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Grasty v. Commonwealth

Court of Appeals of Virginia

December 5, 2017

ROBERT RYAN GRASTY
v.
COMMONWEALTH OF VIRGINIA

         FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF THE CITY OF NEWPORT NEWS Bryant L. Sugg, Judge

          Jessica E. B. Crossett, Deputy Public Defender (Daniel B. Winegard, Assistant Public Defender, on brief), for appellant.

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

          Present: Judges Humphreys, Russell and Senior Judge Bumgardner Argued at Norfolk, Virginia

          OPINION

          ROBERT J. HUMPHREYS

         Robert Ryan Grasty ("Grasty") appeals the December 7, 2015 decision of the Circuit Court of the City of Newport News (the "circuit court") convicting him of a third or subsequent offense of driving on a suspended or revoked license, in violation of Code § 46.2-301(B). Grasty argues that the circuit court erred in convicting him of driving on a suspended license, third or subsequent offense because at the time of the offense, he qualified for the exemption to the driver's license requirements provided for commercial fishermen through Code §§ 46.2-300, 46.2-303, and 46.2-674.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On April 17, 2015, Grasty was driving a pickup truck with commercial waterman ("commercial fisherman") license plates when he was involved in a two-vehicle accident. Newport News Police Officer Andrew Scott ("Officer Scott") investigated the accident. When Officer Scott asked for Grasty's driver's license and insurance information, Grasty notified Officer Scott that he did not have a valid driver's license. A subsequent check of Grasty's information with the Department of Motor Vehicles ("DMV") revealed that Grasty's driving privileges were suspended. Grasty, however, produced a copy of Code § 46.2-303 for Officer Scott and asserted that he did not need a driver's license under the circumstances because, at the time of the accident, he was a commercial fisherman operating a commercial fisherman's vehicle. Apparently unpersuaded by Grasty's roadside legal analysis, Officer Scott issued Grasty a summons for a third or subsequent offense of driving on a suspended or revoked license, in violation of Code § 46.2-301(B).

         On December 7, 2015, following a bench trial, the circuit court convicted Grasty. At trial, the Commonwealth introduced into evidence, without objection, Grasty's DMV transcript reflecting two prior convictions for driving while suspended in Isle of Wright County. Additionally, Grasty's DMV transcript revealed that, on the day of the accident, Grasty's driver's license was suspended indefinitely and that Grasty had notice of the suspension. The Commonwealth did not dispute that Grasty was operating his vehicle as a commercial fisherman. Nevertheless, the Commonwealth argued and the circuit court agreed that, notwithstanding his status as a commercial fisherman, Grasty's suspended driver's license operated as a complete bar to his privilege to drive.

         Following Grasty's conviction, the circuit court continued disposition of the matter until June 13, 2016, at 10:00 a.m., to allow Grasty time to obtain a valid driver's license. On January 26, 2017, however, the circuit court found that Grasty was not able to obtain a valid driver's license. Accordingly, the circuit court sentenced Grasty to 180 days in jail, with 170 days suspended, a ninety-day suspension of his privilege to drive, and a $500 fine, which was also suspended. This appeal followed.

         II. ANALYSIS

         A. Standard of Review

         The assignment of error presented in this appeal raises a question of statutory construction, which we review de novo. See Barden v. Commonwealth, 64 Va.App. 700, 706, 771 S.E.2d 699, 702 (2015). "The primary objective of statutory construction is to ascertain and give effect to legislative intent. The plain, obvious, and rational meaning of a statute is to be preferred over any curious, narrow, or strained construction." Turner v. Commonwealth, 67 Va.App. 46, 63, 792 S.E.2d 299, 307 (2016) (quoting Commonwealth v. Zamani, 256 Va. 391, 395, 507 S.E.2d 608, 609 (1998)). Consequently, courts apply the plain meaning of a statute "unless the terms are ambiguous or applying the plain language would lead to an absurd result." Tisdale v. Commonwealth, 65 Va.App. 478, 483, 778 S.E.2d 554, 557 (2015) (quoting Baker v. Commonwealth, 284 Va. 572, 576, 733 S.E.2d 642, 644 (2012)).

         B. Whether the Suspension of the Privilege to Drive Prohibits ...


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