AUDREL JACK WATSON, JR.
COMMONWEALTH OF VIRGINIA
THE CIRCUIT COURT OF ROCKINGHAM COUNTY Thomas J. Wilson, IV,
WILLIAM C. MIMS, JUSTICE
appeal, we consider whether a felon has standing to move to
vacate the sentences of other felons as void ab initio.
BACKGROUND AND MATERIAL PROCEEDINGS BELOW
2007, Audrel Jack Watson, Jr. was convicted on
Alford pleas to several offenses, including four
counts of using a firearm in the commission of a felony, in
violation of Code § 18.2-53.1. The circuit court
sentenced him to a term of three years' imprisonment for
each count, to be served consecutively.
years later, Watson filed a motion to vacate as void 30
sentences imposed by the court upon 12 felons for violations
of Code § 18.2-53.1, including three of the four
sentences imposed upon him.[*] Twenty-eight of the challenged
sentences were for terms of three years' imprisonment,
one was for two years' imprisonment, and one was for five
years' imprisonment with four years suspended. He
asserted that all of the defendants had, like him, been
convicted of multiple violations of the statute. He also
noted that the statute imposed a mandatory minimum term of
five years' imprisonment for any second or subsequent
offense. Consequently, he argued, each of the challenged
sentences is void ab initio for being shorter than the
statutorily-prescribed five-year minimum.
Commonwealth moved to dismiss Watson's motion, arguing
among other things that he lacked standing to challenge the
other felons' sentences. Watson responded that, under our
precedents, a judgment that is void ab initio may be
challenged "by all persons, anywhere, at any time, or in
any manner." Singh v. Mooney, 261 Va. 48, 52
(2001) (internal quotation marks omitted). The court issued a
letter opinion in which it ruled that a person must establish
standing even when challenging a judgment as void ab initio.
filed motions to reconsider arguing that under our decision
in Virginian-Pilot Media Cos., LLC v. Dow Jones &
Co., Inc., 280 Va. 464, 470 (2010) (plurality opinion),
the doctrine of standing is "not relevant to the inquiry
whether an order was entered by a court that lacked
jurisdiction of the order's subject matter." The
Commonwealth responded by arguing among other things that
Virginian-Pilot Media was distinguishable because
circuit courts have subject-matter jurisdiction under Code
§ 17.1-513 to try felonies and to impose sentence upon
conviction. The court issued a second letter opinion adopting
the Commonwealth's argument. It thereafter entered an
order denying Watson's motion to vacate the 11 other
awarded Watson this appeal.
of standing are questions of law that we review de novo.
Kelley v. Stamos, 285 Va. 68, 73 (2013).
asserts that the circuit court erred by ruling that he lacked
standing to move to vacate the 11 other felons'
sentences. He argues that after this Court's decision in
Virginian-Pilot Media, standing is not relevant in
an attack upon a void judgment. This Court has repeatedly
said that a judgment may be challenged collaterally by any
one, in any place, at any time, and even by a court sua
sponte. E.g., Singh, 261 Va. at 52.
Commonwealth argues that the circuit court correctly ruled
that Watson lacks standing to challenge the other felons'
sentences. Under Evans v. Smyth-Wythe Airport
Comm'n, 255 Va. 69, 73 (1998), a judgment may be
void ab initio if (1) it was procured by fraud, (2) the court
lacked subject-matter jurisdiction, (3) the court lacked
jurisdiction over the parties, (4) the judgment is of a
character that the court lacked power to render, or (5) the
court adopted an unlawful procedure. It contends that the
ruling in Virginian-Pilot Media that standing was
irrelevant was limited only to judgments void ab initio for
the second Evans reason-i.e., because the court
lacked subject-matter jurisdiction. Here, circuit courts do
have subject-matter jurisdiction to render judgments imposing
sentences upon felony convictions.
replies that a void judgment is void regardless of which of
the five Evans reasons makes it void, and that
Virginian-Pilot Media applies to them all. He argues
that the reason for the ruling in Virginian-Pilot
Media that standing is irrelevant in a challenge to a
void judgment is that such a judgment is a nullity. Further,
even if we determine that he ...