JAMES WESLEY AMONETT, JR.
COMMONWEALTH OF VIRGINIA
THE CIRCUIT COURT OF FAIRFAX COUNTY Bruce D. White, Judge
J. Cilman for appellant.
A. Curry, Assistant Attorney General (Mark R. Herring,
Attorney General, on brief), for appellee.
Present: Chief Judge Decker, Judges Humphreys and Huff Argued
at Alexandria, Virginia
J. HUMPHREYS JUDGE
appeal primarily involves three questions: 1) the degree to
which promises of leniency made by police officers render
statements by the accused "involuntary," or
constitute a grant of immunity from a criminal conviction; 2)
whether it is the court or a jury that makes that
determination, and 3) the effect at trial of a forensic
witness' failure to appear and testify at a preliminary
Wesley Amonett, Jr., ("Amonett") appeals the March
15, 2017 jury verdict of the Circuit Court of Fairfax County
("circuit court") convicting him of two counts of
possession with intent to distribute marijuana in violation
of Code § 18.2-248.1.
27, 2015, Corporal Andrew Perry ("Officer Perry")
of the Herndon Police Department stopped Amonett's
vehicle. When Officer Perry approached the vehicle, he
smelled marijuana. Officer Perry observed that Amonett
appeared to be breathing heavily and was nervous.
Investigating the odor of marijuana, Officer Perry searched
Amonett's vehicle's center console, where he found
marijuana and associated paraphernalia. Officer Perry also
found a backpack on the passenger side floor containing a
safe which gave off a strong odor of marijuana. Detective
James Passmore ("Detective Passmore") of the
Herndon Police Department arrived at the scene to assist
Officer Perry. Officer Perry and Detective Passmore told
Amonett that "if he cooperated further he would possibly
be able to go home that night without being arrested or
charged." Detective Passmore presented Amonett with a
consent to search form for the safe in the backpack, which
Amonett signed. Inside the safe the officers found half a
pound of marijuana. The officers transported Amonett to the
Herndon police station.
police station, Amonett was appraised of his Miranda
rights and was interviewed. During the interview, Amonett
stated that he had received a two-pound parcel of marijuana
from California, that the half pound found in the safe had
been part of this shipment, and that the remainder of the
shipment was at his residence. Amonett signed another consent
to search form related to his residence where they secured
the remaining marijuana along with a scale, paraphernalia,
and $270 in cash.
was released and was not arrested and charged until October
2015. Amonett filed a written motion to suppress his
statements to police. A hearing on that motion was held on
February 24, 2017. No transcript of that hearing or statement
of facts has been provided on appeal. On March 10, 2017,
Amonett filed a written motion in limine to bar the
testimony of Dr. Eugene Reichenbecher ("Dr.
Reichenbecher") or in the alternative to dismiss the
indictment based upon Dr. Reichenbecher's failure to
appear and testify at the preliminary hearing. A hearing on
that motion took place immediately before trial began on
March 14, 2017, and the motion was denied. Amonett was tried
by a jury on March 14-15, 2017. During the trial, Amonett
testified that he made purchases of marijuana from
California, receiving them through the mail and distributed
them, and that he had been in the process of distributing the
most recent shipment when stopped by Officer Perry. Dr
Reichenbecher, a forensic scientist, testified that he had
chemically tested the seized material to verify that it was
marijuana. The jury convicted Amonett, recommending a
sentence of fourteen days in jail and a fine of $3, 000. The
circuit court sentenced Amonett accordingly on July 7, 2017.
This appeal follows.
Assignments of Error
his arguments are convoluted and overlapping, Amonett assigns
four errors to the circuit court. First, he asserts that the
circuit court erred by failing to dismiss the indictments on
the grounds that he had been granted immunity by the police;
second, that the circuit court erred in failing to instruct
the jury that they should acquit Amonett if they determine
that the police had made a promise that he would not be
prosecuted; third, that the circuit court erred in failing to
suppress his statements to the police on the grounds that
they were involuntary in that they were the product of an
agreement that he would not be prosecuted; and fourth, that
the circuit court erred in allowing the testimony of ...