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‘Right result, wrong reason’ ruling stands

The Supreme Court of Virginia has revised Whitehead v. Commonwealth but hardly in a way that addresses concerns raised by the attorney general’s office.

In a decision in June, the Supreme Court refused to consider alternative theories for upholding a conviction of receiving stolen property because they were raised for the first time on appeal.

In its petition for rehearing, the AG’s office contended that the court had gone off the deep end in rejecting the doctrine that convictions can be upheld when a trial court reaches the right result but for the wrong reason.

In the revised opinion issued on Thursday, the court stuck by its original decision and added a state constitutional dimension to it.

The prosecution contended that the girlfriend of a thief was guilty of constructive receipt of items the boyfriend kept in their apartment because she and their daughter had benefited from the sale of the stolen goods.

The Supreme Court said state law does not support a conviction on that basis and refused to consider the argument on appeal that the defendaant aided in the concealment of the stolen property.

An appellate court can affirm a correct result reached for a wrong reason in “a proper case,” but cases in which the appellee failed to present argument in the trial court “are not ‘proper cases’ for the application of the doctrine,” the court held.

That argument has special force in criminal cases because of the state constitutional right of a defendant “to demand the cause and nature of his accusation,” the court said in the revised opinion.

“To allow the Commonwealth to advance alternative methods of proof and conviction never argued in the trial court and requiring different elements of proof for the first time on appeal would deny Whitehead these rights,” the court said.
By Alan Cooper

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