunpoint. Via v. Commonwealth, Record No. 1759-12-1, sl 2013) (footnote omitted). op. at 3 (May 22, Via appealed from the Court of Appeals' judgment, asserting, inter alia, that the Court of Appeals erred in affirming the trial court's refusal of Jury Instruction A and in ruling that Sanchez' testimony corroborated Gentline's testimony. The parties do not dispute that Jury Instruction A correctly states the law and should be given if a witness whose testimony is at issue is an accomplice and if his or her testimony is uncorroborated. 953, 955 (1911). Jones v. Commonwealth, 111 Va. 862, 868, 69 S.E. The test for whether a witness is an accomplice is "whether he could be indicted Commonwealth, 171 Va. 461, the same offense." 469, 198 S.E. 481, 484 Guthrie v. (1938). Whether accomplice testimony is corroborated is subject to the long established principle that accomplice testimony cannot be corroborated by the testimony of another accomplice. Jones, 111 Va. at 868, 69 S.E. at 955. In this case, Gentline qualifi as an accomplice because, by his own admission, he drove the getaway car and, therefore, could have been indicted for the same offense. Grant v. Commonwealth, 216 Va. 166, 168-69, 217 S.E.2d 806, 808 (1975) (finding driver of getaway car a principal degree). Neither the ct that he was not charged the second th any cr relating to the home invasion, nor the Commonwealth's claim that he lacked criminal intent are relevant to determining whether Gentline 3 could have been indicted for the offenses associated with the home invasion. Gentline's testimony, therefore, However, none of the required corroboration. dence produced by the Commonwealth corroborated Gentline's testimony. Furthermore, contrary to the Court of Appeals' holding, Sanchez' testimony could not corroborate Gentline's testimony because Sanchez was also an accomplice. III Va. at 868, 69 S.E. at 955. Jones, Because Gentline was an accomplice and his testimony was not corroborated, the trial court abused its discretion in refusing Jury Instruct judgment affirming the t A and the Court of Appeals' al court's refusal to grant Jury Instruction A was error. Accordingly, the judgment of the Court of Appeals is reversed, the convictions and sentences vacated, and the case is remanded for further prosecution as the Commonwealth may see fit. Justice Millette took no part in the consideration of this case. This order shall be published in the Virginia Reports and shall be certified to the Court of Appeals of Virginia and to the Ci Court of the City of Hampton. A Copy, Teste: Clerk 4