Thursday, January 24, 2008

Recent Case Aids VA Lawyers With Suspended License Defenses

On January 11, 2008, the Virginia Supreme Court reversed the conviction of an individual charged with driving a motor vehicle after being declared a habitual offender in violation of Va. Code § 46.2-357. In the case Bishop v. Commonwealth, the Virginia Supreme Court carefully scrutinized the DMV transcript that was presented as evidence by the Commonwealth Attorney to prove that the Defendant had actual notice of being declared a habitual offender.

The Supreme Court found the DMV transcript lacked proof of actual notice. Of interest to criminal defense attorneys was the Virginia Supreme Court’s view of an entry on the DMV transcript that read “Notified: 2001/03/10 by law enforcement.” This is the type of entry that prosecutors in Northern Virginia routinely rely upon to obtain convictions for driving on suspended and revoked licenses. In Bishop, the Supreme Court stated that this entry “does not specify the content of any notification … provided … and does not identify the person, agency or entity that constituted ‘law enforcement’.”

After reading the Bishop decision, attorney Jeffrey S. Romanick commented that he was pleased that the Virginia Supreme Court emphasized some of the basic principles upon which our criminal justice system relies. Mr. Romanick intends to cite the language included by the Court to emphasize the high standards of proof required at criminal trials. The Court made a point to state the following: (1) “It is elementary that the burden is on the Commonwealth to prove every essential element of the offense beyond a reasonable doubt”; (2) “In a criminal case, the defendant is entitled to an acquittal, unless his guilt is established beyond a reasonable doubt”; (3) “Because of the stringent standard of proof the law imposes upon the prosecution, [finders of fact] must acquit unless they find each element of the crime charged to have been proved beyond a reasonable doubt”; and, (4) [T]he Due Process Clause protects the accused against conviction except upon proof beyond a reasonable doubt of every fact necessary to constitute the crime which he is charged”.

The attorneys at Gross & Romanick, P.C. are dedicated to staying at the forefront of new case law and innovation in the Courtroom. By carefully staying abreast of the latest decisions handed down by the Appellate Courts of Virginia, the law firm of Gross & Romanick, P.C. can immediately incorporate new case law into new defenses for their clients at the trial court level. Bishop is an example of the type of case that the lawyers of Gross & Romanick, P.C. can utilize, not only in traffic court for suspended license cases, but in every criminal case in which it is necessary to emphasize that the concept of reasonable doubt remains a cornerstone of our justice system to protect the rights of our citizens.