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‘Right result, wrong reason’ – again

The concept of “right result, wrong reason” is getting a thorough analysis from Virginia’s appellate courts these days.

The latest airing comes today from the Court of Appeals, which assumed without deciding that the trial judge in Arlington erred in justifying the search of a defendant addled by marijuana and PCP on the ground that a state trooper had reason to believe he was armed and dangerous.

Instead, the trooper had probable cause to arrest the defendant because a co-defendant who had just been arrested for possessing the drugs was in the same state the defendant was in. It didn’t matter that the prosecution failed to make the probable cause argument at trial.

That might be somewhat at odds with Whitehead v. Commonwealth, the Supreme Court of Virginia’s most recent pronouncement of the doctrine – first enunciated in June and revised barely a week ago, Judge Randolph A. Beales acknowledged today in Perry v. Commonwealth. The Supreme Court reversed in Whitehead because the Court of Appeals had affirmed a conviction based on a legal theory not raised in the trial court.

Beales said Whitehead “applies only when the new argument made on appeal involves a consideration of factual findings that the trial court never reached, rather than application of a different legal theory to facts already considered by the trial court.” Because the court had considered the factual circumstances surrounding the search of the defendant, the conviction stands, Beales said.
By Alan Cooper

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