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Jin v. Commonwealth

Court of Appeals of Virginia

February 14, 2017

SHENG JIE JIN
v.
COMMONWEALTH OF VIRGINIA

         FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF NEW KENT COUNTY B. Elliott Bondurant, Judge

          Kelsey Peregoy (Jonathan P. Sheldon; Sheldon, Flood & Haywood, P.L.C., on brief), for appellant.

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

          Present: Judges Petty, Russell and Malveaux Argued at Richmond, Virginia

          OPINION

          WILLIAM G. PETTY JUDGE

         Sheng Jie Jin was convicted, after a bench trial, of two counts of attempted first-degree murder in violation of Code §§ 18.2-32 and 18.2-26 and two counts of aggravated malicious wounding in violation of Code § 18.2-51.2. He argues that his convictions should be reversed for two reasons. First, Jin argues the trial court violated his double jeopardy rights by convicting him of two counts of attempted murder when his acts were part of one continuing offense. Second, Jin argues that the trial court erred when it limited his cross-examination, which was intended to show bias on the part of the Commonwealth's witness. We conclude that the evidence supported the trial court's factual finding that the two attacks constituted two separate offenses and that Jin's double jeopardy rights were therefore not implicated. We further conclude that the trial court did not abuse its discretion when it sustained the Commonwealth's objection on relevancy grounds to one question that was, at most, only marginally relevant. Accordingly, we affirm the convictions.

         I. BACKGROUND

         "Under well-settled principles of appellate review, we consider the evidence presented at trial in the light most favorable to the Commonwealth, the prevailing party in the circuit court." Porter v. Commonwealth, 276 Va. 203, 215-16, 661 S.E.2d 415, 419 (2008).[1]

         Jin and his wife, Y.Y.Z., married in China in 1993. In roughly 2009, Jin and Y.Y.Z. started a restaurant together in New Kent County. The couple separated in 2011, and Jin moved to Northern Virginia to establish a new restaurant. In 2012, Y.Y.Z. obtained a divorce decree from a Nevada court, but Jin successfully had the decree set aside in 2014. During this time, Y.Y.Z. continued to live in New Kent County and continued to run the restaurant there. Y.Y.Z.'s brother (the brother) and his wife worked in Y.Y.Z.'s restaurant. Additionally, the brother, his family, and another restaurant worker lived with Y.Y.Z. and her children. Jin stayed at the house on occasion and had some contact with the couple's children.

         On the evening of January 20, 2015, Jin entered the restaurant in New Kent County and began arguing with Y.Y.Z. in the kitchen area. When Jin and Y.Y.Z. began arguing, the brother was not present, but his spouse heard the argument and testified that the argument included the topics of money and divorce. The brother testified that when he returned he saw Jin holding a knife in the kitchen and heard Jin say to Y.Y.Z., "I will kill you." When the brother told Y.Y.Z. to flee out the back door of the restaurant, she did. She then walked around the side of the building, hoping to see or call a police officer.

         Jin followed Y.Y.Z. out the back door. A few moments later, the brother also left through the back door and followed Y.Y.Z. to the side of the building, where there was a wide driveway. At that point, Jin had entered his car, which was parked behind the building, and began accelerating towards Y.Y.Z. as she walked in the wide driveway. The brother pulled Y.Y.Z. out of the way, but the side mirror of Jin's car struck Y.Y.Z. in the face. The brother testified that if he had not pulled Y.Y.Z. out of the way, "she would have been dead." Jin continued driving his car toward the front of the building; Y.Y.Z. and her brother fled to the back of the building. Within a few minutes, Jin returned to the area, drove behind the building, and struck both Y.Y.Z. and the brother with his vehicle. Jin then drove his car into four one-hundred-pound propane tanks, which were connected and in use behind the building; the dislodged and scattered tanks began leaking and created a vapor cloud that engulfed the entire back half of the restaurant. Jin removed a hammer from the hatchback area of the car and entered the back door of an adjoining restaurant where Y.Y.Z. was lying injured on the floor. Jin hit Y.Y.Z. multiple times in the head with the hammer and continued to try to strike her while he was being restrained.

         At trial, the brother testified he heard Jin threaten to kill Y.Y.Z. and he saw Jin attempt to run over Y.Y.Z. while she was in the driveway. He testified that he and Y.Y.Z. were struck by Jin's car, that he moved the injured Y.Y.Z. into an adjoining restaurant, and that he attempted to restrain Jin while Jin attacked Y.Y.Z. with a hammer and yelled "I'm going to kill you." The brother also testified without objection that he was Y.Y.Z.'s sibling, that he and his family lived with Y.Y.Z. in her house, that another worker in the restaurant also lived in the house, and that Jin came back to the house "off and on" during the three years preceding the January 20, 2015 events.

         During a lengthy cross-examination, Jin's counsel asked the brother, "And does your sister charge you any rent for your family to live in [her] home?" The Commonwealth objected to the question on relevancy grounds. Jin's counsel responded,

Well, we established he's her brother. He's also an alleged victim of the same crime. Now, if the [c]ourt allows the question, now he's living in his sister's house for free and just gives him more incentive to put Mr. Jin away for as long as possible because that's a free place to live.

         The court sustained the objection. Jin made no subsequent proffer and argued no other basis for admissibility of the question. In addition to Y.Y.Z. and the brother, the Commonwealth presented testimony from the brother's wife, a ...


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