Harmless error ruling not challenged, conviction upheld

Virginia Lawyers Weekly//April 10, 2019

Harmless error ruling not challenged, conviction upheld

Virginia Lawyers Weekly//April 10, 2019

Where a police officer, after fatally wounding a shoplifting suspect, told a store loss-prevention officer, “I need you as a witness. It’s my second one[,]” his voluntary manslaughter conviction is affirmed because he did not challenge the Court of Appeals’ ruling that any error in admitting the statement was harmless.


Rankin, a police officer, fatally wounded a suspect in 2011. A grand jury declined to indict him. The suspect’s family unsuccessfully sued him.

In 2015, he responded to a suspected shoplifting incident. Provo, the store’s loss prevention officer, accompanied Rankin as they approached Chapman, the suspect. Chapman put his hand in his pocket and started walking away.

Rankin apprehended Chapman and held him face down on the police cruiser’s hood. Rankin warned Chapman that he would use a taser if Chapman did not remove his hand from his pocket. When Chapman did not comply, Rankin activated the taser. Chapman knocked the taser from Rankin’s hand. Rankin drew his gun and ordered Chapman to the ground. Provo said the Chapman took “a ‘jab step’ as ‘if he was [] about to fight.’” Rankin then shot Chapman twice. The wounds were fatal.

Soon after the shooting, Rankin told Provo, “I need you as a witness. This is my second one. Don’t leave.” The camera on Rankin’s taser recorded this statement.


Rankin was indicted for first-degree murder. Before trial, the circuit court granted Rankin’s motion in limine to exclude any evidence of the 2011 shooting. The court ruled such evidence would be highly prejudicial but did not specifically address the admissibility of Rankin’s statement, “It’s my second one.”

Later, Rankin filed a second motion in limine to exclude that statement. The court denied the motion. The statement was admitted multiple times during the Commonwealth’s case. The jury convicted Rankin of voluntary manslaughter.

In the Court of Appeals, Rankin argued that the circuit court erred by admitting the statement. The Court of Appeals disagreed. The court noted the statement did not indicate that Rankin had shot and killed another person. The Court of Appeals also said, “because the statement ‘was relevant to establishing [Rankin’s] premeditation, motive or intent, feelings toward the victim, and the absence of mistake or accident,’ it ‘came within well established exceptions to the rule against admitting evidence that the accused had committed other crimes.’”

The appeals court further ruled that any error in admitting the statement was harmless.

In his assignment of error to this court, Rankin asserted that the trial court erred by admitting the statement. He did not challenge the harmless-error ruling.


The Court of Appeals reasoned that any error was harmless, given that “Rankin had a fair trial on the merits and that substantial justice was reached because the jury ‘heard testimony from all of the witnesses’ and ‘found [Rankin] guilty of the lesser-included offense of voluntary manslaughter.’ …

“A determination that error in a lower court’s ruling was harmless provides a sufficient legal foundation for affirming the judgment of the lower court. … Accordingly, because Rankin failed to assign error to the Court of Appeals’ holding that any error was harmless, we affirm the judgment of the Court of Appeals.”

Rankin v. Commonwealth. (Published Order) Record No. 180812 (Court of Appeals) March 28, 2019; James Orlando Broccoletti, Randall Joseph Leeman Jr., Nicole Ann Belote for Appellant; Virginia Bidwell Theisen for Appellee. VLW 019-6-018, 5 pp.

VLW 019-6-018

Virginia Lawyers Weekly


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