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Supreme Court reverses commonwealth cases

It was a bad day for the commonwealth in the Supreme Court of Virginia.

The high court reversed seven lower court rulings in favor of the state, including four criminal cases, a sexually violent predator designation, an analysis of the “good cause” requirement for a change of name by a prison inmate, and an interpretation of the Virginia Tort Claims Act.

In one criminal case, the court held that Virginia Code Sec. 46.2-894, the felony hit-and-run statute, applies only when there is physical contact or the defendant is the proximate cause of the crash.

The others involved the standard for withdrawing a guilty plea before sentencing, the proof of specific intent required for an attempted murder conviction related to a traffic stop, and the continuing limitation on the ability of police to search items that have both an innocent and drug-related element—in this case a dollar bill folded to contain cocaine.

On the civil side, the court said the $100,000 limit on recovery under the Tort Claims Act should be applied after a jury verdict rather than before. The court invalidated the sexually violent predator designation because an initial psychological evaluation did not meet the test for further study of the inmate. And the judge who rejected the inmate’s name change petition erred in focusing on what he found to be the lack of religious significance for a name the inmate said was “for religious purposes.”

The day was hardly a complete loss for the Commonwealth, however. In fact, the attorney general’s office prevailed in the three cases it probably most wanted to win: the affirmation of the death penalties of Teresa Lewis, the only woman on death row, and Ricky Javon Gray, who murdered two children and their parents in Richmond, and a ruling that an adult defendant can be convicted of consensual sodomy when the victims are minors.

These and the rest of the 26 cases the Supreme Court decided today are on our Web site at www.valawyersweekly.com.

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