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Miller v. Commonwealth

Court of Appeals of Virginia

March 31, 2015

TIFFANY STEVENS MILLER
v.
COMMONWEALTH OF VIRGINIA

Page 707

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 708

FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF FAIRFAX COUNTY. Brett A. Kassabian, Judge.

Affirmed.

Bryan T. Kennedy, Assistant Public Defender (Office of the Public Defender, on brief), for appellant.

Aaron J. Campbell, Assistant Attorney General (Mark R. Herring, Attorney General, on brief), for appellee.

Present: Judges Humphreys, Petty and Decker.

OPINION

Page 709

[64 Va.App. 533] MARLA GRAFF DECKER, JUDGE

Tiffany Stevens Miller appeals her conviction for contributing to the delinquency of a minor, in violation of Code § 18.2-371. Specifically, she suggests that the evidence was insufficient [64 Va.App. 534] to support her conviction because the Commonwealth failed to prove: (1) she left her child without parental care or guardianship, (2) her actions constituted an unreasonable absence from the child, and (3) her actions were willful. Miller also argues that the trial court erred when it denied her proposed jury instruction defining parental care for purposes of the statute. The Court holds that the evidence was sufficient to support the conviction and that the trial court did not err by denying the proposed jury instruction. Consequently, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

I. BACKGROUND[1]

On May 1, 2013, the appellant went to a grocery store in Fairfax County. She had her young child and two dogs with her in her vehicle. The child, who appeared to be between one and two years old, was in a car seat in the back seat. The appellant " double parked" the car in the fire lane in front of the store. The cement was clearly marked with yellow paint to indicate that no parking was allowed in that location. The appellant left the car's engine running and went inside the store while the child remained asleep in the car seat. All of the car's windows were open, including the one closest to the child.

Once inside the store, at some point in time, the appellant approached employee Raul Campaverde, whom the appellant did not know. She asked Campaverde if he could " watch her car outside for about five minutes." She pointed to her car but Campaverde could not see it. He went outside to the car and saw a child asleep in the back seat. The appellant had not told him that a child was inside the car. Campaverde stayed with the car for " longer than 30 minutes" but had to return to the store to resume his duties. Before doing so, he [64 Va.App. 535] found Lisa Slawson, a co-worker who had just begun an hour-long assignment in the parking lot. Slawson agreed to " watch the child as much as she could" but clarified with Campaverde that she " could not stand there and do nothing; she had to move carts and go inside frequently." Slawson, like Campaverde, did not know the appellant.

After about five to ten minutes of watching the car, Slawson saw the appellant exit the store. The appellant went to the car, took what appeared to be the car keys, told Slawson she would be back in a few more minutes, and went back inside. According to Slawson, the appellant did not " tend to the child" or say anything else to her. After about twenty to thirty minutes, Slawson went into the store to attend to her assigned responsibilities. She was not aware of anyone else watching the vehicle. Slawson told her managers about the situation and explained that she was conflicted between watching the car and doing her job.

Larry Baxley, a store manager, also saw the appellant's car parked in the fire lane with the unattended child inside. Baxley spoke with Campaverde, who " told him about the car." Baxley " looked [at] the car on several occasions after going into the store" but never saw anyone with the vehicle or watching it. He wrote down the license plate number and, after about twenty minutes of

Page 710

observing the unattended car, notified the police.

Campaverde estimated that the car was gone between forty-five minutes to an hour after he first encountered the appellant. Slawson noticed that the vehicle was parked in front of the store just before her hour-long assignment began and was still there when the assignment ended.

When Officer Kannegisser of the Fairfax County Police Department arrived at the store, the car was gone. He went to the appellant's home to investigate. She admitted that the unattended car belonged to her and that her child was inside the vehicle while it was parked in front of the store. She told the officer that she left the engine running and " employees of the store had agreed to watch the child for her." However, she did not know the names of the employees.

[64 Va.App. 536] The jury convicted the appellant of contributing to the delinquency of a minor, in violation of Code ยง 18.2-371. Consistent with the recommendation of ...


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