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Reyes v. Commonwealth

Supreme Court of Virginia

February 21, 2019

MIGUEL ANTONIO REYES
v.
COMMONWEALTH OF VIRGINIA

          OPINION

          WILLIAM C. MIMS, JUSTICE.

         In this appeal, we consider whether the Court of Appeals erred by affirming a trial court's denial of a continuance sought under Code § 19.2-159.1.

         I. BACKGROUND AND MATERIAL PROCEEDINGS BELOW

         Miguel Antonio Reyes pled guilty to a single charge of robbery, in violation of Code § 18.2-58. After a hearing, the circuit court accepted the plea and found Reyes guilty. It ordered a presentence report and set the case for sentencing in May 2016.

         At the May sentencing hearing, Roger G. Nord, Reyes's court-appointed counsel, moved for a continuance so that Reyes could be evaluated for eligibility for the youthful offender program established by Code §§ 19.2-311 through -316. The Commonwealth objected because the victim was present at the hearing to provide victim impact testimony. The court granted a continuance to July 15.

         On July 14, Reyes filed a notice and motion through Charles J. Swedish to substitute Swedish as counsel. Reyes asserted that his financial condition had changed because his family had agreed to retain Swedish, so he was no longer indigent. He also sought a continuance pursuant to Code § 19.2-159.1.[1] He repeated these assertions in a separate notice and motion for continuance filed through Swedish the same day.

          At the July 15 hearing, the Commonwealth objected to the continuance, noting that the victim was present again in a second attempt to provide impact testimony. The court then asked Swedish why he needed a continuance. Swedish explained that Reyes' family had approached him to take over the case. The discussion then unfolded as follows:

MR. SWEDISH: . . . . At this late date I wouldn't be doing Mr. Reyes any justice at all if I were to step in merely to do the sentencing today. So I'm making a motion to continue based upon [Code § 19.2-159.1].
It basically is a change of financial circumstances. He had court-appointed counsel before. I believe the Code section says the [c]ourt shall grant a reasonable continuance. That's what I'm asking for.
[Reyes] entered an Alford plea. It has also been discussed he might want to withdraw that plea-
THE COURT: That's so unlikely as to make it insufficient cause to continue the matter.
MR. SWEDISH: I'm just telling Your Honor why I didn't just start filing things left and right. It wouldn't be appropriate and I'm not prepared for anything and I'm making the motion for the continuance. If that is granted I would ask that my appearance be entered. If not I suppose then the sentencing goes forward today. But I'm basing it on the Code section that says when there is a change of financial circumstances for somebody who is represented by court-appointed counsel[, ] the [c]ourt shall grant a reasonable continuance. Thank you.
THE COURT: This is to prepare for trial. That's what 19.2-159.1 means. Right, Mr. Swedish? It says trial.
MR. SWEDISH: It says trial and, you know, sometimes they use that word "trial" to mean the day you enter a guilty plea.
THE COURT: I don't think so. I think the legislators know what trial means.
MR. SWEDISH: And like I said, there is a possibility he might seek to withdraw his plea.
THE COURT: But if that's the reason[, ] I'm concerned about granting a continuance in this. It's just going to delay matters. Because it's one thing to delay for the [c]ourt to address something. I just don't find any reasonable cause at this time[, ] having gone ...

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