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Maldonado v. Commonwealth

Court of Appeals of Virginia

July 16, 2019

LAMBERTO MALDONADO, A/K/A LAMBERTO MOLDANADO
v.
COMMONWEALTH OF VIRGINIA

          FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF NORTHAMPTON COUNTY W. Revell Lewis, III, Judge

          Brandon L. Wilder (Bush & Taylor, P.C., on brief), for appellant.

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

          Present: Judges Humphreys, O'Brien and AtLee

          OPINION

          ROBERT J. HUMPHREYS, JUDGE.

         Following a bench trial on December 28, 2017, the Circuit Court of Northampton County ("circuit court") found appellant Lamberto Maldonado ("Maldonado") guilty of misdemeanor obstruction of justice, in violation of Code § 18.2-460(A).[1] The circuit court later sentenced Maldonado to twelve months in jail, with nine months suspended. On appeal, Maldonado argues that "[t]he [circuit] court erred in denying [his] motion to strike and finding him guilty of obstruction when the evidence was insufficient to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that [he] either hindered the authorities' ability to perform their job or made the authorities' job more difficult."

         I. BACKGROUND

         The evidence reflects that on the evening and early morning hours of December 29-30, 2016, Maldonado's son, Everardo, was at Kelly's Pub in Cape Charles. Before arriving at Kelly's Pub, Everardo picked up a friend, Justin Travis ("Travis"), in a Nissan pickup truck registered to Maldonado. Everardo and Travis then traveled to Kelly's Pub and proceeded to consume alcoholic beverages.

         Raven Brady ("Brady"), an acquaintance of both Everardo and Travis, was at Kelly's Pub that same evening. Brady and Everardo exchanged phone numbers that night. According to Brady, both Everardo and Travis were drinking alcohol at Kelly's Pub. She also described Travis as "extremely intoxicated-basically sleeping at the bar, and Everardo wasn't as intoxicated, but there were indications that they were tipsy." Brady left Kelly's Pub about the same time as Everardo and Travis. As Everardo and Travis left, Brady witnessed Everardo in the driver's seat of the pickup truck and Travis in the passenger seat.

         Brady received a telephone call from Everardo at approximately 2:33 a.m. According to Everardo, "there had been some type of accident." Everardo also asked Brady to "come and get him." Though Brady told Everardo that she would come and get him, she did not do so.

         At approximately 3:10 a.m., Deputy Roger Pike ("Deputy Pike") of the Northampton County Sheriff's Office was dispatched to investigate a car accident off of northbound Route 184 in Northampton County. When Deputy Pike arrived at the scene of the accident, he saw that a Nissan pickup truck had lost control on the right side of the highway, rolled over, hit a ditch, and made several turns. The pickup truck came to rest approximately 100-200 feet off the highway. Deputy Pike stated that the pickup truck was not easily visible from the highway. Additionally, while Deputy Pike did not see anyone inside or around the scene of the accident upon his arrival, he found a cell phone inside of the pickup truck.

         During Deputy Pike's investigation, Maldonado's daughter, Sonia, approached the scene of the accident and identified herself. Deputy Pike noted that Sonia arrived at the scene of the accident approximately ten minutes after he did. During this initial encounter, Deputy Pike explained to Sonia that he was attempting to find the driver of the pickup truck. Sonia told Deputy Pike that the pickup truck was registered to her father, Maldonado, but "that someone took the truck from her dad's." Sonia also stated that she "didn't know who had taken [the pickup truck], and then she started asking questions later on about how to report it stolen." Before leaving the scene of the accident, Sonia provided Deputy Pike with her cell phone number.

         Deputy Pike spoke with Maldonado at approximately 3:47 a.m. at Maldonado's home- the registered address for the pickup truck. Deputy Pike asked Maldonado if he knew where the pickup truck was or if anyone had taken it. Maldonado, however, only answered Deputy Pike's questions with the assistance of Sonia as a translator. Further, Deputy Pike indicated that he did not know if Maldonado understood the questions that he asked. The record does not reflect any substance of the conversation between Deputy Pike and Maldonado.

         Virginia State Trooper Daniel Wallace ("Trooper Wallace") also investigated the pickup truck accident. Similar to Deputy Pike, Trooper Wallace stated that the accident was not easily visible from the highway. Trooper Wallace called Sonia with the phone number that she provided to Deputy Pike. During the conversation, Sonia informed Trooper Wallace that the pickup truck was stolen from her father's home and that she did not know who took the vehicle. Trooper Wallace also informed Sonia that she could be charged with obstruction of justice if she made any false statements to the police. Sonia subsequently became what Trooper Wallace "consider[ed] aggressive . . . and insisted that the vehicle had been stolen."

         At some point during the investigation, Trooper Wallace traced the cell phone discovered by Deputy Pike to Travis. When Trooper Wallace called Sonia a second time and asked if she knew Travis, Sonia denied knowing Travis "or why he would be inside of the vehicle."

         Around 8:30 a.m. that morning, Trooper Wallace visited Maldonado's home with Deputy William Lewis ("Deputy Lewis") of the Northampton County Sheriff's Office. Trooper Wallace hoped to learn more about the pickup truck accident and locate the driver. At the time, it was Trooper Wallace's understanding that Maldonado's son, Everardo, also resided at the home. Upon arriving at Maldonado's home, Trooper Wallace identified himself to Maldonado and spoke with him in English. When Trooper Wallace asked Maldonado if he knew the reason for the visit, Maldonado replied in "clear and precise" English that "[m]y truck was stolen." Maldonado also "made a gesture to a parking space that would be at the end of the [residence]." Additionally, when Trooper ...


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