Washington v. Com., Record No. 1734-03-4.

Docket NºRecord No. 1734-03-4.
Citation46 Va. App. 276, 616 S.E.2d 774
Case DateAugust 09, 2005
CourtSupreme Court of Virginia
616 S.E.2d 774
46 Va. App. 276
Phillip Morris WASHINGTON
v.
COMMONWEALTH of Virginia.
Record No. 1734-03-4.
Court of Appeals of Virginia, Richmond.
August 9, 2005.

Page 775

Joseph Taylor Brown (Simmons, Brown & Kane, P.L.C., on brief), for appellant.

Eugene Murphy, Senior Assistant Attorney General (Jerry W. Kilgore, Attorney General, on briefs), for appellee.

Before: FITZPATRICK, C.J., BENTON, ELDER, FRANK, HUMPHREYS, CLEMENTS, FELTON, KELSEY and McCLANAHAN, JJ.

UPON REHEARING EN BANC

KELSEY, Judge.


Phillip Morris Washington challenges his conviction for malicious wounding "after having been twice convicted of a violent felony" in violation of Code § 18.2-51 and § 19.2-297.1. On appeal, Washington contends that the trial judge erred in permitting the Commonwealth to prove his two prior robbery convictions during the guilt phase of the bifurcated trial. Finding no error, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

I.

Prior to trial, Washington filed a motion in limine to prohibit the prosecutor from introducing evidence of his two prior robbery convictions during the guilt phase of the trial. Washington asserted the prior convictions were not "relevant and probative" and would be "unduly prejudicial" during the guilt phase of the trial. The trial court disagreed, holding that Code § 19.2-297.1 — like all other Virginia recidivism statutes — permitted the introduction of the prior convictions during the guilt phase. The jury found Washington guilty of malicious wounding "after having been twice convicted of a violent felony" in violation of Code § 18.2-51 and § 19.2-297.1. The jury imposed a life sentence as required by Code § 19.2-297.1.

II.

On appeal, Washington argues that Code § 19.2-297.1 forbids the introduction of his prior robbery convictions in the guilt phase of his jury trial. As Washington sees it, Code § 19.2-297.1 serves only as a sentencing enhancement statute — thus making his prior felony convictions relevant in the punishment phase of the trial, but not the guilt phase. A divided panel of our Court agreed with this reasoning. Washington v. Commonwealth, 44 Va.App. 157, 604 S.E.2d 92 (2004). Having considered the matter en banc, we hold the statute does not forbid the recidivism evidence from being presented in the guilt phase of a jury trial.

A. RECIDIVISM & THE COMMON LAW

Though the common law did not create recidivist crimes as such, it did develop a well-recognized order of proof in such cases. "At common law, evidence of prior convictions was received at the trial of the principal offense, and the jury decided guilt and recidivism simultaneously." Recidivism & Virginia's Come-Back Law, 48 Va. L.Rev. 597, 613 (1962). This "common law procedure for applying recidivist statutes . . . is, of course, the simplest and best known procedure." Spencer v. Texas, 385 U.S. 554, 566, 87 S.Ct. 648, 655, 17 L.Ed.2d 606 (1967) (holding common law recidivism procedure did not violate due process principles).1

Page 776

As a result, "in the absence of a statute in derogation of the common law, most jurisdictions have refused to deviate from the old practice." Recidivism & Virginia's Come-Back Law, supra, at 613-14.2 "It is not easy to see how, in the absence of some statutory provision permitting it," a defendant can insist that the prior convictions be excluded from the guilt phase of the principal charge. People v. Sickles, 156 N.Y. 541, 51 N.E. 288, 289 (1898). The common law, moreover, rejected any "legal presumption" that ordering the proof in this manner would compromise the integrity of the trial. Johnson v. People, 55 N.Y. 512, 514 (1874).

Consistent with the common law, the Virginia Penitentiary Act of 1796 allowed recidivism convictions to be admitted during the trial. See 1796 Va. Acts, ch. 2, §§ 24, 42, modified by Revised Code of 1819; see also Tyson v. Hening, 205 Va. 389, 392, 136 S.E.2d 832, 835 (1964). The Act also permitted a separate supplemental proceeding in the Richmond Circuit Court solely to determine a prisoner's recidivism status and to enhance the aggregate punishment accordingly. Id. Admitting the prior conviction at trial, however, met with disfavor in the courts. Some Virginia jurists considered it akin to "trying a man with a rope about his neck." Wright v. Commonwealth, 109 Va. 847, 855, 65 S.E. 19, 22 (1909) (quoting Rand v. Commonwealth, 50 Va. (9 Gratt.) 738, 753 (1852)).

The General Assembly responded in 1918 by amending the Penitentiary Act — then called the Virginia Habitual Criminal Act — to employ the supplemental proceeding in the Richmond Circuit Court as the exclusive means of imposing the recidivism sentencing enhancement. Former Code § 5054 (1919). This "non-common law method" of addressing the issue remained the law in Virginia for many years. Recidivism & Virginia's Come-Back Law, supra, at 600-01.

In 1982, the General Assembly repealed the Virginia Habitual Criminal Act authorizing the supplemental recidivism proceeding. 1982 Va. Acts, ch. 636 (rescinding Code § 53-296). By that time, the legislature had enacted several crime-specific recidivism statutes.3 See generally Ansell v. Commonwealth, 219 Va. 759, 762, 250 S.E.2d 760, 762 (1979). And, to a one, each such statute has been interpreted by Virginia courts to allow recidivism evidence to be presented during the guilt phase of trial.4 See, e.g., Medici v.

Page 777

Commonwealth, 260 Va. 223, 228-29, 532 S.E.2d 28, 31-32 (2000) (interpreting Code § 18.2-67.5:3(A)).5

B. THE INTERPLAY BETWEEN CODE §§ 19.2-297.1 & 19.2-295.1

In Virginia, the "Legislature is presumed to have known and to have had the common law in mind in the enactment of a statute. The statute must therefore be read along with the provisions of the common law, and the latter will be read into the statute unless it clearly appears from express language or by necessary implication that the purpose of the statute was to change the common law." Moses v. Commonwealth, 45 Va.App. 357, 361 n. 2, 611 S.E.2d 607, 609 n. 2 (2005) (en banc) (quoting Wicks v. Charlottesville, 215 Va. 274, 276, 208 S.E.2d 752, 755 (1974)). Along similar lines, we "assume legislative familiarity with Virginia case law when the legislature enacts a statute which might impact upon that law." Dodson v. Potomac Mack Sales & Serv., Inc., 241 Va. 89, 94, 400 S.E.2d 178, 180 (1991); see also Waterman v. Halverson, 261 Va. 203, 207, 540 S.E.2d 867, 869 (2001) ("The General Assembly is presumed to be aware of the decisions of this Court when enacting legislation.").

Seeking a construction consistent with common law practice and our caselaw, we turn to Code § 19.2-297.1. Enacted in 1994, subsection A of the statute addresses recidivism involving crimes of violence:

Any person convicted of two or more separate acts of violence when such offenses were not part of a common act, transaction or scheme, and who has been at liberty as defined in § 53.1-151 between each conviction, shall, upon conviction of a third or subsequent act of violence, be sentenced to life imprisonment and shall not have all or any portion of the sentence suspended, provided it is admitted, or found by the jury or judge before whom he is tried, that he has been previously convicted of two or more such acts of violence.

The General Assembly coupled this recidivism statute with the jury bifurcation statute, Code § 19.2-295.1, enacting both in the same bill. See 1994 Va. Acts, ch. 828 (S.B.117).

The jury bifurcation statute requires a "separate proceeding limited to the ascertainment of punishment" before the same jury deciding the defendant's guilt. Code § 19.2-295.1. It authorizes the prosecution to introduce into evidence only the defendant's "prior criminal convictions by certified, attested or exemplified copies of the record of conviction." Id. Rule 3A:17.1(e)(1) repeats this limitation. If the defense does not put on evidence, the prosecution cannot go any further than introducing the conviction orders.6 Only when the defense puts on mitigation evidence may the prosecution then rebut it with any "relevant, admissible evidence related to punishment." Code § 19.2-295.1.

Page 778

Conspicuously absent from the jury bifurcation statute and Rule 3A:17.1 is any authority for the prosecution to present substantive evidence (through witnesses and exhibits) showing how the prior convictions were not part of a "common act, transaction or scheme" or whether the defendant was "at liberty" between each such conviction — two matters on which the prosecution bears the burden of proof under Code § 19.2-297.1(A). If the defendant does not concede these two points, neither can be invariably assumed from the conviction orders themselves. Final conviction and sentencing orders say nothing about the underlying crime's relationship to other crimes. Nor do such orders, particularly those entered before the abolition of parole, identify the actual period of incarceration.

While not saying as much, Washington appears to assume the evidentiary limitation in the jury bifurcation statute was a mere legislative oversight. The bifurcation statute, he reasons, should allow in the penalty phase any evidence required by any recidivism statute — not just copies of the prior conviction orders. The only way to sustain that position, however, would be to "judicially graft" an unwritten provision into the statute, Cent. Va. Obstetrics & Gynecology Assocs., P.C. v. Whitfield, 42 Va.App. 264, 280, 590 S.E.2d 631, 640 (2004), under the subtle "guise of judicial interpretation," Holly Hill Farm Corp. v. Rowe, 241 Va. 425, 431, 404 S.E.2d 48, 51 (1991). It may or may not be better public policy to structure recidivism proof differently. When interpreting statutes, however, such judgments are not ours to make. Cf. McBoyle v. United States, 283 U.S. 25, 27, 51 S.Ct. 340, 341, 75 L.Ed. 816 (1931) (observing that judicial statutory construction cannot proceed "upon the speculation that, if the legislature had thought of it,...

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19 practice notes
  • Gilman v. Com., Record No. 1928-04-3.
    • United States
    • Virginia Court of Appeals of Virginia
    • April 4, 2006
    ...(2005) (en banc) (quoting Wicks v. Charlottesville, 215 Va. 274, 276, 208 S.E.2d 752, 755 (1974)); see also Washington v. Commonwealth, 46 Va. App. 276, 281, 616 S.E.2d 774, 777 (2005) (en banc). The common law is clear that "[c]ontempt proceedings are sui generis," Wilson, 23 Va.App. at 32......
  • Billips v. Commonwealth, Record No. 0172-05-3.
    • United States
    • Virginia Court of Appeals of Virginia
    • June 6, 2006
    ...beyond a reasonable doubt every fact it recognizes as a circumstance affecting the severity of punishment."); Washington v. Commonwealth, 46 Va.App. 276, 294, 616 S.E.2d 774, 783 (2005) (en banc) (Humphreys, J., concurring) ("[Generally,] there is no standard of proof during a sentencing pr......
  • Prince William County Sch. Bd. v. Rahim, Record No. 1737–10–2.
    • United States
    • Virginia Court of Appeals of Virginia
    • July 12, 2011
    ...Whether it “may or may not be better public policy” to do otherwise, “such judgments are not ours to make.” Washington v. Commonwealth, 46 Va.App. 276, 283, 616 S.E.2d 774, 778 (2005) ( en banc ), aff'd, 272 Va. 449, 634 S.E.2d 310 (2006). Code § 65.2–708(A) provides the commission authorit......
  • South v. Com., Record No. 2209-04-1.
    • United States
    • Virginia Supreme Court of Virginia
    • December 20, 2005
    ...graft" an unrelated provision into the statute "under the subtle guise of judicial interpretation," Washington v. Commonwealth, 46 Va.App. 276, 283, 616 S.E.2d 774, 778 (2005) (en banc) (citations and internal quotation marks omitted) — an exercise in which we have neither the authority nor......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
19 cases
  • Gilman v. Com., Record No. 1928-04-3.
    • United States
    • Virginia Court of Appeals of Virginia
    • April 4, 2006
    ...(2005) (en banc) (quoting Wicks v. Charlottesville, 215 Va. 274, 276, 208 S.E.2d 752, 755 (1974)); see also Washington v. Commonwealth, 46 Va. App. 276, 281, 616 S.E.2d 774, 777 (2005) (en banc). The common law is clear that "[c]ontempt proceedings are sui generis," Wilson, 23 Va.App. at 32......
  • Billips v. Commonwealth, Record No. 0172-05-3.
    • United States
    • Virginia Court of Appeals of Virginia
    • June 6, 2006
    ...beyond a reasonable doubt every fact it recognizes as a circumstance affecting the severity of punishment."); Washington v. Commonwealth, 46 Va.App. 276, 294, 616 S.E.2d 774, 783 (2005) (en banc) (Humphreys, J., concurring) ("[Generally,] there is no standard of proof during a sentencing pr......
  • Prince William County Sch. Bd. v. Rahim, Record No. 1737–10–2.
    • United States
    • Virginia Court of Appeals of Virginia
    • July 12, 2011
    ...Whether it “may or may not be better public policy” to do otherwise, “such judgments are not ours to make.” Washington v. Commonwealth, 46 Va.App. 276, 283, 616 S.E.2d 774, 778 (2005) ( en banc ), aff'd, 272 Va. 449, 634 S.E.2d 310 (2006). Code § 65.2–708(A) provides the commission authorit......
  • South v. Com., Record No. 2209-04-1.
    • United States
    • Virginia Supreme Court of Virginia
    • December 20, 2005
    ...graft" an unrelated provision into the statute "under the subtle guise of judicial interpretation," Washington v. Commonwealth, 46 Va.App. 276, 283, 616 S.E.2d 774, 778 (2005) (en banc) (citations and internal quotation marks omitted) — an exercise in which we have neither the authority nor......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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