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Sufficient evidence supports unlawful wounding convictions

In a fight among three brothers, in which two were stabbed and appellant was the only one armed with a knife, the trial court’s conviction of two counts of unlawful wounding is affirmed.

Further, the trial court correctly rejected appellant’s claim of self-defense.

Unlawful wounding

Appellant Dustin Gram argues on appeal there was insufficient evidence to support his convictions.

“[T]he evidence adduced at trial shows that both Drew and Tristin received injuries consistent with the reckless wielding of a knife by Dustin. A wounding is unlawful, rather than malicious, if it results from ‘heat of passion,’ such as rage or fear, rather than malice. …

“It was uncontroverted that the brothers got into an altercation after Dustin’s rage-filled tirade against their mother. Neither Tristin, nor Drew, testified to having a weapon of any kind during the altercation. Dustin admitted in his own testimony that he possessed a knife during the fight, which was later found in his car. …

“Dustin contends that because neither of the brothers could testify as to exactly how their injuries occurred, the Commonwealth’s circumstantial evidence was insufficient to disprove every reasonable hypothesis of innocence. …

“Drew received a deep cut to his hand, which the fact finder credibly found was caused by Dustin’s knife due to the depth of the wound. Tristin also received an open stab wound in the side and a slice wound to his ear, which the trial court determined were caused by the knife used by Dustin in the altercation. The trial court found Dustin’s self-serving version of events incredible.

“Since Dustin was the only individual holding a knife during the mutual combat between the brothers, based upon this circumstance, as well as other testimony related to the altercation, it was reasonable for the trial court to conclude that the wounds were caused by the knife wielded by Dustin in the altercation.

“As a result, we find that there was sufficient evidence for the trial court to find that Dustin unlawfully wounded his brothers.

“Additionally, the Commonwealth is not required to conclusively show how Drew and Tristin received their wounds. Instead, the finder of fact may infer from the circumstances of this case (i.e., that the wounds were of a type caused by a knife, and Dustin was the only combatant who used a knife during the fight) that Dustin unlawfully wounded his brothers.

“In any event, we are not permitted to substitute our own judgment for the factual conclusion drawn by the finder of fact if it is supported by the evidence. … The ruling of the trial court was, therefore, not plainly wrong or without evidence to support the conviction.”

Self-defense

“The trial court reasonably determined that Dustin was the initial aggressor in the fight, having threatened to kill everyone in the home prior to the commencement of the altercation. Dustin wielded a knife throughout the altercation, which the trial court reasonably concluded resulted in the significant injuries suffered by both of his younger brothers.

“Given the totality of the evidence considered by the trial court, it was not plainly wrong for the trial court to find that Dustin did not act in self-defense.”

Affirmed.

Gram v. Commonwealth, Record No. 0728-19-4, March 3, 2020. CAV (Athey) from Prince William Cir. Ct. (Haddock). Meredith M. Ralls for appellant, Katherine Quinlan Adelfio for appellee. VLW 020-7-037, 9 pp. Unpublished.

VLW 020-7-037

Virginia Lawyers Weekly