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Public assistance falsely obtained

Where appellant was convicted of falsely applying for public assistance and two counts of falsely obtaining public assistance, there is sufficient evidence that she signed two required interim reports, falsely representing that she was not working and had no income.

Evidentiary issue

“Canty argues that the evidence is insufficient to sustain her convictions because the Commonwealth failed to prove that Canty signed the two interim reports that are the basis of the convictions. Canty argues that the Commonwealth did not call a witness familiar with Canty’s handwriting to identify the signature. Canty also contends that the trial court did not compare the contested signature with a verified sample. We disagree.”


“While the Commonwealth may establish the authenticity of a signature on a document using either an expert witness or a lay witness familiar with the alleged signer’s handwriting, … it is not required to do so.

“It is well-established that the authenticity of a signature on a document may also ‘be shown by direct or circumstantial evidence. … Circumstantial evidence is as acceptable to prove guilt as direct evidence, and in some cases, such as proof of intent or knowledge, it is practically the only method of proof.’ …

“[T]he circumstantial evidence established that Canty signed both interim reports. On every application submitted, Canty provided the same home address, and her contact information, including the address, had not changed.

“While Canty testified that she moved from house to house and lived in a hotel, she admitted that her home address remained her mailing address and she continued to receive her mail there. While her boyfriend had lived at the home at some point, he was in prison during the relevant time and did not have access to the home.

“Canty continued to receive the benefits after the reports were submitted. Further, Canty admitted that the disputed signature on the February 2019 interim report was similar to her genuine signature on the authorization form.

“In addition, it is well-established that verified signatures may be compared with disputed signatures by a factfinder, without the necessity of an expert witness. … Here, the trial court compared Canty’s acknowledged signature to the February 2018 interim report and found that it was the ‘same.’

“Although the trial court did not make explicit factual findings regarding the signature on the second interim report, a court is not obligated to discuss its examination of every piece of evidence for the record. …

“Canty testified that she ‘thought that income meant you had money to spend and money coming in.’ She also claimed that she ‘didn’t start or stop a new job’ when she started back with the Southern Virginia Higher Education Center in December 2017; she just ‘returned to work.’

“The trial court was entitled to reject that testimony and infer her prevarications were made ‘in an effort to conceal [her] guilt.’ …

“Given the trial court’s explicit ruling that the signature on the February 2018 interim form was the same as Canty’s acknowledged signature, along with the circumstantial evidence presented at trial, the evidence was sufficient to prove that Canty signed both the February 2018 and February 2019 interim forms.”


Canty v. Commonwealth, Record No. 0844-21-3, Aug. 30, 2022. CAV (AtLee Jr.) From the Circuit Court of the City of Danville (Moreau). M. Lee Smallwood II for appellant. Jason D. Reed, Jason S. Miyares for appellee. VLW 022-7-363, 7 pp.

VLW 022-7-363

Virginia Lawyers Weekly