Stephen D. Rankin, Appellant,
Commonwealth of Virginia, Appellee.
an appeal from a judgment rendered by the Court of Appeals of
Virginia No. 1671-16-1.
All the Justices
consideration of the record, briefs, and argument of counsel,
the Court is of the opinion that the judgment of the Court of
Appeals should be affirmed.
April 2015, Stephen D. Rankin ("Rankin"), a police
officer, responded to a call regarding a suspected
shoplifting incident at a Wal-Mart. Upon Rankin's arrival
in the store's parking lot, Gregory Provo
("Provo"), a loss-prevention officer for Wal-Mart,
identified William Lester Chapman ("Chapman") as
the suspect. Provo and Rankin then proceeded to the area of
the parking lot where Chapman was walking.
Rankin approached Chapman, Chapman placed his left hand in
his front pocket and started walking away from Rankin at a
"brisk pace." In response, Rankin
"grabbed" Chapman's left arm, positioned
Chapman face forward on the hood of his police car, and
ordered Chapman to take his hand out of his pocket. Chapman
did not take his hand out of his pocket and resisted
Rankin's physical efforts to remove his hand. Rankin
warned Chapman, stating "[t]ake your hand out of your
pocket or I'm going to tase you." When Chapman did
not comply, Rankin attempted to subdue Chapman by deploying
his taser. After Rankin "stunned" Chapman with his
taser, Chapman became "enraged" and knocked the
taser out of Rankin's hands. Rankin then drew his firearm
and ordered Chapman to "get on the ground." Provo
saw Chapman take a "jab step" as "if he was 
about to fight" at which point Rankin fired two shots,
fatally wounding Chapman.
after the shooting, Rankin said to Provo, "I need you as
a witness. It's my second one. Don't leave."
Rankin's taser was equipped with a camera, which recorded
part of the incident, including this statement.
was indicted for first-degree murder and use of a firearm in
the commission of a felony in the Circuit Court of the City
of Portsmouth ("circuit court"). Before trial,
Rankin filed a motion in limine "to exclude from use at
trial any evidence or reference, either oral or written, to a
shooting in 2011 by [Rankin]." In 2011, Rankin shot a
suspect while on duty, but a grand jury declined to indict
him for voluntary manslaughter and he was found not liable in
a civil action brought by the suspect's family.
holding a hearing where it heard argument from counsel, the
circuit court issued a letter opinion in which it granted the
motion in limine. The circuit court determined that admitting
evidence of the 2011 shooting "would be highly
prejudicial to [Rankin] and that any legitimate probative
value of the evidence d[id] not outweigh such
prejudice." However, the circuit court did not
specifically address whether evidence of Rankin's
statement, "It's my second one," was
months after the circuit court issued its letter opinion,
Rankin filed a second motion in limine "to exclude from
evidence the phrase 'It's my second one' from the
Commonwealth's case in chief." Rankin asserted that
the circuit court had "already ruled that any reference
to any prior shooting by [Rankin] [wa]s inadmissible."
Therefore, Rankin argued that "any reference on the
Taser video and in Gregory Provo's testimony to
'It's my second one' [wa]s inadmissible pursuant
to the [circuit] [c]ourt's earlier ruling." At a
hearing on the motion, Rankin further argued that the
statement was "not probative" of any aspect of the
Commonwealth's case. The Commonwealth responded that
excluding the statement would "sanitize the evidence in
this case." The Commonwealth contended that the
"jury has a right to know [all of the evidence] from the
beginning to the end, so they can put everything in
context." The circuit court denied the motion.
trial, Rankin's statement, "It's my second
one," was admitted on multiple occasions during the
Commonwealth's presentation of evidence. Provo testified
that after the shooting, he was "about to walk off"
when Rankin said, "Don't go far. This is my second
one." Jesse Lindmar, a forensic scientist employed by
the Virginia Department of Forensic Science, authenticated
the video captured by Rankin's taser after it was played
at trial. After the jury retired to deliberate, the
foreperson informed the circuit court that the jury was
unable to play the taser video. The circuit court then
arranged for the jury to view the video again.
jury found Rankin not guilty of first-degree murder, not
guilty of use of a firearm in the commission of a felony, and
guilty of voluntary manslaughter. The jury recommended a
sentence of two years and six months' imprisonment, and
the circuit court sentenced Rankin in accordance with the
filed a petition for appeal with multiple assignments of
error in the Court of Appeals. As relevant here, Rankin
asserted in his first assignment of error that the circuit
court erred by admitting evidence of his statement,
"It's my second one." In a per curiam order,
the Court of Appeals determined that the statement "did
not indicate [Rankin] had shot and killed another
person." Rankin v. Commonwealth, No. 1671-16-1,
at *2 (Va. Ct. App. June 21, 2017). Additionally, because the
statement "was relevant to establishing [Rankin's]
premeditation, motive or intent, feelings toward the victim,
and the absence of mistake or accident," it "came
within well established exceptions to the rule against
admitting evidence that the accused had committed other
crimes." Id. at *2-3.
Court of Appeals also held that any error in admitting
evidence of the statement was harmless. Id. at *3.
The Court of Appeals explained that "non-constitutional
error" is harmless if an "appellant had 'a fair
trial on the merits' and 'substantial justice'
was reached." Id. (quoting Clay v.
Commonwealth, 262 Va. 253, 259 (2001) and Code §
8.01-678). The Court of Appeals determined that Rankin had a
fair trial on the merits and that substantial justice was
reached because the jury "heard testimony from all of
the witnesses" and "found [Rankin] guilty of the
lesser-included offense of voluntary manslaughter."
Id. Accordingly, the Court of Appeals denied
Rankin's petition for appeal. Id. at 1. Rankin
appealed to a ...