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Jefferson v. Commonwealth

Supreme Court of Virginia

October 24, 2019

LATOYA DENISE JEFFERSON
v.
COMMONWEALTH OF VIRGINIA

          FROM THE COURT OF APPEALS OF VIRGINIA

          Present: Lemons, C.J., Goodwyn, Mims, Powell, Kelsey, and McCullough, JJ., and Russell, S.J.

          OPINION

          DONALD W. LEMONS, CHIEF JUSTICE.

         In this appeal, we consider whether the Court of Appeals of Virginia ("Court of Appeals") erred when it determined that the evidence presented at Latoya Denise Jefferson's ("Jefferson") trial in the Circuit Court of Pittsylvania County ("circuit court") was sufficient to uphold her convictions for welfare fraud under Code § 63.2-522. Additionally, we consider whether the Court of Appeals properly held that the circuit court did not abuse its discretion by limiting Jefferson's cross-examination of a witness regarding the amount of benefits she would have received under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program ("SNAP") if she had reported all of her income.

         I. Facts and Proceedings

         A. The Evidence at Trial

         A grand jury indicted Jefferson on two counts of felony welfare fraud under Code § 63.2-522, charging her with obtaining "assistance or benefits of a value of $200.00 or more to which she was not entitled" during two periods, March 1, 2015 to August 31, 2015, and September 1, 2015 to February 29, 2016. Jefferson pleaded not guilty, and a one-day bench trial was held.

         Sharon Stephens ("Stephens"), an "eligibility worker" for the Pittsylvania County Department of Social Services ("Department"), testified that in February 2015, she received a renewal application completed by Jefferson for SNAP benefits. The application required Jefferson to report "money from all jobs" for all members of her household. In response to this question, Jefferson disclosed income from her employment with Citi Trends and income from her boyfriend's employment with Capps Shoes.

         In March 2016, Jefferson submitted another renewal application for SNAP benefits to the Department. Like the February 2015 renewal application, Jefferson disclosed household income from Citi Trends and Capps Shoes. Jefferson answered "no" to the question "[h]as anyone [in your household] been fired, laid off, . . . quit a job, or reduced hours worked since you applied?"

         Stephens testified that after she received the March 2016 renewal application, she "pulled a separate report to check [for additional] income," which indicated Jefferson "had a job" at PepsiCo that "was never reported." During an interview, Stephens asked Jefferson about the undisclosed employment with PepsiCo. Jefferson admitted that she had worked at PepsiCo, but stated that she "[wa]s no longer working there." A human resources coordinator for Frito Lay, a subsidiary of PepsiCo, later testified that Jefferson worked at PepsiCo from November 2014 to February 2016.

         Cheryl Fisk, the assistant director of the Department, testified that in November 2015, Jefferson applied for fuel assistance. Fisk explained that the "application [for fuel assistance] require[d]" Jefferson to provide "all of the people in [her] household and all of the income paid to them." On the application, Jefferson disclosed her employment with Citi Trends and her boyfriend's employment with Capps Shoes, but did not disclose her employment with PepsiCo. Fisk testified that the Department approved the fuel application and mailed Jefferson a check for $376.

         Dawn Hankins ("Hankins"), a fraud investigator for the Department, testified that she met with Jefferson in August 2016, "to discuss her public assistance SNAP case." During the meeting, Hankins reviewed the income section of the February 2015 renewal application with Jefferson. Hankins asked Jefferson if the employment she reported was her "only household income" when she completed the application. Jefferson replied that "she might have had a part-time job at th[at] time," which she "thought she had started [] around December 2014." When asked why she did not "report the income" from that job, Jefferson stated that "she didn't know how long she was going to be working there," and "didn't think she had to report it because it wasn't over the food stamp SNAP limit." Hankins also reviewed the fuel assistance application with Jefferson. Hankins "told [Jefferson] she had failed to include the income from PepsiCo on [the application]," and Jefferson "stated yes" in response.

         Hankins testified that she reviewed the SNAP benefits Jefferson received between March 2015 and February 2016 and determined that Jefferson's unreported income "affect[ed] the amount of benefits she should have received." She explained that "[t]he more income [Jefferson] had, the less benefits she was entitled to." She created a document titled "overpayment calculation" by inputting Jefferson's unreported income "month by month into [the Department's] computer database." The computer database then generated the overpayment calculation, which was admitted into evidence as an exhibit. The overpayment calculation includes the following chart showing the overpayment in SNAP benefits for each month:

MM/YYYY

Benefits Received

Benefits Should Have Received

Overpayment

03/2015

652.00

452.00

200.00

04/2015

494.00

218.00

276.00

05/2015

494.00

0.00

494.00

06/2015

494.00

179.00

315.00

07/2015

494.00

180.00

314.00

08/2015

494.00

211.00

283.00

09/2015

494.00

0.00

494.00

10/2015

558.00

178.00

390.00

11/2015

558.00

265.00

303.00

12/2015

558.00

414.00

154.00

01/2016

558.00

407.00

161.00

02/2016

558.00

553.00

15.00

TOTAL

6456.00

3057.00

3399.00

          Based on the chart, the total overpayment in SNAP benefits for the period covered by the first indictment (March 1, 2015 to August 31, 2015) is $1, 882. The total overpayment in SNAP benefits for the period covered by the second indictment (September 1, 2015 to February 29, 2016) is $1, 517. ...


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