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False pretenses conviction appeal waived by brief deficiencies

A defendant’s conviction for obtaining funds using false pretenses based on her withdrawal of $110 in cash after she had deposited two checks into her account that were subsequently rejected was upheld because the significant deficiencies in her appellate brief waived her argument that the exclusion of testimony regarding why the two checks were rejected meant that there was insufficient evidence to establish the fraudulent intent required to sustain her conviction.


Maile L. Collier was charged with two counts of uttering forged checks, based on her deposit of two checks into her SunTrust Bank account, and one count of obtaining money of less than $200 by false pretenses, based on withdrawing $110 from that account.

Collier opened her SunTrust account on May 7, 2015. On May 20, she deposited a check for $3,000 into the account. Two days later, she deposited a second check in the amount of $3,200. Both checks were drawn on the account of Frank J. Rodrigues Jr., at a bank in Hawaii. SunTrust received notice on May 27 and 28 that neither check was honored when presented to the Hawaiian bank for payment. SunTrust provided Collier with copies of the rejected checks and immediately removed the funds from her account.

Between May 21 and 26, Collier made three cash deposits totaling $110. She also made a series of several large withdrawals from the account between May 22 and 26. On June 1, 2015, SunTrust closed the account because it was overdrawn by more than $5,000.

The Rodrigues checks and the records for Collier’s SunTrust account were admitted into evidence through Deborah Lagory, a security investigator and records custodian for the bank. However, the court sustained Collier’s objection to Lagory’s testimony regarding why the Hawaiian bank dishonored the Rodrigues checks. At the prosecutor’s request, the judge compared the handwriting on the two Rodrigues checks and found that the signatures were not the same.

Nevertheless, the judge granted Collier’s motion to strike the two uttering charges because there was no evidence to indicate what Rodrigues’s real signature looked like. However, the court found that the circumstantial evidence was sufficient to prove Collier’s intent to defraud and convicted her of the false pretenses charge. This appeal followed.


Collier’s sole assignment of error challenges the sufficiency of the evidence to prove her guilt for obtaining money by false pretense given the trial court’s exclusion of testimony regarding why the checks were not honored. She does not challenge the court’s ruling excluding the evidence, which was made in her favor. There is no evidence to suggest that the trial court, after making that ruling, improperly considered the reason the checks were not honored as part of the basis of its finding of guilt.

Collier’s brief, however, sets out only the standard of review for the admissibility of the evidence that was actually excluded, a ruling not challenged by the assignment of error. It does not set out the standard of review for analyzing the sufficiency of the evidence, the only aspect of the trial court’s ruling actually challenged by the assignment of error. It also provides no framework for the analysis of circumstantial evidence to prove an offense.

Additionally, the argument section of the brief does not contain any legal authorities. It does not cite the statute defining the crime of false pretenses or any case law listing the elements of the challenged offense. Nor does it provide any authority in support of Collier’s assertion that, absent any evidence she knew why the checks from Hawaii were not honored before she withdrew the funds at issue from her account, there was not any competent evidence of intent, circumstantial or direct, sufficient to convict her.

It is not the role of the courts, trial or appellate, to research or construct a litigant’s case or arguments for him or her. Where a party fails to develop an argument in support of his or her contention or merely constructs a skeletal argument, the issue is waived. Here, the deficiencies in Collier’s brief are so significant that they require treating her assignment of error as waived.


Collier v. Commonwealth of Virginia, Record No. 1194-18-2, May 28, 2019. CAV (Decker), from Petersburg Cir. Ct. (D’Alton). Steven P. Hanna for Appellant; John I. Jones for Appellee. VLW 019-7-097. 7 pp. Unpublished.