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COMMONWEALTH OF VA v. TAYLOR (59794)


COMMONWEALTH OF VA

v.

TAYLOR


November 6, 1998
Record No. 980378

COMMONWEALTH OF VIRGINIA

v.

MICHAEL W. TAYLOR

Present: All the Justices

OPINION BY JUSTICE BARBARA MILANO KEENAN
FROM THE COURT OF APPEALS OF VIRGINIA


In this appeal, we consider whether the Court
of Appeals erred in reversing the defendant’s conviction of grand
larceny on the ground that the evidence was insufficient to prove
his criminal intent.

Michael W. Taylor was indicted for grand
larceny in violation of Code Sect.  18.2-95. He was accused
of stealing eleven dies used in the manufacture of trunk locks
from Long Manufacturing Company ("Long"), a business
located in the City of Petersburg. Taylor was convicted in a
bench trial in the Circuit Court of the City of Petersburg and
was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment, with execution of all
three years suspended.

Taylor appealed his conviction to the Court of
Appeals, which reversed the trial court’s judgment in an
unpublished opinion. Taylor v. Commonwealth, Record No.
2474-96-2 (December 16, 1997). The Commonwealth appeals the
judgment of the Court of Appeals under Code Sect.
 19.2-317(C).

We will state the evidence in the light most
favorable to the Commonwealth, the prevailing party at trial. Horton
v. Commonwealth
, 255 Va. 606, 608, 499 S.E.2d 258, 259
(1998); Walton v. Commonwealth, 255 Va. 422, 425-26, 497
S.E.2d 869, 871 (1998). In March 1995, Long held an auction of
its property in compliance with the terms of a bank foreclosure
action. Since the electric power had been turned off in all the
buildings, the items for auction were illuminated by lighting
powered by an electric generator or by the auctioneer’s
flashlight. The purchasers at the auction were
allowed thirty days to remove their items from Long’s premises.

Taylor, a self-employed scrap metal dealer,
attended the auction and purchased approximately $900 worth of
items, including several presses and dies. The dies he purchased
were located in the "main building" on metal racks
containing three or four shelves. Taylor returned on the first or
second day after the auction and removed most of his property,
but waited until the thirtieth day to retrieve his remaining
items.

Before the auction, Long had sold to Sudhaus of
America, a New Jersey business, eleven dies used to manufacture
trunk locks ("the Sudhaus dies"). The purchase price
was $9,000 plus an additional $29,000 for the patent rights to
the dies. These dies were stored on wooden pallets on the floor
of Long’s shipping and receiving building. Deborah Loftis, Long’s
president, placed yellow tags bearing the name and address of
Sudhaus on at least half of the eleven dies prior to the auction.
The tags measured about two by four inches, and the dies were two
to three feet long.

The Sudhaus dies were the only items remaining
in the shipping and receiving building on the thirtieth day
following the auction. The building doors were open that day on
both sides, providing sufficient natural light to illuminate the
interior space. Loftis saw the yellow tags on the dies that
morning.

Loftis was present when Taylor arrived that
day, but soon left the premises for several hours. When Loftis
returned later in the day, she noticed that the Sudhaus dies were
missing. Loftis located some of the Sudhaus dies at Peck
Recycling, a business in the City of Richmond. The dies were
untagged, but Loftis was able to identify them by pulling apart
and examining each die.

The day after the Sudhaus dies were taken,
Loftis spoke to Taylor by telephone and made notes of their
conversation. When Loftis asked about the missing dies, Taylor
responded: "Well, what am I going to do about my press that
wasn’t there [sic] I came to pick up?" Loftis then asked
Taylor, "Did you take [the Sudhaus dies]?" Taylor
responded, "Well, yeah, but what am I going to do about my
stuff that wasn’t there?"

After his arrest a few days later, Taylor
admitted to Detective Raymond Richardson of the City of
Petersburg Police Department that he took the Sudhaus dies and
sold them for scrap metal to Peck Recycling. Taylor stated,
however, that he mistakenly thought that the dies belonged to
him. Taylor also told Detective Richardson that the Sudhaus dies
were located in the same building where most of his other
purchases were located.

Taylor testified at trial that, on the day of
the auction, the dies he purchased were illuminated only by a
flashlight and were later removed from their marked metal racks
and placed on the floor with no identifying lot marks. He stated
that he saw no tags on any of the Sudhaus dies when he returned
to remove the last of his purchases and mistakenly thought that
those dies were the same dies he had purchased because he saw no
other dies on the premises. Taylor admitted that he previously
had been convicted of two misdemeanors involving moral turpitude.

Taylor argues that the evidence was
insufficient to support his conviction. He contends that the
evidence supported his claim of mistake, and that the Court of
Appeals properly held that the trier of fact would have had to
speculate from the evidence in order to conclude that Taylor took
the tagged Sudhaus dies. We disagree with Taylor’s argument.

When a defendant challenges the sufficiency of
the evidence on appeal, the reviewing court must accord the
judgment of the trial court sitting without a jury the same
weight as a jury verdict. Saunders v. Commonwealth, 242
Va. 107, 113, 406 S.E.2d 39, 42, cert. denied, 502 U.S.
944 (1991); Evans v. Commonwealth, 215 Va. 609, 613, 212
S.E.2d 268, 271 (1975). It is the appellate court’s duty to
examine the evidence that tends to support the conviction and to
uphold the conviction unless it is plainly wrong or without
evidentiary support. Code Sect.  8.01-680; Commonwealth
v. Jenkins
, 255 Va. 516, 520, 499 S.E.2d 263, 265 (1998); Walton,
255 Va. at 427, 497 S.E.2d at 871; Tyler v. Commonwealth,
254 Va. 162, 165-66, 487 S.E.2d 221, 223 (1997). In making this
determination, the appellate court must examine the evidence in
the light most favorable to the Commonwealth. Jenkins, 255
Va. at 521, 499 S.E.2d at 265; Walton, 255 Va. at 425-26,
497 S.E.2d at 871.

If there is evidence to support the conviction,
the reviewing court is not permitted to substitute its judgment,
even if its view of the evidence might differ from the
conclusions reached by the finder of fact at the trial. Jenkins,
255 Va. at 520, 499 S.E.2d at 265; Tyler, 254 Va. at
165-66, 487 S.E.2d at 223; Cable v. Commonwealth, 243 Va.
236, 239, 415 S.E.2d 218, 220 (1992). The fact finder, who has
the opportunity to see and hear the witnesses, has the sole
responsibility to determine their credibility, the weight to be
given their testimony, and the inferences to be drawn from proven
facts. Walton, 255 Va. at 426, 497 S.E.2d at 871;
Saunders
, 242 Va. at 113, 406 S.E.2d at 42.

Larceny, a common law crime, is the wrongful or
fraudulent taking of another’s property without his permission
and with the intent to permanently deprive the owner thereof. Bryant
v. Commonwealth
, 248 Va. 179, 183, 445 S.E.2d 667, 670
(1994); Winston v. Commonwealth, 26 Va. App. 746, 756, 497
S.E.2d 141, 147 (1998). Under Code Sect.  18.2-95, grand
larceny includes the taking, not from the person of another, of
goods having a value of $200 or more.

Here, Taylor admitted to Loftis and Detective
Richardson that he took the Sudhaus dies from Long’s premises.
There is no dispute that the dies were worth more than $200.
Thus, we must determine whether the evidence supports the trial
court’s finding that Taylor wrongfully took the dies with the
necessary criminal intent.

There can be no larceny if the accused, in good
faith, believes that the property taken belongs to him, since the
essential element of criminal intent is lacking in that
circumstance. Pierce v. Commonwealth, 205 Va. 528, 533,
138 S.E.2d 28, 31-32 (1964); Butts v. Commonwealth, 145
Va. 800, 811-12, 133 S.E. 764, 767-68 (1926). Intent is the
purpose formed in a person’s mind at the time an act is
committed. See Guill v. Commonwealth, 255 Va. 134,
140, 495 S.E.2d 489, 492 (1998); Ridley v. Commonwealth,
219 Va. 834, 836, 252 S.E.2d 313, 314 (1979). Intent may, and
often must, be inferred from the facts and circumstances of the
case, including the actions and statements of the accused. Id.;
Hargrave v. Commonwealth, 214 Va. 436, 437, 201 S.E.2d
597, 598 (1974).

We hold that there was sufficient evidence to
support the trial court’s conclusion that Taylor wrongfully
removed the Sudhaus dies from Long’s premises with the intent to
permanently deprive the owner of that property. When Loftis asked
Taylor to explain his actions, he did not say that he took the
Sudhaus dies by mistake. Instead, he flatly stated that he took
the dies and twice asked Loftis about his items that he alleged
were missing.

Taylor told Detective Richardson that he found
the Sudhaus dies in the same building as his other purchases,
which contradicted Loftis’ testimony that none of Taylor’s items
were located in the shipping and receiving building where the
Sudhaus dies were stored. Loftis’ testimony further contradicted
Taylor’s version of the events when she stated that Taylor’s dies
were stored on metal racks, while the Sudhaus dies were located
on pallets on the floor and were marked with yellow tags. The
trier of fact was entitled to accept the entire testimony of
Richardson and Loftis, find Taylor’s contradictory testimony
unworthy of belief, and conclude that the Sudhaus dies were
located in a different building than Taylor’s items and were
clearly marked when Taylor took them. Thus, there is sufficient
evidence to support the trial court’s conclusion that Taylor was
untruthful in his testimony, and that he knew when he took the
Sudhaus dies that they were not the dies he had purchased.

For these reasons, we will reverse the Court of
Appeals’ judgment and reinstate Taylor’s conviction in accordance
with the trial court’s judgment order.

Reversed and final judgment.

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