Home / News in Brief / First published opinion in a month, but who’s counting?

First published opinion in a month, but who’s counting?

In its first published opinion released in a month, the Virginia Court of Appeals today rejected a double jeopardy claim and upheld larceny convictions for Ronald Arthur Tharrington.

Convicted in the Chesapeake Circuit Court, Tharrington argued the trial court should have dismissed indictments that charged both grand larceny under Va. Code § 18.2-95 and larceny with intent to sell or distribute in violation of Code § 18.2-108.1, because both offenses stemmed from one course of conduct.

That “course of conduct” was the burglary of a home, whose residents returned to find a back door standing wide open and shattered glass “all over the place.” They also were missing their PlayStation 3 game console, valued at $400. Later that same day, Tharrington showed up at a pawn shop, first asking for a $100 loan on the game console, then selling it for another $150.

The appellate panel had little difficulty finding two separate offenses in the statutory language for each crime, and affirmed Tharrington’s conviction in the 284th opinion from the Virginia Court of Appeals logged by VLW this year.

Opinion output from Virginia’s intermediate appellate court has been dropping steadily in the last decade. In 2000, the court issued 835 opinions, published and unpublished. In 2011, the court has released about 300 opinions thus far, which puts opinion production behind last year’s pace. From 2005 through 2009, the court issued about 525 published and unpublished opinions per year.

According to Virginia State of the Judiciary reports, total cases filed has varied, from 3,112 in 1999, spiking up to 3,499 in 2001. But cases filed declined to 2,854 for 2009, the last year for which the State of the Judiciary report compilation has been published.

The appellate court disposes of many matters by order, but the numbers of orders issued from 2005 to 2009 has not varied that much, hovering around the high-300s.

Of course, criminal cases make up the bulk of the Court of Appeals’ case load, and in 2009, the number of criminal petitions filed was down from the previous year by 244.

Workers’ compensation cases filed have declined, dropping from 228 in 2005 to 155 in 2009. During that same time period, domestic relations cases filed dropped from 300 to 253.

Family law attorneys are pretty picky about filing appeals, given the tough “abuse of discretion” standard that governs many domestic relations legal issues.

It could be that Virginia’s intermediate appellate court, with its circumscribed jurisdiction, already has solved the most pressing legal puzzles in criminal, family law and workers’ compensation jurisprudence.

Fairfax family law mediator Larry Gaughan, who used to brief domestic relations cases at the annual Virginia CLE programs, was fond of paraphrasing an online myth about U.S. Patent Office worker who resigned his post in the late 1800s because he thought everything that could be invented, had been invented.

Some years into the life of the 26-year-old Virginia Court of Appeals, Gaughan was moved to ask whether the court was handing down fewer cases because it already had decided all the important questions.
By Deborah Elkins

Leave a Reply