THE COURT OF APPEALS OF VIRGINIA
ELIZABETH A. McCLANAHAN, Judge
convicted Tavon Hilton of carjacking and use of a firearm in
the commission of carjacking, along with robbery, attempted
robbery, attempted malicious wounding and three other counts
of using a firearm in the commission of these felonies. On
appeal, Hilton contends the trial court erred in denying his
motion to strike the Commonwealth's evidence as
insufficient to sustain the carjacking and related firearm
convictions. He also contends the trial court erred in
refusing his proffered jury instruction on carjacking.
Finding no error, we affirm Hilton's convictions.
accordance with familiar principles of appellate review, the
facts will be stated in the light most favorable to the
Commonwealth, the prevailing party at trial." Scott
v. Commonwealth, 292 Va. 380, 381, 789 S.E.2d 608 (2016)
(citing Baldwin v. Commonwealth, 274 Va. 276, 278,
645 S.E.2d 433, 433 (2007)). The two victims in this case
were Ronald Wetzler and his son, Rodney Wetzler, both of whom
testified at trial. Seeking to purchase a used vehicle,
Rodney discovered a Craigslist advertisement offering to sell
a 2002 Cadillac Seville and called the purported owner, who
went by the name of "James, "-later identified by
the police as Hilton. Rodney agreed to meet Hilton at the
leasing office of an apartment complex to look at the car.
Later that afternoon, Ronald drove his son, Rodney, to the
leasing office in Ronald's pickup truck. When they found
no one at that location, Rodney called Hilton, at which time
Hilton directed them to drive to the back of the apartment
complex where he would meet them. Ronald then drove to that
location, parked his truck and exited it, along with
they encountered two individuals, Hilton, who introduced
himself as James, and another male, who remained
unidentified. The advertised car was nowhere to be seen.
Hilton said he had sent someone with the car to put gas in
it. As the four men chatted at the rear of Ronald's
truck, Hilton pulled out a revolver-type handgun, pointed it
at Ronald's chest and stated, "don't make me
shoot you." Hilton's accomplice proceeded to go
through Ronald's and Rodney's pockets. The accomplice
took Ronald's truck keys and wallet, but returned the
wallet after finding no money in it. He also took cash from
Rodney totaling $2, 773. After taking the cash and truck
keys, Hilton ordered both Ronald and Rodney to get into the
truck. When they complied, Hilton and his accomplice started
moments later, Ronald exited his truck with a shotgun, yelled
at Hilton and his accomplice to drop the truck keys, and then
fired a shot in the air. The assailants ran, after which
Rodney grabbed the shotgun from Ronald and chased after them.
Rodney ended his pursuit when Hilton fired four shots in
Rodney's direction. Hilton and his accomplice then fled
from the area.
the Commonwealth presented its case in chief on the various
charges against Hilton at his jury trial, Hilton moved to
strike the Commonwealth's evidence on the charges brought
against him for carjacking in violation of Code §
18.2-58.1, and use of a firearm in the commission of
carjacking in violation of Code § 18.2-53.1. Hilton
argued that the evidence was insufficient because it showed
only that he took possession of Ronald's truck keys, and
not that he actually took possession or control of the truck,
as required under Code § 18.2-58.1. The trial court
denied the motion to strike. Hilton then renewed the motion
to strike at the close of all the evidence based on the same
argument, and the trial court again denied the motion.
respect to the carjacking related charges, Hilton proffered a
jury instruction specifically addressed to the jury's
consideration of the act of taking the truck keys. The
Commonwealth objected to the instruction, arguing that it
imposed upon the Commonwealth a higher burden than the law
required. The trial court sustained the Commonwealth's
objection, concluding that the Virginia model jury
instruction tendered by the Commonwealth for carjacking was
jury found Hilton guilty on all charges and the trial court
entered judgments of conviction imposing the jury's
verdicts, including the sentences of imprisonment fixed by
appealed his convictions of carjacking and use of a firearm
in the commission of carjacking to the Court of Appeals,
arguing that the trial court erred by (i) denying his motion
to strike the Commonwealth's evidence supporting the
charges for those offenses on sufficiency grounds, and (ii)
rejecting his proffered carjacking related jury instruction.
Hilton's petition for appeal was denied by the Court of
Appeals in a per curiam order (Hilton v.
Commonwealth, Record No. 0552-15-2 (December 30, 2015))
and again denied by order of a three-judge panel of the Court
of Appeals (Hilton v. Commonwealth, Record No.
0552-15-2 (March 15, 2016)). We subsequently awarded Hilton
Sufficiency of the Evidence
the sufficiency of the evidence is challenged on appeal in a
criminal case, "we review factfinding with the highest
degree of appellate deference." Bowman v.
Commonwealth, 290 Va. 492, 496, 777 S.E.2d 851, 854
(2015). In such cases, as we have repeatedly stated,
"[a]n appellate court does not ask itself whether
it believes that the evidence at the trial
established guilt beyond a reasonable doubt."
Id. (quoting Williams v. Commonwealth, 278
Va. 190, 193, 677 S.E.2d 280, 282 (2009) (citing Jackson
v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 318-19 (1979)). "Rather,
the relevant question is, " upon review of the evidence
in the light most favorable to the prosecution, "whether
any rational trier of fact could have found the
essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable
doubt." Id. ...