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Conviction Upheld for Keeping Rental Car

Although defendant claimed she had given the money to a then-boyfriend to pay for an extension of her use of a rental car, she did not respond to the company’s requests for return of the rental car after the expiration of additional extensions of her initial one-day rental contract, and the Court of Appeals affirms her conviction of failure to return bailed property in violation of Va. Code § 18.2-117.

It is undisputed that the one-day contract was verbally extended during telephone conversations between defendant and Triangle Rental Car agents. The record does not disclose precisely how many extensions were arranged over the telephone, although it is clear the rental period had at one point been extended from May 3, 2011 to May 15, 2011.

On May 17, 2011, Triangle’s branch manager sent a certified demand letter to the address defendant provided to Triangle when the contract was originally executed on May 2, instructing defendant to return the vehicle within five days. Defendant never actually read the letter but called Triangle after seeing the corresponding certified mail slip left by a postal worker. The Triangle manager testified the deadline for return of the vehicle was again extended, but Triangle’s file indicated there were no further extensions beyond May 24, 2011. The manager testified defendant did not return the vehicle or communicate with Triangle in any way following that last telephone conversation for more than two weeks. While the record indicated Triangle received four credit card payments and four cash payments from defendant, the manager indicated during his testimony that no payments were received after the May 23, 2011, telephone conversation.

The manager sent a second certified demand letter, but the return receipt bore the notation “unable to find.” He reported the vehicle as stolen on June 7.

Defendant claims there was insufficient evidence to prove she had the intent to never return the vehicle, and that she thought it had been paid for by her then-boyfriend.

Defendant does not dispute that the commonwealth’s evidence established the permissive inference of fraudulent intent afforded under Code § 18.2-117 based on her failure to return the vehicle within five days of May 24, 2011. Instead, she contends that her testimony at trial served to rebut the “prima facie evidence” established under the statute. At trial, defendant claimed she believed she and the Triangle branch had an arrangement that she could continue using the rental vehicle as long as she paid for the vehicle. She claimed she had given money to her then-boyfriend for the purpose of paying Triangle for the continued use of the rental vehicle. She testified she thought that payment had been made.

The evidence established that the extensios of the contract were not open-ended or unconditional. The parties’ course of conduct required defendant to communicate with Triangle to arrange for a later return date – and of course, to pay Triangle for her continued use of the rental vehicle. The trial court was not required to accept defendant’s testimony that she believed Triangle permitted her just “to keep the car” after May 24, 2011.

The trial court was able to infer that defendant’s complete lack of any communications with Triangle between May 24 and June 8 was consistent with the permissive inference of defendant’s fraudulent intent – which was already established by pendant’s failure to return the vehicle within five days of its final due date to be returned of May 24, 2011.

Judgment affirmed.

Reed v. Commonwealth (Beales) No. 1280-12-1, Aug. 6, 2013; USDC at Chesapeake Cir.Ct. (Parker) Jennifer L. Titter, APD, for appellant; John W. Blanton, AAG, for appellee. VLW 013-7-216, 12 pp.

VLW 013-7-216

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