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MOORE v. COMMONWEALTH (59162)



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MOORE

v.

COMMONWEALTH


March 3, 2000

Record No. 990776

DENNIS JACKSON MOORE

v.

COMMONWEALTH OF VIRGINIA

FROM THE COURT OF APPEALS OF VIRGINIA

Present: Carrico, C.J., Compton,[1] Lacy, Hassell, Keenan, Koontz, and Kinser, JJ.

OPINION BY JUSTICE BARBARA MILANO KEENAN


The dispositive issue in this appeal is whether
the provisions of Code ? 16.1-269.1(E) cured a defect in
felony proceedings in a juvenile and domestic relations district
court caused by the Commonwealth’s failure to notify the
defendant’s biological father of the proceedings pursuant to the
requirements of former Code ?? 16.1-263 and -264. Code
? 16.1-269.1(E) states, in material part: "An
indictment in the circuit court cures any error or defect in any
proceeding held in the juvenile court except with respect to the
juvenile’s age." In deciding this issue, we also consider
the impact, if any, of Commonwealth v. Baker, 258 Va. 1,
516 S.E.2d 219 (1999) (per curiam), aff’g 28 Va. App. 306,
504 S.E.2d 394 (1998), on the present appeal.

On July 27, 1996, Dennis Jackson Moore (the
defendant) shot and killed Vance Michael Horne, Jr., in a parking
lot at a recreational facility in Henrico County. The shooting
occurred after the defendant approached Horne’s companion,
Jonathan Bradley Cooper, held a gun to Cooper’s back, and
demanded a neck chain that Cooper was wearing. Cooper gave the
chain to the defendant, who nevertheless shot Horne in the head
and fled from the scene.

On October 15, 1996, the Commonwealth issued
four juvenile petitions against the defendant, age 17, in the
Henrico County Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court
(the juvenile court). The petitions charged the defendant with
the murder of Horne, the robbery of Cooper, and two counts of use
of a firearm in the commission of a felony. The four petitions
were served on the defendant, his mother, Darlene Moore, and his
stepfather, Howard Moore. The defendant had lived with his mother
and stepfather for about 16 years, but had not been adopted by
his stepfather. The defendant’s biological father, Dennis
Fleming, was not given notice of the initiation of proceedings in
the juvenile court.

The defendant’s mother and stepfather attended
all the proceedings in the juvenile court. The record does not
show that the defendant’s biological father was present at any of
those proceedings. The juvenile court held a preliminary hearing
under Code ?? 16.1-269.1(B) and (C), and certified the
four felony charges to the grand jury of the circuit court
pursuant to Code ? 16.1-269.1(D).

The defendant was indicted by the grand jury on
the four felony charges. The defendant did not challenge the
circuit court’s jurisdiction or raise an objection to the
proceedings based on the lack of notice to his biological father
in the juvenile court. The defendant was tried by a jury and
convicted of all four offenses. The circuit court sentenced the
defendant to a term of 60 years’ imprisonment for murder, with 20
years suspended, a term of 20 years’ imprisonment for robbery,
with 15 years suspended, and a total of eight years’ imprisonment
on the two firearm convictions.

The defendant appealed his convictions to the
Court of Appeals, challenging the sufficiency of the evidence and
the admissibility of a statement he made to the police. He did
not argue that the circuit court lacked jurisdiction to try his
case or assert error based on the lack of notice to his
biological father in the juvenile court. A panel of the Court of
Appeals affirmed the trial court’s judgment in an unpublished
opinion. Moore v. Commonwealth, Record No. 1088-97-2
(March 16, 1999).

The defendant filed a petition for appeal in
this Court, in which he alleged a purported jurisdictional defect
in his convictions. He argued that, under our decision in Baker,
the circuit court’s judgment was void because the Commonwealth
failed to provide notice to his biological father of the
proceedings in juvenile court. We awarded the defendant this
appeal on the sole issue whether the circuit court lacked
jurisdiction to try him on the four charged offenses.

The defendant contends that the Commonwealth’s
failure to comply with the notice requirements of former Code
?? 16.1-243 and –264 deprived both the juvenile court
and the circuit court of subject matter jurisdiction over his
case. He argues that Code ? 16.1-269.1(E) applies only when
the circuit court has obtained jurisdiction over the charges by
virtue of "valid" proceedings in the juvenile court. He
asserts that the preliminary hearing in the juvenile court was
invalid because of the Commonwealth’s failure to comply with the
statutory notice requirements and, thus, that the indictments in
the circuit court were void and could not be cured by the
provisions of Code ? 16.1-269.1(E). We disagree with the
defendant’s arguments.

The term "subject matter
jurisdiction" refers to the power granted to the courts by
constitution or statute to hear specified classes of cases. Earley
v. Landsidle
, 257 Va. 365, 371, 514 S.E.2d 153, 156 (1999); Humphreys
v. Commonwealth
, 186 Va. 765, 772, 43 S.E.2d 890, 894 (1947).
Code ? 16.1-241 grants the juvenile court "exclusive
original jurisdiction" over "all cases, matters and
proceedings" concerning a juvenile who is alleged to have
been delinquent. The classes of offenses committed by the
defendant are included within this grant of jurisdiction.

With certain exceptions that are not pertinent
here, Code ? 19.2-239 grants the circuit court
"exclusive original jurisdiction for the trial of all
. . . indictments . . . for offenses
committed within their respective circuits." Indictments for
murder, robbery, and use of a firearm are encompassed within this
statutory grant of authority. Thus, the circuit court also had
subject matter jurisdiction over the classes of offenses
committed by the defendant.

A court’s authority to exercise its subject
matter jurisdiction over a case may be restricted by a failure to
comply with statutory requirements that are mandatory in nature
and, thus, are prerequisite to a court’s lawful exercise of that
jurisdiction. See, e.g., Jones v. Commonwealth,
213 Va. 425, 428, 192 S.E.2d 775, 777 (1972); Gregory v.
Peyton
, 208 Va. 157, 159-60, 156 S.E.2d 624, 626 (1967); Peyton
v. French
, 207 Va. 73, 80, 147 S.E.2d 739, 743 (1966). In Baker,
for the reasons stated by the Court of Appeals, we affirmed the
Court of Appeals’ judgment voiding circuit court convictions of a
juvenile because the Commonwealth had failed to comply with the
mandatory notice requirements of former Code ?? 16.1-263
and –264. 258 Va. at 2, 516 S.E.2d at 220. The Court of
Appeals held that a "plain reading of Code
?? 16.1-263 and 16.1-264 manifests legislative intent that
both parents be notified and dispenses with this requirement only
when the trial judge has certified on the record that the
identity of a parent is not reasonably ascertainable." Baker
v. Commonwealth
, 28 Va. App. at 312, 504 S.E.2d at 397.

The trial court’s judgment in Baker was
void because the notice of initiation of juvenile proceedings was
not served on a required party, the juvenile’s biological father.
Id. Thus, although the trial court had subject matter
jurisdiction over the felony indictments before it, the court
lacked authority to exercise its subject matter jurisdiction over
those offenses because the Commonwealth failed to comply with the
mandatory notice requirements of former Code ?? 16.1-263
and –264.

Although the juvenile proceedings in the
present case suffered from the same type of notice defect that
occurred in Baker, we conclude that Baker is
inapposite to a resolution of the present appeal. The offenses at
issue in Baker were committed before July 1, 1996. See
28 Va. App. at 308-09, 504 S.E.2d at 395. Thus, the provisions of
Code ? 16.1-269.1(E), which apply only to offenses
committed on or after July 1, 1996, were not before us in Baker.
[2] See 1996 Va. Acts
ch. 755, cl. 7, and ch. 914, cl. 7.

Since the defendant committed the four charged
offenses after July 1, 1996, the provisions of Code
? 16.1-269.1(E) are applicable to the resolution of his
case. As previously noted, that section provides in relevant
part: "An indictment in the circuit court cures any error or
defect in any proceeding held in the juvenile court except with
respect to the juvenile’s age." Under the plain language of
this statute, an indictment by a grand jury cures any
defect or error, except one regarding a juvenile’s age, which has
occurred in any juvenile court proceeding.

The Commonwealth’s failure to notify the
defendant’s biological father of the initiation of juvenile court
proceedings, as required by former Code ?? 16.1-263 and
–264, created a defect in those proceedings. Baker,
28 Va. App. at 313, 504 S.E.2d at 398. However, under Code
? 16.1-269.1(E), that defect was cured when the grand jury
returned indictments against the defendant on the offenses
certified to it by the juvenile court. This curative statutory
provision permitted the circuit court to exercise its subject
matter jurisdiction and to try the defendant on the offenses set
forth in the indictments.
[3]

For these reasons, we will affirm the judgment
of the Court of Appeals.
[4]

Affirmed.


JUSTICE KINSER, with whom JUSTICE LACY joins,
concurring.

I concur in the result reached by the majority
in this case. However, I write separately to reiterate my belief
that the notice requirement at issue is not a prerequisite for
the juvenile court’s exercise of its subject matter
jurisdiction. Moore v. Commonwealth, Record No. 990665,
259 Va. ___, ___ S.E.2d ___ (2000) (this day decided) (Kinser,
J., dissenting); see also Turner v. Commonwealth,
216 Va. 666, 667, 222 S.E.2d 517, 518 (1976) (holding that
mandatory requirement of written notice was not jurisdictional).

 

FOOTNOTES:

[1] Justice Compton participated in
the hearing and decision of this case prior to the effective date
of his retirement on February 2, 2000.

[2] We also note that in Moore v.
Commonwealth
, 259 Va. ___, ___, ___ S.E.2d ___, ___ (2000)
(decided today), which did not involve the defendant here, the
offenses at issue were committed before July 1, 1996. We held
that the Commonwealth’s failure to give notice of the initiation
of juvenile court proceedings to the juvenile’s father, as
required by former Code ?? 16.1-263 and -264, was not
subject to waiver by the juvenile’s failure to object to this
defect in the proceedings. Id. at ___, ___ S.E.2d at ___.
We also held that the provisions of Code ? 16.1-269.6(E)
did not effect a waiver of this defect. Id. at ___, ___
S.E.2d at ___.

[3] Since Baker is inapposite
to the present case, we reject the defendant’s additional
contention that the Court of Appeals was required to reverse his
convictions, sua sponte, after the Court’s decision in Baker.

[4] We do not address the defendant’s
contention that the Commonwealth’s failure to comply with the
notice requirements of former Code ?? 16.1-263 and -264 denied
him due process, because the defendant failed to raise this
objection in the trial court. Rule 5:25; see Sheppard
v. Commonwealth
, 250 Va. 379, 393, 464 S.E.2d 131, 139
(1995), cert. denied, 517 U.S. 1110 (1996).

 

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