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Hannon v. Commonwealth

Court of Appeals of Virginia

August 22, 2017

KANIESHA SHATAE HANNON
v.
COMMONWEALTH OF VIRGINIA

         FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF HENRY COUNTY David V. Williams, Judge

          Caitlin Reynolds-Vivanco, Assistant Public Defender, for appellant.

          J. Christian Obenshain, Assistant Attorney General (Mark R. Herring, Attorney General, on brief), for appellee.

          Present: Judges Petty, Alston and Russell Argued at Lexington, Virginia

          OPINION

          WESLEY G. RUSSELL, JR. JUDGE.

         Kaniesha Shatae Hannon, appellant, was convicted of two counts of felony child endangerment in violation of Code § 18.2-371.1(B)(1). On appeal, she contends the evidence is insufficient to sustain her convictions. We agree with appellant and reverse her convictions.

         BACKGROUND

         Because the parties submitted the case to the trial court on stipulated evidence, the evidence is not in dispute.

         At 6:12 p.m. on November 8, 2015, Deputy R.M. Turner responded to a call that two small children had been left unattended in a parked car in the parking lot of a Dollar General store. Deputy Turner arrived at the parking lot and located a five-year-old boy and a four-month-old girl sitting in a car with unlocked doors. The temperature outside was forty-eight degrees. Deputy Turner spoke with the boy, who told the deputy that he and his sister were "OK." A man sitting in his car beside the car containing the children told Deputy Turner that the children had been alone in the car for approximately ten minutes before the deputy arrived.

         Appellant then came out from the store and questioned Deputy Turner as to why he was talking to her children. He explained that she had left her children in the unlocked car in a public parking lot "where numerous vehicles were coming in and out." The manager of the store came outside and advised Deputy Turner that the store's video surveillance system had recorded appellant going into and coming out of the store. The video revealed that appellant was inside the store for a total of fourteen minutes and thirty-four seconds.

         Deputy Turner contacted Child Protective Services, and a CPS worker came to the scene. The CPS worker informed appellant that the children would have to be placed in someone else's custody for the night. Arrangements were made for appellant's mother to take custody of the children for the night. CPS directed appellant to report to their offices in the morning to discuss the incident. CPS conducted a family assessment, concluded that a complaint was unfounded, and returned the children to the custody of appellant, where they remained at the time of trial.

         Having heard the stipulated evidence and the argument of counsel, the trial court took the matter under advisement. In a letter opinion, the trial court, relying upon this Court's decision in Miller v. Commonwealth, 64 Va.App. 527, 769 S.E.2d 706 (2015), found appellant guilty of violating Code § 18.2-371.1(B)(1). In the opinion letter, the trial court explained its reasoning:

Leaving small children unsupervised in an unlocked car poses a substantial risk for injury - or death. The five year-old in Ms. Hannon's car could have exited the car and faced various types of danger, leaving the four-month old alone. Both children, moreover, were susceptible to a stranger entering the unlocked car; that person could have stolen the car, abducted the children, or committed some other crime. At such young ages, both children faced serious danger being left alone in [an] unlocked car.

         The trial court observed that the facts in Miller "seem a bit more 'serious' in terms of length of time the children were left alone, etc." The trial court also recognized that the conviction in Miller was for violation of Code § 18.2-371, a misdemeanor, as opposed to Code § 18.2-371.1(B)(1), the felony provision under which appellant was charged. Ultimately, despite the differences, the trial court found the situations sufficiently analogous and Miller sufficiently persuasive to convict appellant of the two felony counts.

         Appellant argues that the evidence was insufficient to meet the felony standard. Specifically, she argues that the evidence did not establish she acted with a reckless disregard for human life, emphasizing that the five year old was old enough to call for help ...


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