Pittman v. Commonwealth

Decision Date25 April 2023
Docket Number0681-22-1
CourtVirginia Court of Appeals


Daniel W. Hall for appellant.

William K. Hamilton, Assistant Attorney General (Jason S Miyares, Attorney General; Maureen E. Mshar, Assistant Attorney General, on brief), for appellee.

Present: Judges Huff, Fulton and White Argued at Norfolk, Virginia



On March 23, 2021, following a bench trial, the Circuit Court of Southampton County convicted Laquadric Pittman of obtaining property by false pretenses and conspiring with another to obtain property by false pretenses, in violation of Code §§ 18.2-178 and 18.2-22. Pittman appeals his convictions, challenging the sufficiency of the Commonwealth's evidence against him, as well as the trial court's admission of certain testimony relating to a video, which was not, itself, admitted into evidence. For the following reasons, we affirm.


In June of 2019, a man, who identified himself as Norman Richards, contacted All American Auto Sales and Cycles ("AAASC"), located in Ivor, Southampton County, offering to buy two motorcycles. Richards initially spoke with Celon Cahoon, one of the store managers. Richards agreed to pay $3,555 by credit card for two street legal, lime green motorcycles, a Tao Tao and a Johnny Pag Malibu.

Richards attempted to pay by credit card over the phone, but the charge did not go through. Ultimately the parties decided that Richards's uncle would provide the card for the motorcycle purchase. Cahoon testified at trial that before any vehicles were picked up, he contacted the person whose number was given to him by Richards and spoke with a person who identified himself as Kenneth Height and gave permission for a credit card he provided to be used to purchase the motorcycles. Cahoon ran the card for the purchase, and it was accepted. Cahoon drew up the bill of sale which listed Richards and Height as purchasers.

On June 21, 2019, a man identifying himself as Kenneth Height, with identification and a credit card indicating as much, arrived at the store to complete the purchase. William Clark, another store manager at AAASC, was present and made copies of the identification and credit card. He was only able to provide Height with the title and manufacturer's certificate for the Tao Tao motorcycle because the other motorcycle, the Johnny Pag Malibu, would not be ready for delivery until the next day. Clark testified that Height arrived driving a short wheelbase General Motors U-Haul. Because Height did not have a way to secure the Tao Tao motorcycle, Clark loaned him a set of his personal brand-new red ratchet straps. Height then departed, taking the Tao Tao motorcycle with him. The next day, as he was working on the Johnny Pag Malibu, Clark received calls inquiring about whether that motorcycle was ready. Soon after those calls, Clark received a call from an unidentified woman who claimed that the two motorcycle sales were a scam. The caller also sent a video to Clark which Clark viewed.

Based upon what was depicted in the video, Clark called the Southampton County Sheriff's Office. Sergeant Bruce Turner and Deputy Worth went to AAASC to investigate Clark's report. Both were driving marked police vehicles. At first, Sergeant Turner parked his vehicle behind the building, so as not to "spook" Height when he came in to collect the second motorcycle. And Deputy Worth was parked down the road "out of sight." Sergeant Turner reviewed the photocopy of the credit card and driver's license Height had provided. He "ran the number off of the [driver's license] that was offered" to AAASC by Height, which came back as belonging to a deceased woman. He also ran the name Kenneth Height, as well as the date of birth on the driver's license, and those "didn't come back."

Because the man identified as Height was to return that day to pick up the other motorcycle, Sergeant Turner waited for the man to arrive. When Height arrived to pick up the second motorcycle, Clark observed that the man was not equipped to ride or transport the motorcycle. Height told Clark that "his boys [were] coming to pick [the motorcycle] up." Sergeant Turner then confronted the man. He inquired whether he was Kenneth Height. The man responded "yes" and presented Sergeant Turner with the same driver's license from the photocopy taken previously. Sergeant Turner detained the man and proceeded to question him about his real identity. The man eventually responded, "I give up. You got me." Sergeant Turner found a social security card in the man's pocket which identified him as Roderick Davis, the co-defendant in this case.

After Davis was detained, Sergeant Turner called Deputy Worth to come to the store to aid in the investigation. Deputy Worth parked his vehicle "right in the front of the store." Thereafter, Clark saw a U-Haul being operated by a person whom he recognized from the video coming from the eastbound direction of Route 460 with a left turn signal on. Clark observed the vehicle start to slow down, as if the driver of the vehicle intended to turn into the shop, but then continue past without turning. Clark informed Sergeant Turner that the driver had been in the video. Sergeant Turner pursued the U-Haul. He testified that he stopped the U-Haul truck and proceeded to search it. The back of the truck was empty, except for two red ratchet straps that were hanging on the wall of the cargo bay. However, Sergeant Turner testified that "at the time . . . those red straps [didn't] mean anything" to him. Therefore, he let the driver go.

Thereafter, Sergeant Turner reviewed the video that had been sent to Clark and made the connection between the U-Haul truck, the red ratchet straps, the two motorcycles, the driver of the truck (later identified as Pittman), and Davis.

Cahoon testified that about two days after the purchase on the 21st, a representative from the bank called and told him that the bank had taken the purchase money back. Sergeant Turner continued his investigation of the alleged scheme. He learned that the credit card used to purchase the motorcycles had a stolen credit card number belonging to an individual from another state. Sergeant Turner eventually happened upon the U-Haul, which was parked outside of an apartment complex "no more than half a mile" from where Pittman resided. Pittman was eventually indicted on the instant charges and subsequently arrested.

At trial, the Commonwealth elicited the testimony noted above from Clark and Sergeant Turner regarding what the video depicted. This testimony was offered prior to the Commonwealth offering the video itself into evidence. Pittman initially objected only to the admissibility of the video itself. He argued that neither witness had "firsthand knowledge" of the video because neither created the video, nor did they observe the contents of the video when it was being recorded. After the trial court heard testimony concerning the contents of the video, Pittman clarified and expanded his objection to the witness testimony regarding what the video depicted. Therefore, Pittman argued at trial that: (1) the video could not be properly authenticated pursuant to Virginia Rule of Evidence 2:901, and (2) because the video could not be authenticated, any testimony relating to its contents would be improperly admitted, as that testimony would not be relevant.

The trial court overruled Pittman's objection as to Clark and Sergeant Turner's testimony about the video, stating that any issues regarding lack of firsthand knowledge of the contents of the video "[go] to the weight" of the testimony, not admissibility. Later, the trial court agreed that the video was not properly authenticated pursuant to Rule 2:901, and therefore was not admissible, stating that the Commonwealth had not laid adequate foundation to admit the video into evidence. The trial court noted that neither witness could testify as to whether the video fairly and accurately depicted the scene because neither was present when the video was made. In doing so, the trial court acknowledged that its two rulings "sound[] like an illogical set of rulings."

Clark testified that the video depicted Pittman sitting astride the Tao Tao motorcycle. According to Clark, Pittman was depicted in the video talking about "committing felonies every day, how they got away with this jaint." Further, Clark knew that the Tao Tao motorcycle was his because he knew it was the only lime green one in the State of Virginia. The motorcycle was still strapped in the way Clark had helped the purchaser strap it in. Clark testified that Pittman was in the back of the vehicle saying he was going back to get the other motorcycle. Clark also testified that the video depicted the certificate of origin for the Tao Tao motorcycle as well as the bill of sale from AAASC. Sergeant Turner testified to what he saw in the video, noting that: (1) he recognized Pittman in the video as the driver of the U-Haul, (2) Pittman made statements to the general effect that they scam people all the time, (3) the lime green Tao Tao motorcycle was the motorcycle in the video, and (4) Pittman was referred to as "Quad" and shown riding the Tao Tao motorcycle.

Based on the evidence and testimony admitted at trial, the trial court found Pittman guilty of both charges. In doing so, the trial court explicitly relied on Clark and Sergeant Turner's testimony pertaining to what the video depicted. The trial court stated:

So what shows . . . the knowledge? . . . Had the young man chosen not to be on a video talking about scamming people and being involved in felonies we

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