Dandridge v. Commonwealth, 011221 VACA, 0177-20-2

Docket Nº:0177-20-2
Attorney:James R. Cooke, Jr. (James River Law, on brief), for appellant. Liam A. Curry, Assistant Attorney General (Mark R. Herring, Attorney General, on brief), for appellee.
Judge Panel:Present: Judges Petty, O'Brien and Russell Argued by videoconference
Case Date:January 12, 2021
Court:Court of Appeals of Virginia




No. 0177-20-2

Court of Appeals of Virginia

January 12, 2021


James R. Cooke, Jr. (James River Law, on brief), for appellant.

Liam A. Curry, Assistant Attorney General (Mark R. Herring, Attorney General, on brief), for appellee.

Present: Judges Petty, O'Brien and Russell Argued by videoconference



Rae'quan Xavier Dandridge argues on appeal that the trial court erred in refusing to give his proposed jury instruction for the lesser-included offense of voluntary manslaughter. We agree; we reverse and remand for a new trial.


"Usually, this Court 'review[s] the evidence in the light most favorable to the Commonwealth, the prevailing party in the trial court.'" Lienau v. Commonwealth, 69 Va.App. 254, 260 (2018) (alteration in original) (quoting Dawson v. Commonwealth, 63 Va.App. 429, 431 (2014)), aff'd upon hearing en banc, 69 Va.App. 780 (2019). "However, '[w]hen reviewing a trial court's refusal to give a proffered jury instruction, we view the evidence in the light most favorable to the proponent of the instruction.'" Id. (quoting Commonwealth v. Vaughn, 263 Va. 31, 33 (2002)). We must therefore view the evidence in the light most favorable to Dandridge.

On March 19, 2019, fourteen-year-old A.Y. and her friend spent the day "hanging around" the outside of the Chippenham Apartments complex with sixteen-year-old Dandridge. After dark, the girls found Dandridge's mother and asked Ms. Dandridge to take them home. Ms. Dandridge reluctantly agreed. Dandridge brought a gun with him; he always carried the gun with him for protection because both he and his friends had been shot at before. He sat in the back seat behind his mother and put the gun in the seat pocket behind the driver's seat. After dropping the friend off at her house, Ms. Dandridge drove to A.Y.'s home.

Unbeknownst to Dandridge and his mother, the friend's sister had contacted A.Y.'s family to say A.Y. was on her way home; A.Y.'s family was waiting for the Dandridge car. A.Y.'s brother, Elijah Harris, and Harris's friend, ShyHeim Brown, were waiting on the front porch of A.Y.'s unit. A.Y.'s stepfather and mother, Nykiesha Brooks, were waiting in a car in a parking lot across the street from the building. When the Dandridge car stopped in front of A.Y.'s unit, Ms. Dandridge noticed a group of "more than 10 [people] surrounding the car," which made her nervous.

As soon as the Dandridge car arrived, Harris phoned Ms. Brooks, who testified she immediately drove from the parking lot and blocked the Dandridge car in. She testified she "drove in front of the car so they couldn't like, pull off, because I wanted to see who was dropping my daughter off." As A.Y. got out of the Dandridge car, another car pulled behind the Dandridge car, blocking it in from the rear. Harris and Brown had already gone from the porch, around the back of the Dandridge car, to the rear driver-side window by the time Ms. Brooks approached Ms. Dandridge.

Dandridge rolled the window part-way down to see what Harris and Brown wanted. Harris asked what his name was. When Dandridge answered, Harris hit him in the face through the open window, a punch Harris described as a "clean hit." Dandridge immediately put the window up and slid toward the passenger side of the car to get away. Harris ran around the back of the car to the passenger side, intending to punch Dandridge again. Dandridge yelled to his mother to lock the doors; she was fumbling with her phone and grabbing her heart.

Before Harris could punch Dandridge again from the passenger side, Brown opened the back driver-side door and grabbed Dandridge's leg. A.Y. testified that while Brown was "trying to pull him out of the car," Dandridge was yelling to her "to get them off him." Ms. Dandridge felt the car "rocking" with "a lot of movement going on" as Dandridge was kicking at Brown to get away. Harris saw Brown raise his arm to start swinging at Dandridge. As Harris and A.Y. joined Brown at the open car door, A.Y. warned them that Dandridge had a gun.

Ms. Brooks testified that what happened next "happened so fast," "probably, like, [within] five, six seconds." Dandridge testified that when Brown leaned into the car to drag him out, Brown immediately saw the gun in the seat pocket. They both grabbed for the gun, but Dandridge got the gun first by jerking his arm away from Brown. Dandridge slid away from the door and pointed the gun at Brown, who was still in the doorway of the back seat. Brown looked at Dandridge a moment and then lunged toward Dandridge, partially entering the car. While shooting four shots, Dandridge heard someone shout, "get the gun," and saw Brown come towards him.

Ms. Brooks was standing next to Brown, on the driver side of the open door. Ms. Brooks saw Dandridge fire the shots. She described Dandridge as "still sitting in the car" and he tried to "shoot the gun outside the car, like, leaning towards out of the car." For the last shot, Dandridge "had the gun around the car, the back side of the car." Dandridge testified that while leaning out of the car and pointing toward the rear with the right hand, he was trying to close the car door with the left hand. Dandridge told police that he thought it was the final shot that hit Brown because he saw Brown slightly jerk and push A.Y. The bullet entered Brown's right chest and traveled through the left upper arm. A.Y. saw Brown running beside her and holding under his arm until he fell. Dandridge yelled at his mother to lock the car door and leave. His mother was finally able to leave because someone moved Ms. Brooks's car far enough out of the way that Ms. Dandridge could drive around it.

Dandridge testified he did not know Brown and had only seen Harris once. Dandridge testified that during the incident his body was shaking, and his hands were shaking. His heart was pounding and beating fast, and he felt like his chest was shaking. He kept looking at his mother, still in the driver's seat, who had a heart condition and was holding her chest. He was scared.

During a jury trial for first-degree murder and the use of a firearm in the commission of murder, Dandridge requested jury instructions for both the lesser-included offenses of second-degree murder and voluntary manslaughter and for self-defense. The trial court gave the jury instructions on self-defense and second-degree murder but refused the instruction on voluntary manslaughter. The jury convicted Dandridge of second-degree murder and the use of a firearm in the commission of murder.


A. Standard of Review

This Court's standard of review where the trial court refuses a jury instruction is well-established. "As a general rule, the matter of granting and denying instructions . . . rest[s] in the sound discretion of the trial court." Lienau, 69 Va.App. at 264 (alterations in original). "The trial court's 'broad discretion in giving or denying instructions requested' is reviewed for an abuse of discretion." King v. Commonwealth, 64 Va.App. 580, 586 (2015) (en banc) (quoting Gaines v. Commonwealth, 39 Va.App. 562, 568 (2003) (en banc)).

However, "if there is evidence in the record to support the defendant's theory of defense, the trial judge may not refuse to grant a proper, proffered instruction." King, 64 Va.App. at 587 (quoting Foster v. Commonwealth, 13 Va.App. 380, 383 (1991)). . . . The theory, however, must find support in the evidence. "A defendant is entitled to have the jury instructed only on those theories of the case that are supported by [more than a scintilla of] evidence." Id. (alteration in original) (quoting Eaton v. Commonwealth, 240 Va. 236, 255 (1990)). "'The weight of the credible evidence that will amount to more than a mere scintilla . . . is a matter to be resolved on a case-by-case basis' by assessing the evidence in support of a proposition against the 'other credible evidence that negates' it." Id. (omission in original).

Lienau, 69 Va.App. at 264. "Where the conflicting evidence tends to sustain either the prosecution's or defense's theory of the case, the trial judge must instruct the jury as to both theories." King, 64 Va.App. at 587 (quoting Foster, 13 Va.App. at 383). Phrased differently, "if there is evidence in the record to support the defendant's theory of defense, the trial judge may not refuse to grant a proper, proffered instruction." Consequently, "the trial court must instruct on both theories to guide a jury in their deliberations as to the law applicable to the case, depending upon how the jury decides the facts."


Moreover, the defendant is entitled to an instruction for a lesser-included offense if a jury could "rationally find the defendant guilty of the lesser offense yet acquit him of the greater." Edwards v. Commonwealth, 65 Va.App....

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