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Murray v. Commonwealth

Court of Appeals of Virginia

January 14, 2020

CASSANDRA MARCELLE MURRAY
v.
COMMONWEALTH OF VIRGINIA

          FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF THE CITY OF HAMPTON Bonnie L. Jones, Judge

          Miranda R. Mayhill, Assistant Public Defender, for appellant.

          Virginia B. Theisen, Senior Assistant Attorney General (Mark R. Herring, Attorney General, on brief), for appellee.

          Present: Judges Humphreys, Huff and AtLee Argued at Norfolk, Virginia

          OPINION

          ROBERT J. HUMPHREYS JUDGE

         On February 5, 2018, a grand jury for the Circuit Court of the City of Hampton ("circuit court") indicted appellant Cassandra Marcelle Murray ("Murray") for possession of a firearm by a convicted violent felon, in violation of Code § 18.2-308.2. Murray pleaded not guilty. After a jury trial on May 29, 2018, Murray was found guilty and sentenced to five years' incarceration.

         On appeal, Murray assigns the following four errors:

I. The trial court erred by allowing [Detective] Snelgrow to testify to impermissible opinion testimony without first declaring him an expert.
II. The trial court erred by refusing to allow Appellant to question [Detective] Snelgrow about relevant evidence.
III. The trial court erred by refusing to allow Appellant to admit the remainder of her statement to police.
IV. The trial court erred by denying Appellant's Motion to Strike and finding that the evidence was sufficient to find her guilty because the evidence did not establish that Appellant ever possessed the firearm knowingly and intentionally.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On November 9, 2017, Detective Michael Snelgrow ("Detective Snelgrow") of the Hampton Police Department was working overtime on patrol while in uniform when a vehicle with different colored taillights passed him. It was later determined that Murray was driving this vehicle. Detective Snelgrow "went to turn around on the vehicle," but the vehicle quickly sped off. Detective Snelgrow continued to follow the vehicle and observed it fail to stop at multiple stop signs. As the vehicle approached a third stop sign, its lights went off and it failed to stop at that stop sign, as well. Detective Snelgrow activated his emergency lights, and the vehicle pulled over. After the vehicle stopped, Murray left the vehicle, dropping a cell phone and a magazine containing .45 caliber cartridges. Murray then fled from the scene on foot. Detective Snelgrow searched the vehicle and found a black bookbag containing a .45 caliber firearm underneath the front passenger seat. There was no one else in the vehicle. Murray was apprehended while hiding behind a home a short time later.

         At trial on May 29, 2018, Detective Snelgrow testified that he had training and experience in the carrying, use, and identification of firearms, including during his youth when he went hunting with his father. Detective Snelgrow identified the firearm that he discovered the day of the incident, and the weapon was admitted into evidence. On direct examination, the Commonwealth asked Detective Snelgrow whether the gun was "designed to propel a missile by an action of explosion by any combustible material." Defense counsel objected, stating that Detective Snelgrow had to be properly qualified as an expert before forming an opinion on the matter. The circuit court did not immediately rule on the objection. The Commonwealth then asked ...


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