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Sandidge v. Commonwealth

Court of Appeals of Virginia

December 20, 2016

CEDRIC DETAVIUS SANDIDGE
v.
COMMONWEALTH OF VIRGINIA

         FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF THE CITY OF LYNCHBURG F. Patrick Yeatts, Judge

          Keith Orgera, Deputy Public Defender, for appellant.

          Elizabeth Kiernan Fitzgerald, Assistant Attorney General (Mark R. Herring, Attorney General, on brief), for appellee.

          Present: Judges Humphreys, AtLee and Senior Judge Clements Argued at Lexington, Virginia

          OPINION

          RICHARD Y. ATLEE, JR. JUDGE

         In the Circuit Court of the City of Lynchburg ("the circuit court"), Cedric Detavius Sandidge pled guilty, pursuant to North Carolina v. Alford, 400 U.S. 25 (1970), [1] to two counts of distribution of cocaine, third or subsequent offense.[2] Sentenced to serve twenty years in the penitentiary, Sandidge argues on appeal that the circuit court wrongly imposed mandatory minimum sentences. We disagree and affirm.

         I.

         Sandidge does not dispute the facts underlying his convictions. On two separate dates, he sold cocaine to a confidential informant working for the Commonwealth. Because of two previous convictions for distributing cocaine, he was charged with two counts of distribution of cocaine, third or subsequent offense.

         In June of 2015, Sandidge entered Alford pleas of guilty to the charges.[3] The circuit court engaged in a colloquy with Sandidge, during which Sandidge confirmed that he understood "that there's no agreement as to sentencing, that the [c]ourt's going to set this matter for a separate sentencing event, order guidelines in the case and have a sentencing hearing, " and that he understood "the [c]ourt can exceed the guidelines in the case so long as the [c]ourt does not exceed the maximum penalty provided by law for these offenses." Following a proffer of the evidence by the Commonwealth, the circuit court accepted Sandidge's pleas and found him guilty of the charges, noting that "the evidence of guilt is overwhelming and substantially negates any claim of innocence." The circuit court then continued the case for sentencing.

         More than four months later, in October of 2015, Sandidge returned to the circuit court for sentencing. A third or subsequent violation of Code § 18.2-248(C) carries a ten-year mandatory minimum sentence. This mandatory minimum is inapplicable, however, provided the circuit court finds that (1) the person has never been convicted of certain violent felony offenses; (2) the offense did not involve violence, threats, or weapons; (3) no one was injured or killed as a result of the offense; (4) the person did not lead others in the offense and the offense was not a "continuing criminal enterprise"; and (5) "[n]ot later than the time of the sentencing hearing, the person has truthfully provided to the Commonwealth all information and evidence the person has concerning the offense or offenses that were part of the same course of conduct or of a common scheme or plan." Code § 18.2-248. A caveat contained within the final requirement states that "the fact that the person has no relevant or useful other information to provide or that the Commonwealth already is aware of the information shall not preclude a determination by the court that the defendant has complied with this requirement." Id. The Commonwealth conceded that, of the five requirements listed above, Sandidge had satisfied the first four. Only the last requirement was at issue.

         At the beginning of the sentencing hearing, Sandidge's attorney observed that "[p]art of [Code § 18.2-248] does involve us communicating all the information in a truthful manner to the Commonwealth about these facts and circumstances. That has not been done prior to the sentencing." Sandidge's attorney stated that the statute does not delineate precisely how such information must be communicated. He then announced "we may have a motion to [sic] a continuance." The Commonwealth opposed the motion. In denying the motion, the circuit court said:

I don't find that there's good cause for a continuance here today to come in court knowing that this issue has been on the table for quite some time now and at the last minute ask for a continuance and potentially comply with . . . the requirements of the statute to alleviate the burden on the Defendant of mandatory minimums. It's too late for a continuance. . . . I'm going to take about a five or ten minute recess . . . and then we're going to proceed to sentencing on this matter.

         Following the recess, Sandidge testified in his own behalf. During his testimony, Sandidge gave the following answers to questions from his attorney:

[Attorney:] And we're here today for two distribution cases. You know, why [sic] would you say the reason is you sell this for?
[Sandidge:] (Inaudible) my family and my two kids.
[Attorney:] Do you use as ...

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