THE CIRCUIT COURT OF THE CITY OF NEWPORT NEWS Bryant L. Sugg,
Jessica E. B. Crossett, Deputy Public Defender (Daniel B.
Winegard, Assistant Public Defender, on brief), for
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
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.
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).
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.
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.
Standard of Review
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)).
Whether the Suspension of the Privilege to Drive