THE CIRCUIT COURT OF HENRY COUNTY David V. Williams, Judge
Caitlin Reynolds-Vivanco, Assistant Public Defender, for
Christian Obenshain, Assistant Attorney General (Mark R.
Herring, Attorney General, on brief), for appellee.
Present: Judges Petty, Alston and Russell Argued at
G. RUSSELL, JR. JUDGE.
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.
the parties submitted the case to the trial court on
stipulated evidence, the evidence is not in dispute.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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