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Goodwin v. Commonwealth

Court of Appeals of Virginia

November 12, 2019

JACOB SCOTT GOODWIN
v.
COMMONWEALTH OF VIRGINIA

          FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF THE CITY OF CHARLOTTESVILLE Richard E. Moore, Judge

          Anthony D. Martin (Lepold & Freed, PLLC, on brief), for appellant.

          Leah A. Darron, Senior Assistant Attorney General (Mark R. Herring, Attorney General, on brief), for appellee.

          Present: Chief Judge Decker, Judges Petty and Huff Argued at Richmond, Virginia

          OPINION

          MARLA GRAFF, CHIEF JUDGE

         Jacob Scott Goodwin appeals his conviction for malicious wounding in violation of Code § 18.2-51. He argues that the trial court erred by refusing to strike four jurors for cause. Further, he contends that the evidence was insufficient to support the conviction. For the reasons that follow, we affirm the conviction.

         I. BACKGROUND[1]

         On August 12, 2017, the appellant attended the "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.[2] As he and a group of protestors walked past a parking garage, a skirmish broke out between a protester holding a confederate flag and a group of counter-protesters. The appellant joined the altercation, during which Deandre Harris, a Charlottesville resident, was injured.

         The appellant was charged with the malicious wounding of Harris. After a two-day jury trial, the appellant was found guilty of the offense. He was sentenced to a term of ten years in prison and a $20, 000 fine, with two years and $15, 000 suspended on certain conditions.

         II. ANALYSIS

         The appellant argues that the trial court erred by not striking four prospective jurors for cause because the answers that they gave about their activities and beliefs during voir dire showed bias. He also contends that the evidence was insufficient to support his conviction for malicious wounding because it showed that his participation in the altercation was minimal and did not establish his guilt under a concert of action theory.

         A. Voir Dire of Jurors 15, 23, 125, and 11[3]

         The appellant suggests that the trial court should have struck Jurors 15, 23, 125, and 11 for cause because each individual displayed bias against him and was not adequately rehabilitated.

         1. Questioning of the Challenged Jurors

         On the first day of the appellant's trial, a pool of over one hundred prospective jurors was called with the goal of forming a twelve-person jury. The voir dire of the jury venire took place in two stages. The first stage occurred in the courtroom. During that stage, the judge explained to the group that the "purpose of th[e] process" was "to be sure that we have jurors [who] stand . . . indifferent to the cause," which he described as meaning jurors "not leaning one way or the other . . . before the case starts." The second stage was conducted in the judge's chambers. At that stage, select prospective jurors were called for individual questioning. During the individual voir dire, the appellant made a motion to strike several of the prospective jurors for cause. His motions to strike Juror 15, Juror 23, Juror 125, and Juror 11 are pertinent to this appeal.

         Juror 15 indicated during the initial group voir dire that he had "received secondhand information about [the August 12, 2017 rally] from someone who claimed they were there." When asked to elaborate, Juror 15 explained that he had several friends who participated in the counter-protest to the rally that day. He stated that he had planned to attend the counter-protest as well but that the "events in the morning kind of stymied that." Juror 15 clarified that his friends were participating in the counter-protest with "Antifa."[4] He told the court that he did not believe the information he received from his friends would adversely affect his "ability to render judgment."

         Based on his answers during the group session, Juror 15 was asked to answer additional questions in the individual voir dire in the judge's chambers. During questioning, Juror 15 was candid that he had friends who were in Antifa and that one of those friends was arrested at a rally that occurred in July 2017. He admitted that he was "quite familiar with" Antifa but said that he would not consider himself a member even though he had protested alongside Antifa members in the past.

         Juror 15 was then asked a number of questions that came directly from a jury questionnaire that was filled out by all of the prospective jurors prior to voir dire. He was asked if he had participated in any rally that was sponsored by "groups such as Black Lives Matter, [S]tanding [U]p for [R]acial [J]ustice [SURJ], . . . or Antifa" within the past twelve months. He answered that he had not participated in any sponsored rallies in the previous year. He was also asked by the appellant's counsel whether he had paid attention to media reports about the August 12, 2017 rally. Juror 15 said that he had "[e]xtensive" knowledge of the event through the media, social networking sites, and conversations with people. However, when asked if he believed that media accounts of an event could be inaccurate, Juror 15 acknowledged that those accounts might not be correct. He also said that he "believe[d]" that he could put aside what he had previously heard to give the appellant a fair trial.

         The appellant's counsel asked Juror 15 if he could set aside any opinion he had formed about the incident and "decide these cases based solely on the evidence?" In reply, he nodded his head and said, "Yes, sir." Juror 15 was asked whether he had any information that would prevent him from being fair and impartial and whether he was close to anyone who was personally affected by the events in Charlottesville on August 12, 2017. He answered "[n]o" to both questions. Juror 15 also was asked whether he had "any personal feelings, beliefs or personal experience" that would "affect [his] ability to [be] fair and impartial to both the defendant and the Commonwealth in the case." He responded that he "d[id]n't believe so, no." Finally, the appellant's counsel asked whether, "[i]f the evidence [was] pretty brutal[, ] . . . [he could] still set [his feelings] aside." Juror 15 said, "Yes, sir."

         The appellant made a motion to strike Juror 15 for cause but added that he did not think that the court would grant it.[5] The judge denied the motion and noted that Juror 15 was "firm" in his answers in both the courtroom and the individual voir dire in chambers. The judge commented that he did not "think [that there was] any question about [Juror 15's] judgment being affected" and that Juror 15 could "separate his feelings" and be fair and impartial.

         Juror 23 was also questioned in chambers. She was asked about answers that she gave on the jury questionnaire. The appellant's counsel asked her about a Black Lives Matter rally that she had attended. She explained that she had gone to that rally approximately two years earlier, while she was in college. Juror 23 also confirmed her written response that she had "very strong beliefs about these matters" but felt that she could be impartial. Counsel asked Juror 23 whether she would be "able to set . . . aside" her strong beliefs and give both the appellant and the Commonwealth a fair trial. She responded "[a]bsolutely" and that she believed she "could absolutely be impartial." The judge observed that Juror 23 "was shaking her head up and down for a long time" before counsel "finished the question," making clear that "there wasn't any doubt in her mind" about her answer.

         The appellant's counsel made a motion to strike Juror 23 for cause because she had attended a Black Lives Matter rally. He acknowledged that she said that she could set aside her strong beliefs and be impartial at trial, but counsel said he simply did not believe her. The trial court denied the appellant's motion and noted that Juror 23 had stated "even more strongly" than Juror 15 that she could be impartial if selected to sit on the jury. The court pointed out that Juror 23 "had no hesitation" in her response that she could be impartial "and her demeanor . . . [was] consistent with her answers."

         The appellant also requested the opportunity to question Juror 125 in individual voir dire. Juror 125 was asked about posts that she had seen on social media regarding the August 12, 2017 rally. She explained that she had not been the source of any posts about the rally but she had seen "pictures and stuff." She was asked whether she could set aside any opinions or any biases that she might have and give the appellant a fair trial. She responded that she "th[ought] [she] c[ould]." Further, she stated that she had not "formed [any opinion] as of yet" and she thought that she could be fair. The appellant's counsel pressed Juror 125 on whether her answer was equivocal, and again she said that she "th[ought], yes, [she] could" be fair and impartial. The judge then asked Juror 125 whether she had formed any opinion about the appellant's guilt or innocence and whether she had heard any evidence about the case. Juror 125 answered no to both of these questions. The judge inquired whether she could set aside what she heard about the rally in social media accounts and base her decision solely on the evidence that she would hear at trial. She responded "[y]es" to these specific questions.

         The appellant's counsel made a motion to strike Juror 125 for cause but again commented that he did not think that the court would grant the motion.[6] The court denied the motion and noted that even though Juror 125 at first said she thought she could be fair, she followed up that statement with the unequivocal assertion, "I can." The court also recognized that Juror 125 had clearly stated that she had ...


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