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Young v. Commonwealth

Court of Appeals of Virginia

July 30, 2019

JACK RANDALL YOUNG
v.
COMMONWEALTH OF VIRGINIA

          FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF THE CITY OF RICHMOND Beverly W. Snukals, Judge

          Lauren Whitley, Deputy Public Defender, for appellant.

          Eugene Murphy, Senior Assistant Attorney General (Mark R. Herring, Attorney General, on brief), for appellee.

          Present: Chief Judge Decker, Judge Beales and Retired Judge Bumgardner [*] Argued at Richmond, Virginia

          OPINION

          MARLA GRAFF DECKER CHIEF JUDGE.

         Jack Randall Young appeals his convictions for failing to reregister as a sexually violent offender under the Virginia Sex Offender and Crimes Against Minors Registry Act (the Act), Code §§ 9.1-900 to -923, in violation of Code § 18.2-472.1(B). On appeal, he argues that the circuit court erred by finding that the evidence was sufficient to prove that he was required to register under the Act.[1] We hold that the evidence, viewed under the applicable standard of appellate review, was sufficient, and we affirm the convictions.

         I. BACKGROUND[2]

         The appellant was indicted for multiple violations of the Act, including two counts of failing to reregister as a sexually violent offender, second or subsequent offense, in violation of Code § 18.2-472.1(B). The failures were alleged to have occurred in January and February of 2017.

         At the appellant's trial, the Commonwealth elicited testimony from Amanda Rader, custodian of records for the Virginia State Police Sex Offender and Crimes Against Minors Registry (the registry), established in conjunction with the Act. See Code §§ 9.1-911, 19.2-390.1. Through Rader, the Commonwealth offered a certified conviction order (the 1986 order) showing that on June 3, 1986, Jack Young was convicted of attempted forcible sodomy and aggravated sexual battery (the 1986 convictions) in the circuit court of Henrico County, Virginia. That order, admitted over the appellant's objection, reflects sentences, pursuant to a plea agreement, of twenty years of incarceration, with ten years suspended, for aggravated sexual battery, and ten years, with five years suspended, for attempted forcible sodomy. The Commonwealth also offered a criminal history report for the appellant from the Virginia Criminal Information Network (the VCIN report) to prove, despite an inconsistency in birth dates, that the appellant was the same Jack Young who was the subject of the 1986 order. The VCIN report, also admitted over the appellant's objection, lists the various names and aliases used by the subject of the report, as well as various dates of birth and social security numbers. Further, the report contains a section titled "Correctional History," which details the appellant's periods of incarceration in the Virginia Department of Corrections (the DOC).

         In accompanying testimony, Rader explained that based on the appellant's 1986 convictions for attempted forcible sodomy and aggravated sexual battery, he was classified as a sexually violent offender for purposes of the registry and had a duty to reregister under that classification every ninety days. The trial court also admitted the appellant's 2014 warrant of arrest and conviction, entered upon his guilty plea, for failure to reregister as a nonviolent offender (the 2014 conviction or the 2014 order). Rader explained that as a result of that conviction, the appellant was required to reregister as a sexually violent offender more frequently, every thirty days. Through Rader, the prosecutor also offered numerous reregistration forms completed by the appellant in 2016 and 2017.

         Additionally, Trooper Michael King of the Virginia Department of State Police testified about his involvement with the appellant in the course of his duties working for the sex offender investigative unit. King related that when he arrested the appellant for violations of the Act in 2016 and 2017, the appellant made various admissions related to his duty to register and reregister.

         At the close of the Commonwealth's case, the appellant moved to strike the evidence, in part asserting the claims that he makes in the instant appeal. The trial judge denied the motion. The appellant opted not to present evidence of his own, but he asked the judge to take judicial notice of what the parole eligibility statute, Code § 53.1-151, provided in 1986, and the judge agreed to do so. The appellant also renewed his motion to strike. The judge denied the motion insofar as it alleged that the Commonwealth had failed to prove that the appellant was "the same individual" convicted of the violent sex offenses in 1986. The judge took under advisement the issue of whether the appellant was subject to the Act, along with a second issue, not in dispute on appeal. The judge stated that as to "[t]he other [issues]," she would "stand[] on [her] ruling."

         The parties submitted post-trial memoranda. After reviewing the submissions, the trial judge held "based on the case law and the evidence presented" that the appellant was "clear[ly] . . . subject[] to [the] re-registration requirements" and failed to reregister in a timely fashion. Consequently, the court denied the appellant's motion to strike. It found him guilty of one count of failing to reregister and one count of failing to reregister as a second offense. The appellant was sentenced to five years for the first offense and ten years for the second offense, with all but one year three months suspended.

         II. ANALYSIS

         The appellant challenges the sufficiency of the evidence to support his convictions for failing to reregister. He contends that the evidence did not establish that he is subject to the Act's provisions.

         A. Standard of Review

         Settled principles of appellate review provide that, to the extent that the appellant's assignments of error require construction of the Act or interpretation of related case law, the question is one of law reviewed de novo on appeal. Colbert v. Commonwealth, 47 Va.App. 390, 394 (2006); see John Crane, Inc. v. Jones, 274 Va. 581, 586-87 (2007). However, where the issue is whether the evidence is sufficient to support the conviction, the appellate court must "affirm the judgment unless [it] is plainly wrong or without evidence to support it." Shell v. Commonwealth, 64 Va.App. 16, 20 (2014) (quoting Smallwood v. Commonwealth, 278 Va. 625, 629 (2009)). In conducting this review, the court "view[s] the evidence in the light most favorable to the Commonwealth, granting to it all reasonable inferences fairly deducible" from the evidence. Id. (quoting Baylor v. Commonwealth, 55 Va.App. 82, 84 (2009)). The pivotal question is whether under the evidence, so viewed, "any rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt." Purvy v. Commonwealth, 59 Va.App. 260, 272 (2011) (quoting Sullivan v. Commonwealth, 280 Va. 672, 676 (2010)). "If there is [supporting] evidence . . ., the reviewing court is not permitted to substitute its own judgment, even if its opinion might differ from the conclusions reached by the finder of fact at the trial." Synan v. Commonwealth, 67 Va.App. 173, 185 (2017) (quoting Courtney v. Commonwealth, 281 Va. 363, 366 (2011)).

         Further, in an appellate court's assessment of a sufficiency challenge, circumstantial evidence "is as competent . . . as direct evidence" to prove the elements of a crime, "provided it is sufficiently convincing to exclude every reasonable hypothesis except that of guilt." Simon v. Commonwealth, 58 Va.App. 194, 206 (2011) (quoting Coleman v. Commonwealth, 226 Va. 31, 53 (1983)). The Commonwealth, however, "need only exclude reasonable hypotheses of innocence that flow from the evidence, not those that spring from the imagination of the defendant." Id. (quoting Hamilton v. Commonwealth, 16 Va.App. 751, 755 (1993)). "The reasonable-hypothesis principle . . . is 'simply another way of stating that the Commonwealth has the burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt.'" Commonwealth v. Moseley, 293 Va. 455, 464 (2017) (quoting Commonwealth v. Hudson, 265 Va. 505, 513 (2003)). The fact finder "determines which reasonable inferences should be drawn from the evidence[] and whether to reject as unreasonable the hypotheses of innocence advanced by a defendant." Id. Consequently, whether the evidence excludes all reasonable hypotheses of innocence is a "question of fact," and like any other factual finding, it is subject to "revers[al] on appeal only if plainly wrong." See, e.g., Thorne v. Commonwealth, 66 Va.App. 248, 254 (2016) (quoting Stevens v. Commonwealth, 38 Va.App. 528, 535 (2002)).

         B. The Act and Registry

         Pursuant to the Act, "[e]very person convicted" of one or more specified offenses "on or after July 1, 1994, . . . shall register and reregister" with the registry. Code § 9.1-901 (emphasis added) (referencing the offenses set forth in Code § 9.1-902). The Act also requires "[e]very person" convicted before July 1, 1994, who is "serving a sentence of confinement" or "under community supervision" for such an offense "on or after" that date to "register and reregister." Id. (emphasis added). The Act subdivides the offenses requiring registration and reregistration into a variety of categories, including "sexually violent offense[s]." Code § 9.1-902(A)(4).

         A failure to register or reregister in a timely fashion is a violation of Code § 18.2-472.1. The penalty for such a failure is higher for one whose predicate conviction is for "a sexually violent offense." Compare Code ...


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