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Butcher v. Commonwealth

Court of Appeals of Virginia

November 6, 2018

CALVIN DARNELL BUTCHER
v.
COMMONWEALTH OF VIRGINIA

          FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF THE CITY OF PETERSBURG Joseph M. Teefey, Jr., Judge

          Richard G. White, Jr., Assistant Public Defender (Shaun R. Huband, Deputy Public Defender, on brief), for appellant.

          David M. Uberman, Assistant Attorney General (Mark R. Herring, Attorney General, on brief), for appellee.

          Present: Judges Chafin, Russell and Senior Judge Clements Argued at Richmond, Virginia

          OPINION

          WESLEY G. RUSSELL, JR. JUDGE

         Calvin Darnell Butcher, appellant, was convicted of misdemeanor failure to stop at the scene of an accident in violation of Code § 46.2-894.[1] On appeal, he contends that the trial court erred by convicting him because "the evidence was insufficient to prove [he] failed to stop and failed to exchange information." For the reasons that follow, we affirm.

         BACKGROUND

         "Under well-settled principles of appellate review, we consider the evidence presented at trial in the light most favorable to the Commonwealth, the prevailing party below." Bolden v. Commonwealth, 275 Va. 144, 148, 654 S.E.2d 584, 586 (2008). So viewed, the evidence establishes that, on March 14, 2015, at approximately 12:30 a.m., Alicia Pegram (Alicia)[2] arrived home from work and saw appellant standing outside of his car in her driveway. The two had been dating "[o]ff and on for about a year and a half or two years," until Alicia ended their relationship on March 13, 2015. Alicia had not invited appellant to her house, so rather than confront appellant, she drove past her house and appellant followed her. Alicia drove at speeds of sixty to seventy miles per hour on roads with a speed limit of twenty-five to thirty-five miles per hour to "get away" from appellant.

         Appellant caught up with Alicia and swerved his car into the front driver's side of her vehicle. Alicia ran off the road and stopped in a neighbor's yard near a tree. Appellant got out of his car and approached Alicia's car and began yelling and banging on her car window "like he was in a rage." Alicia called 911, and the dispatcher advised her to stay where she was. Because Alicia did not feel safe, she ignored the dispatcher's advice and left the scene in an attempt to get away from appellant. Initially, appellant followed her, but eventually he gave up the pursuit.

         Gary Pegram (Gary), Alicia's father, testified that he owned the car Alicia was driving on March 14. He stated that appellant called him that morning between 1:30 and 2:00 a.m. When asked what appellant said during that conversation, Gary said appellant offered to pay for half of the damage that had been done to Gary's vehicle. Gary asked appellant "who was going to pay for the other half, and [appellant] couldn't answer that so the conversation didn't go any further than that." Appellant attempted to speak to Gary about appellant's relationship with Alicia, but Gary "advised [appellant he] didn't want to hear about a relationship between him and [his] daughter." Significantly, having been asked to relay what appellant said in the conversation, Gary did not testify that appellant had provided his address, driver's license number, or vehicle registration number.

         Officer Compere of the Petersburg Police Department also testified. Shortly after 1:00 a.m. on the day of the accident, he "received a call to respond to headquarters for a hit and run." When he reported to headquarters, he met with Alicia and Gary. After speaking with them, Compere went to the accident scene to further his investigation.

         Regarding any attempt by appellant to provide his address, driver's license number, or vehicle registration number, Compere testified that he received no call from appellant, that no note containing such information had been left at the accident scene, and that he "did not have that information" when he sought warrants against appellant at 5:52 that morning.

         Appellant presented no evidence and moved to strike all of the charges on multiple grounds. Pertinent to his ultimate conviction for misdemeanor hit and run, appellant argued that the evidence established that he had stopped and attempted to communicate with Alicia and that the evidence did not exclude the possibility that he had contacted some law enforcement official other than Compere and reported the information required by Code § 46.2-894. Appellant also argued that, given his prior relationship with Alicia, she knew his identity, and therefore, the purpose of the communication provisions of Code § 46.2-894 was satisfied.

         The trial court denied the motion to strike and convicted appellant of the offenses. The trial court found that appellant did not communicate the necessary information to any of the parties listed in the statute.

         This appeal followed. Appellant challenges the sufficiency of the evidence for his conviction on the same grounds he asserted in his motion to strike in the trial court.

         ANALYSIS

         I. Standard of review

         When reviewing a challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence, this Court considers the evidence in the light most favorable to the Commonwealth, the prevailing party below, and reverses the judgment of the trial court only when its decision is plainly wrong or without evidence to support it. Farhoumand v. Commonwealth, 288 Va. 338, 351, 764 S.E.2d 95, 102 (2014). "[I]f there is evidence to support the conviction, the reviewing court is not permitted to substitute its judgment, even if its view of the evidence might differ from the conclusions reached by the finder of fact at trial." Linnon v. Commonwealth, 287 Va. 92, 98, 752 S.E.2d 822, 826 (2014) (quoting Lawlor v. Commonwealth, 285 Va. 187, 224, 738 S.E.2d 847, 868 (2013)). This standard requires us to "discard the evidence of the accused 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." Parks v. Commonwealth, 221 Va. 492, 498, 270 S.E.2d 755, 759 (1980) (emphasis and internal quotation marks omitted). However, to the extent "an appeal presents the question whether the facts proved, and the legitimate inferences drawn from them, fall within the language of a statute, we must construe statutory language to answer the question. That function presents a pure question of law which we consider de novo on appeal." Smith v. Commonwealth, 282 Va. 449, 453-54, 718 S.E.2d 452, 454 (2011).

         II. Requirements of Code § 46.2-894

         Code § 46.2-894 states, ...


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