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Williams v. Commonwealth

Supreme Court of Virginia

August 31, 2017

Larry Lee Williams, Appellant,
v.
Commonwealth of Virginia, Appellee. Larry Lee Williams, Appellant,
v.
Commonwealth of Virginia, Appellee.

         Upon appeals from judgments rendered by the Circuit Court, Nos. CR14-F-4269, CR14-F-4270, CR14-F-3991 of the City of Richmond.

         Upon consideration of the records, briefs, and argument of counsel, the Court is of opinion that the ends of justice exception under Rule 5:25 does not apply and the alleged errors were not preserved for review in either appeal. We therefore affirm the judgments of the circuit court.

         On September 2, 2014, a grand jury of the City of Richmond indicted Larry Lee Williams (Williams) for the July 8, 2014 felony assault and battery, third or subsequent offense, of his wife, Tameka Bond (Bond), in violation of Code § 18.2-57.2(B) (July Offense). On September 10, of that same year, a grand jury indicted Williams for another violation of Code § 18.2-57.2(B), as well as attempted murder under Code §§ 18.2-26 and 18.2-32, for his actions against Bond on August 24, 2014 (August Offenses).

         After a licensed clinical psychologist determined that Williams was competent to stand trial on all charges, the circuit court held a plea hearing on May 18, 2015. At that hearing, the Commonwealth informed the court that, based on recorded jail phone calls in which Williams stated he had a "blackout" and could not recall the events of August 24, 2014, and his "agreement that he is accepting responsibility for the incident on July 8th, we did come to an agreement for him to be found not guilty by reason of insanity on the August 24th offenses." The Commonwealth stated there was no written plea agreement, and Williams' attorney confirmed the plea deal.

         During the May 18 hearing, Williams agreed that he understood "what the ranges of penalties are on the charges" to which he was pleading guilty and not guilty by reason of insanity. The Commonwealth then summarized the evidence for all of the offenses, and admitted into evidence certified copies of Williams' three prior convictions for assault on a family member, and a photograph of the injury Bond sustained during the July Offense.

         The circuit court found that the Commonwealth provided a "sufficient factual basis" to accept Williams' guilty plea on the July Offense, and found him guilty of felony assault and battery of a family member, third or subsequent offense. As to the August Offenses, the court accepted Williams' plea of not guilty by reason of insanity, and ordered him placed into the temporary custody of the Commissioner of the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services for evaluation pursuant to Code § 19.2-182.2 "as to whether [he] may be released with or without conditions or requires commitment."

         The circuit court held a sentencing hearing on November 17, 2015. At that hearing, Bond testified about Williams' abusive behavior. The Commonwealth asked for five years' incarceration for the July Offense followed by involuntary civil commitment for the August Offenses, arguing that such a sentence reflected the fact that the court was imposing two sentences for two different types of pleas.

         Williams argued that the reports of both a clinical neuropsychologist and a psychiatrist, prepared after evaluations required because of his not guilty by reason of insanity pleas, "recommend inpatient treatment because [Williams] is mentally ill." Williams requested that the circuit court allow him to serve his involuntary civil commitment on the August Offenses immediately so that he could receive the recommended treatment, rather than the court sentencing him to serve any time in prison on the July Offense.

         The circuit court agreed with the sequence recommended by the Commonwealth. It sentenced Williams to five years' incarceration for the July Offense, and on the August Offenses ordered that he be involuntarily "committed [as an] inpatient . . . after release from incarceration." Williams did not object. On November 19, 2015, the court entered orders confirming the sentence and involuntary civil commitment.[1]

         Subsequently, Williams appealed his criminal case (July Offense) to the Court of Appeals of Virginia, and appealed his involuntary civil commitment (August Offenses) to this Court, both on the grounds that the circuit court erred by sentencing him to serve the prison term before beginning his involuntary civil commitment. On November 22, 2016, this Court certified the appeal from the Court of Appeals pursuant to Code §§ 17.1-409(A) and (B)(1) and (2), and paired that case (Record No. 161639) with Williams' direct appeal to this Court regarding the August Offenses (Record No. 160257).

         Williams' assignment of error in both cases states:

The ends of justice require this Court to correct a manifest injustice and find that the trial judge erred as a matter of law [by abusing his discretion and] by violating Williams' due process rights when he removed Williams, a mentally ill patient, from Central State Hospital, without conditions or a discharge plan, to serve his five-year prison sentence with prisoners convicted of crimes and then to serve a civil commitment thereafter instead of remanding him immediately to the hospital and giving him credit toward his prison sentence while being treated in the hospital.[2]

         Williams concedes that his objections concerning the sequencing of his prison sentence and civil commitment were not made below and are therefore not preserved for review. Accordingly, this Court cannot consider those arguments "as a basis for reversal . . . except for good cause shown or to enable this Court to attain the ends of justice." Rule 5:25.

         "This Court considers two questions when deciding whether to apply the ends of justice exception: (1) whether there is error as contended by the appellant; and (2) whether the failure to apply the ends of justice provision would result in a grave injustice." Commonwealth v. Bass,292 Va. 19, 27, 786 S.E.2d 165, 169 (2016) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). The ends of justice exception is applied "in very limited circumstances including, for example, where the record established that an element of the crime did not occur, a conviction based on a void sentence, conviction of a non-offense, and a capital murder conviction where ...


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