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Yoder v. Commonwealth

Supreme Court of Virginia

December 12, 2019

Michelle Dawn Yoder, Appellant,
v.
Commonwealth of Virginia, Appellee.

         Present: All the Justices.

          Upon an appeal from a judgment rendered by the Court of Appeals of Virginia No. 1023-17-3.

         This appeal arises from a decision of the Court of Appeals affirming Michelle Yoder's conviction for driving after forfeiture of her license, third offense in ten years, in violation of Code § 18.2-272(A). Yoder contends that the Court of Appeals erred in affirming her conviction because the evidence was insufficient to prove that she had had actual notice that her license was revoked on the date of the instant offense. Yoder also claims that the Court of Appeals did not address the link between any notice that she may have had of prior revocations and a revocation that was current on the date of the instant offense. We disagree with Yoder's arguments and affirm.

         I.

         "On appeal, we review the evidence in the 'light most favorable' to the Commonwealth, the prevailing party in the trial court." Commonwealth v. Perkins, 295 Va. 323, 323 (2018) (per curiam) (citation omitted). "Viewing the record through this evidentiary prism requires us to 'discard the evidence of the accused in conflict with that of the Commonwealth, and regard as true all the credible evidence favorable to the Commonwealth and all fair inferences to be drawn therefrom.'" Id. at 323-24 (citation omitted).

         So viewed, the evidence at trial showed that on June 18, 2016, a deputy with the Augusta County Sheriff's Office initiated a traffic stop on a gray Toyota van because its "rear license plate was only affixed at one screw position at an angle which [he] thought was suspicious" and because, when he checked the license-plate number, it came back as registered to "a 1999 gold Buick." J.A. at 40. Yoder was driving the vehicle with no passengers. When the deputy approached the vehicle and asked Yoder for her identification, she provided him with "an ID card." Id. at 41. At this point, the deputy also noticed that Yoder had an expired state-inspection sticker. The deputy then checked the status of Yoder's driver's license using the ID card that she had provided, and Yoder's license "came back as being revoked, DUI related." Id. "[He] then ran a driver transcript on [his] terminal in the vehicle," which confirmed that Yoder "had three previous convictions." Id. The deputy then arrested Yoder.

         At trial, the Commonwealth introduced two of Yoder's prior convictions, entered in July 2010 and March 2014, for driving on a revoked license in violation of Code § 18.2-272. See J.A. at 67-68. Both conviction orders came from the general district court and noted that Yoder had been present in court, had pleaded guilty to the offense, and had been found "GUILTY AS CHARGED." Id. Based upon the 2014 conviction, Yoder was sentenced to 90 days in jail with all but 10 days suspended. See id. at 67.

         Sitting as factfinder, the trial court found Yoder guilty of driving after forfeiture of her license, third offense in ten years, in violation of Code § 18.2-272(A). Yoder appealed to the Court of Appeals, which affirmed her conviction in an unpublished opinion. See Yoder v. Commonwealth, Record No. 1023-17-3, 2018 WL 6497086 (Va. Ct. App. Dec. 11, 2018). Specifically, the Court of Appeals found the evidence "sufficient to support the trial court's finding that [Yoder] had actual notice that her driving privileges remained revoked at the time of the instant offense." Id. at *4.

         II.

         A.

         Yoder first challenges the sufficiency of the evidence to support her conviction, contending that the evidence was insufficient to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that she had had actual notice of the continuing revoked status of her driver's license on the date of the instant offense. Our appellate review of such challenges follows a well-marked path:

"When reviewing the sufficiency of the evidence, 'the judgment of the trial court is presumed correct and will not be disturbed unless it is plainly wrong or without evidence to support it.'" This Court "does not ask itself whether it believes that the evidence at the trial established guilt beyond a reasonable doubt." "Rather, the relevant question is, upon review of the evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution, whether any rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt."

Smith v. Commonwealth, 296 Va. 450, 460 (2018) (emphases in original) (alteration and citations omitted). Code § 18.2-272(A) states, in relevant part, that "[a]ny person who drives or operates any motor vehicle . . . during the time for which he was deprived of the right to do so" for various specified offenses, "after his license has been revoked pursuant to" various specified statutes, or "in violation of the terms of a restricted license . . . is guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor," while "[a]ny person convicted of three violations of this section committed within a 10-year period is guilty of a Class 6 felony." A conviction under this statute requires a showing "that the defendant had actual notice that he no longer had the privilege to drive in the Commonwealth when the offense occurred," Peters v. Commonwealth, 66 Va.App. 743, 746 (2016), but the statute does not require any particular form of notice and does not mandate any degree of specificity for such notice.

         The requisite notice can be inferred from the circumstances and need only be enough to show that the driver knew he was driving without any legal "right to do so," Code § 18.2-272(A). See Peters, 66 Va.App. at 750 ("The evidence and reasonable inferences from the evidence prove that the appellant had actual notice that his license had been ...


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