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Atkins v. Commonwealth

Court of Appeals of Virginia

July 5, 2017

HASSAN CHRISTOPHER ATKINS
v.
COMMONWEALTH OF VIRGINIA

         FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF POWHATAN COUNTY Paul W. Cella, Judge

          B. Thomas Bledsoe (The Law Office of B. Thomas Bledsoe, P.C., on briefs), for appellant.

          Virginia B. Theisen, Senior Assistant Attorney General (Mark R. Herring, Attorney General, on brief), for appellee.

          Present: Judges Humphreys, Decker and O'Brien Argued at Richmond, Virginia.

          OPINION.

          MARLA GRAFF DECKER JUDGE.

         Hassan Christopher Atkins appeals his convictions for three counts of breaking and entering and three counts of grand larceny, in violation of Code §§ 18.2-89 and 18.2-95.[1] The appellant argues that the evidence of the text messages and tweet recovered from his cellular telephone were inadmissible because the Commonwealth failed to prove that he was the person who sent those messages. We conclude that the Commonwealth sufficiently established that the appellant was the person who authored the challenged messages and therefore adequately authenticated the evidence. Consequently, the convictions are affirmed.

         I. BACKGROUND

         This case involves a short string of burglaries and thefts from three businesses. On August 23, 2015, Deputy Michael Fiedler, with the Powhatan County Sheriff's Office, responded to Quality Data Systems, which sells and services banking equipment, after a break-in was reported. When Fiedler arrived, the glass in the side entry door was completely shattered. On the ground among the glass he found a "ceramic portion" and conducting rod that appeared to be pieces of a spark plug.[2] Cash in the amount of $1, 100 had been stolen. As a result of the damage to the property, the owner secured the door with plywood and pressboard before leaving for the night.

         Later that night, or in the early morning hours, the door was broken again. More items were stolen, including three money counter machines and a digital camera.

         On August 23 or 24, 2015, another burglary was discovered, this time at SMG Imports, a car dealership. The glass front door was shattered, and the office doors were broken. A laptop computer was missing. Additionally, keys to a "BMW coupe" were taken from inside the office, and the car was stolen.

         Around "the 23[r]d or 25th" of that same month, a burglary also was discovered at a third location, Arborscapes, a tree care company.[3] The door was "kicked in, " and two laptop computers were missing. One of the stolen computers was an "Apple MacBook" with the serial number C02P1HBXG3QH. A cellular phone and checks made payable to Arborscapes also were taken.

         Approximately a week later, Lieutenant Danny Smith, with the Powhatan County Sheriff's Office, was on routine patrol. Near the burglarized businesses, he saw a car being driven erratically, so he stopped the vehicle. The appellant was the front seat passenger. Smith saw a ski mask and rubber gloves in the car on the floor of the rear passenger compartment. Additionally, Lieutenant Smith found a drill and two other masks.

         A backpack found at the appellant's feet contained school papers bearing his name, checks payable to Arborscapes, cameras, and three spark plugs.[4] One of the cameras was the one stolen from Quality Data Systems.

         During the traffic stop, Detective Mike Wentworth noticed that the appellant wore "Nike flip-flops" that looked like the shoes of one of the individuals who appeared in the surveillance footage of the break-in at Arborscapes.[5] Wentworth also found a cellular telephone. The appellant ...


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