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Gerald v. Commonwealth

Supreme Court of Virginia

May 31, 2018

PATRICIA ANN GERALD
v.
COMMONWEALTH OF VIRGINIA TARSHA MARIE GERALD
v.
COMMONWEALTH OF VIRGINIA

          FROM THE COURT OF APPEALS OF VIRGINIA

          OPINION

          ELIZABETH A. McCLANAHAN JUSTICE.

         Patricia Gerald ("Patricia") and her daughter, Tarsha Gerald ("Tarsha") (collectively "the Geralds"), were tried together and convicted in a bench trial in the Albemarle County Circuit Court upon warrants charging each of them with driving while on a suspended license, third or subsequent offense, and upon indictments charging each of them with perjury arising from testimony they gave in the Albemarle County General District Court.

         The Geralds challenge the sufficiency of the evidence to support their perjury convictions and the territorial jurisdiction of the Albemarle County Circuit Court over perjury committed in the Albemarle County General District Court, which is located in the City of Charlottesville. Additionally, Tarsha challenges the sufficiency of the evidence to support her conviction for driving while on a suspended license. We affirm the Geralds' convictions.

         I. BACKGROUND

         "In accordance with familiar principles of appellate review, the facts will be stated in the light most favorable to the Commonwealth, the prevailing party at trial." Scott v. Commonwealth, 292 Va. 380, 381, 789 S.E.2d 608, 608 (2016) (citing Baldwin v. Commonwealth, 274 Va. 276, 278, 645 S.E.2d 433, 433 (2007)). Therefore, we will "discard the evidence of the [Geralds] in conflict with that of the Commonwealth, and regard as true all the credible evidence favorable to the Commonwealth and all fair inferences to be drawn therefrom." Kelley v. Commonwealth, 289 Va. 463, 467-68, 771 S.E.2d 672, 674 (2015) (quoting Parks v. Commonwealth, 221 Va. 492, 498, 270 S.E.2d 755, 759 (1980)).

         A. May 26, 2013 Accident and Investigation

         On May 26, 2013, Patricia was operating a vehicle, in which Tarsha was riding as a passenger, when she rear-ended a vehicle operated by Paul Welch ("Welch") while he was stopped at a traffic light on Ivy Road in Albemarle County. Welch exited his vehicle and saw Patricia exit from the driver's side of the Gerald vehicle. Upon approaching Welch, Patricia told him that she was sorry. Tarsha, who had been in the passenger seat of the vehicle, also exited the vehicle. She told Welch that she was the owner of the vehicle and gave Welch a state-issued identification card and her insurance information. The only other individual Welch observed in the vehicle was a woman, who was seated in the backseat, and did not exit the vehicle. Welch noticed "groceries all over the backseat also." After Welch asked for Patricia's driver's license, Tarsha "ran around to the driver's side, hopped in the car, " and Patricia "got in the passenger seat, and they sped off." Welch "got in [his] car and followed them until [he] could verify that [he] had the correct license plates."

         Officer Ralph Scopelliti ("Scopelliti") responded to the scene of the accident and spoke to Welch. Scopelliti relayed the information given to him by Welch to the dispatcher. Officer Carl Scott Miller ("Miller") heard the dispatch and located the Geralds' vehicle in a parking lot at Treesdale Apartments, which was the address associated with the vehicle. He observed several people around the vehicle unloading groceries, including Patricia and Tarsha. When he "asked whose vehicle it was" and "who was driving the car, " Patricia identified herself and asked Miller "if this was about the crash, " to which Miller replied "that it was about the crash." Patricia stated that "it was her vehicle" and "that she had been driving." After Miller asked Patricia for her driver's license, Patricia retrieved a state-issued identification card from a nearby vehicle and told Miller her license was suspended for failure to pay reinstatement fees. Tarsha told Miller "she was not driving the vehicle when the crash occurred, but her mother was very upset after the crash and so she drove the vehicle home." Tarsha acknowledged her license was also suspended. Miller relayed this information to Scopelliti and "confirmed that [Patricia's and Tarsha's driver's licenses] were both suspended."

         After Scopelliti received the information gathered by Miller, Scopelliti contacted Patricia and Tarsha by telephone. First, he spoke to Tarsha who admitted that she was involved in an accident and that "she drove off after the accident." She also claimed "she had a valid driver's license." Scopelliti then spoke to Patricia, who also admitted that she was involved in an accident, though she claimed "she drove before and after the accident" and that she had a valid driver's license.

         Based on the results of his investigation, Scopelliti obtained warrants of arrest against Patricia and Tarsha charging both of them with operating a motor vehicle while on a suspended license in violation of Code § 46.2-301, third or subsequent offense. Each warrant specified that the offense was committed on or about May 26, 2013, the date of the accident with Welch.

         B. Driving While Suspended Trial in General District Court

         On October 8, 2013, Patricia and Tarsha were tried together on the charges of driving while their licenses were suspended, third or subsequent offense, by the Albemarle County General District Court. Present at trial were Scopelliti, Patricia, Tarsha, and Welch, in addition to the Commonwealth's Attorney and the Geralds' attorneys.[1] The presiding judge administered oaths to the witnesses, all of whom raised their right hands and swore that the testimony they were going to provide was the truth. According to Welch, he gave the same testimony in the general district court that he did in the circuit court.

         In defense of the charges of driving while their licenses were suspended on or about May 26, 2013, Patricia and Tarsha both denied driving when they testified on direct-examination. Because there was no court reporter in the general district court, the specific answers given by Patricia and Tarsha during their cross-examinations were introduced at the later circuit court proceedings through Scopelliti, who was present when Patricia and Tarsha testified. According to Scopelliti, the Commonwealth had a copy of Miller's investigative notes and "[would] read a sentence from Officer Miller's notes and ask [each] defendant to acknowledge or deny the sentence." Scopelliti also had a copy of Miller's notes, and at the request of the Commonwealth's Attorney, took "very specific notes" of the "very specific questions" asked by the Commonwealth.

         When the Commonwealth asked Patricia if she spoke to Miller specifically regarding the accident, "[her] answer was no." When the Commonwealth asked Patricia if "Officer Miller asked her about her driver's license and if she had told him that she did not have one because she had to pay reinstatement fees, " her "answer was no, she didn't make any of those statements." When the Commonwealth asked Patricia "if the officer asked if her name was Patricia Gerald and that she had been driving the car that day, " her "answer was no." In other words, "each question was asked by reading Officer Miller's notes, and then [Patricia] answered no."

         Likewise, Scopelliti "read along with the prosecutor from Officer Miller's notes" and "ke[pt] track of what the prosecutor asked and what Ms. Tarsha Gerald answered." The Commonwealth "asked Tarsha Gerald if she told Officer Miller that she drove the car home because her mother was too upset and could not drive, and she said no." The Commonwealth asked Tarsha if she said "anything" to Miller "about that she was suspended, and she said no." The Commonwealth asked both appellants if "they understood they were under oath" and both "said they understood, and that, yes, they knew they were under oath." Each appellant was asked if her testimony was "truthful" and each appellant "answered yes, it was truthful."

         The general district court found both Patricia and Tarsha guilty of the charges of driving while on a suspended license, third or subsequent offense, and both appealed their convictions to the circuit court. Patricia and Tarsha were indicted for perjury arising from their testimony at the trial in the general district court.[2]

         C. Circuit Court Proceedings

         Patricia and Tarsha were tried together in the circuit court on the perjury and driving while on a suspended license charges. The Commonwealth presented testimony from Welch, Miller, and Scopelliti. Tarsha testified in her own defense and presented testimony from Bianca Horne ("Horne")[3] and Aaron Alexander ("Alexander"). Although Tarsha called Patricia as a witness, Patricia invoked her Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination and refused to testify. Patricia did not testify in her own defense.

         Tarsha claimed that Horne was driving Tarsha's vehicle at the time of the accident. According to Tarsha, she was sitting in the front passenger seat and Patricia was sitting in the back seat with Patricia's boyfriend, Alexander, and Tarsha's two children. At the time of the accident, they were returning from Waynesboro where they had been shopping. Tarsha testified that Welch "had hit another car, and when Bianca tried to stop the car, it laid into . . . the passenger side on his car." Tarsha stated that after the accident, she exited the vehicle with Horne, Patricia, and Alexander and gave Welch her "information, " after which Welch told them they could leave. Tarsha claimed that Horne drove Tarsha's vehicle to Treesdale Apartments and that, shortly thereafter, Miller arrived and spoke with Tarsha and Patricia. Tarsha denied speaking to Scopelliti on the telephone.

         Tarsha denied testifying falsely in general district court. According to Tarsha, she was asked in general district court whether she talked with Scopelliti, not whether she talked with Miller. Tarsha claimed that she testified in general district court that she did speak with Miller and told him she did not have a license, but that she did not tell him she drove her vehicle from the accident scene to Treesdale Apartments.

         Alexander also claimed that Horne was driving Tarsha's vehicle at the time of the accident.[4] He stated that Patricia, Tarsha, and Tarsha's children were in the vehicle and they went grocery shopping in Waynesboro. Alexander testified that when the accident happened, they were "at the light" and two cars in front of them "had already crashed." According to Alexander, Welch came to ...


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