Ward v. Com., 741101

Decision Date05 September 1975
Docket NumberNo. 741101,741101
PartiesJohn Lewis WARD, Jr. v. COMMONWEALTH of Virginia. Record
CourtVirginia Supreme Court

John Dirffie Tyler, Richmond, for plaintiff in error.

Alan Katz, Asst. Atty. Gen. (Andrew P. Miller, Atty. Gen., on brief), for defendant in error.



A jury convicted John Lewis Ward of voluntary manslaughter and fixed his punishment at three years in the penitentiary.

During an argument on November 26, 1973, Ward shot Benjamin Daniel in the head. Daniel remained in the hospital until his death on February 6, 1974. Dr. R. C. Henry, Medical Examiner for the City of Richmond, performed a post-mortem examination. His report listed six 'pathological diagnoses' and cited '(g)unshot wound of head' as the 'probable cause of death.' Dr. Henry died before Ward was brought to trial.

Over defendant's objection, the autopsy report was admitted into evidence; it was the only proof of the cause of death.

While autopsy reports and duly attested copies thereof are admissible in evidence was provided in Code § 19.1--45 (Repl.Vol.1960), 1 'only facts contained in the certificate are accorded the dignity of prima facie evidence.' Robertson v. Commonwealth, 211 Va. 62, 67--8, 175 S.E.2d 260, 264 (1970). Although signed by the decedent's attending physician, a statement in a death certificate concerning the cause of death 'was but the expression of an opinion' and 'was not, therefore, competent to show the cause of the decedent's death.' Edwards v. Jackson, 210 Va. 450, 453, 171 S.E.2d 854, 856 (1970). We have only recently declined to extent the shopbook exception to the hearsay rule to 'include opinions and conclusions of physicians or others recorded in hospital records.' Neeley v. Johnson, 215 Va. 565, 571, 211 S.E.2d 100, 106 (1975).

Dr. Henry's recorded statement was an expression of opinion and, standing alone, was incompetent to show the cause of Daniel's death. Since there was no other proof of the cause of death, we hold that the evidence was insufficient to support the verdict. The judgment is reversed and the case is remanded for a new trial if the Commonwealth be so advised.

Reversed and remanded.

1 ' § 19.1--45. Reports and records received as evidence.--Reports of investigations made by the Chief Medical Examiner or his assistants or by medical examiners, and the records and reports of autopsies made under...

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16 cases
  • Hopkins v. Com.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Virginia
    • November 27, 1985
    ...to the rule excluding hearsay evidence. Bond v. Commonwealth, 226 Va. 534, 537, 311 S.E.2d 769, 771 (1984); Ward v. Commonwealth, 216 Va. 177, 178, 217 S.E.2d 810, 811 (1975). The trial court erred, therefore, in admitting the evidence of Kagey's identification of the remains. We agree with......
  • Quintana v. Com.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Virginia
    • September 9, 1982
    ...699, 700, 187 S.E.2d 188, 189 (1972). But an opinion in such a report is not competent evidence, Ward v. Commonwealth, 216 Va. 177, 178, 217 S.E.2d 810, 811 (1975) (cause-of-death opinion), and we find no merit in this assignment of b. Rebuttal and Surrebuttal Testimony Defendant assigns er......
  • Lucas v. Riverhill Poultry, Inc.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Virginia
    • July 1, 2021
    ...of opinion that the decedent died as a result of homicide was incompetent. Id. at 537, 311 S.E.2d 769 (quoting Ward v. Commonwealth , 216 Va. 177, 178, 217 S.E.2d 810 (1975) ).3 We reasoned that[w]here the facts and circumstances shown in evidence are such that [jurors] of ordinary intellig......
  • Morris v. Com., Record No. 0064-07-2.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Virginia
    • April 8, 2008
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