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Pittman v. Commonwealth

Court of Appeals of Virginia

January 8, 2019



          Samantha E. Freed (Lepold & Freed, PLLC, on brief), for appellant.

          Robert H. Anderson, III, Senior Assistant Attorney General (Mark R. Herring, Attorney General, on brief), for appellee.

          Present: Judges Humphreys, Beales and AtLee



         This appeal seeks our review of the degree to which a gratuitous relationship can rise to the level necessary to be sufficient for the crime of embezzlement. Shanessa Pittman ("Pittman") appeals the May 11, 2017 decision of the Circuit Court of Albemarle County ("circuit court") convicting Pittman of embezzlement under Code §§ 18.2-95 and 18.2-111 and sentencing her to twenty years in prison with all but one year and three months suspended. Pittman argues that the circuit court erred by overruling her motions to strike at the end of the Commonwealth's evidence and the end of the case.

         I. BACKGROUND

         In October 2015, Pittman contacted an acquaintance, Darcelle Pettis ("Pettis"), seeking a ride home from the hospital. Pettis rented a car for this purpose from Enterprise Rent-A-Car ("Enterprise"), and picked Pittman up at the hospital the evening of October 27, 2015. On the way back to Pettis' house, the pair stopped at a gas station. Pettis, suffering from a migraine headache, allowed Pittman to drive the car the remainder of the way to Pettis' house. After arriving at Pettis' house, Pittman asked if she could use the rental car to pick up a prescription for herself from a nearby pharmacy, as Pettis' migraine had not abated. Pettis agreed that Pittman could drive to the pharmacy only and return to Pettis' home. Pittman agreed and left. Pittman texted and called Pettis later that evening saying that she was coming back. Pettis, still suffering from her migraine, went to bed unaware that Pittman had never returned with the rental car.

         The following morning, upon realizing that Pittman had never returned with the car, Pettis phoned Pittman to inform her that the rental was for only one day and that the car was due back at Enterprise by 2:00 p.m. Pittman responded that she had fallen asleep and would be unable to return the car by that time. Pettis subsequently called Enterprise and extended the rental for an additional day. When Pittman did not return the car the following day, October 29, 2015, Pettis contacted Enterprise and explained the situation. Enterprise advised Pettis to contact the police. Albemarle County Police Officer Jeffrey Turner ("Officer Turner") came to Pettis' home to take a missing vehicle report. While Officer Turner was at Pettis' home, Pittman called Pettis, complaining that Pettis was trying to get her in trouble over the car. Officer Turner talked to Pittman on the phone and explained that there would be no repercussions if she returned the car that day. Pittman did not return the car, and Pettis made repeated calls to Pittman over the following week regarding the car to no avail.

         On November 5, 2015, Enterprise regained possession of the car, which had been towed to a body shop in Smithtown, New York, after suffering $6, 643.69 of estimated damage. On January 6, 2016, Pittman was arrested for grand larceny of a motor vehicle. The grand jury for Albemarle County returned an indictment for embezzlement under Code §§ 18.2-95 and 18.2-111. Following a bench trial on May 11, 2017, Pittman was found guilty and this appeal follows.

         II. ANALYSIS

         A. Standard of Review

         "Under familiar principles of appellate review, we view the evidence and all reasonable inferences fairly deducible from that evidence in the light most favorable to the Commonwealth, the party that prevailed below." Banks v. Commonwealth, 41 Va.App. 539, 543 (2003). "'In so doing, we must "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 that may be drawn therefrom."'" Cirios v. Commonwealth, 7 Va.App. 292, 295 (1988). "Additionally, this Court has the duty to review the evidence and affirm the circuit court's judgment unless it appears from the evidence that the judgment is plainly wrong or without evidence to support it." Walker v. Commonwealth, 272 Va. 511, 513 (2006); Code § 8.01-680.

         B. Whether the Evidence Was Sufficient to Convict ...

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