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Victim impact statement was properly admitted

The trial court properly allowed a victim impact statement and testimony from a mother whose daughter died from an overdose of drugs that appellant supplied.


Samantha Rigdon and her young son lived with her mother, Deborah Rigdon (Rigdon). Rigdon picked the child up from daycare and went home. The child discovered Samantha was dead. A lottery ticket with powder, later proved to be heroin and fentanyl, was near her body. An autopsy revealed that she died from “heroin, fentanyl, and citalopram intoxication.”

By his own admission, appellant Laney supplied the heroin and fentanyl to Samantha. She had asked Laney to bring her drugs because she was suffering from withdrawal. Laney said he had no money. Samantha told him to get drugs from a dealer “who often fronted them drugs.”

Laney did so and brought the drugs to Samantha. “He and Samantha divided the drugs, used some, and split the rest.” between her and Laney. She gave him $70, which, in turn, Laney gave to the dealer.

In the trial court

“During the sentencing hearing, Laney objected to Rigdon’s victim impact statement and testimony regarding the death of her daughter. The court overruled the objection and permitted both the statement and testimony.

“Laney argued that his conviction should be reduced to distribution as an accommodation under Code § 18.2-248(D). The court denied the request, stating, ‘[T]his is not an accommodation. You profited from it, maybe not monetarily, but you didn’t have to pay for the drugs. She paid for them. You ingested them. You took some home.’

“The court did not disturb its prior order convicting Laney of distribution of fentanyl, third offense, and it sentenced him to 50 years’ incarceration, with 25 years suspended.”

 Victim impact statement

“Laney contends that the court erred by considering Rigdon’s victim impact testimony and written statement because she does not fit the definition of ‘victim’ in the Crime Victim and Witness Rights Act, Code §§ 19.2-11.01 to -11.4. …

“[T]he court found that Rigdon met the statute’s definition of victim because she was ‘a person who has suffered physical, psychological, or economic harm as a direct result of the commission of … a felony.’ … (emphasis added).

“On appeal, Laney argues the court made an error of law in determining that Rigdon suffered as a ‘direct result’ of his drug-distribution felony and abused its discretion by considering the victim impact evidence at sentencing.

“We need not decide whether Rigdon meets the statutory definition of victim because the record demonstrates that her testimony and written statement were admissible under Rock v. Commonwealth, 45 Va. App. 254 (2005).

“In Rock, we held that nothing in the Crime Victim and Witness Rights Act prohibits a court from admitting relevant evidence or testimony from other witnesses who do not meet the statutory definition of ‘victim.’ …

“Although these other witnesses do not have statutorily protected rights to testify or present written statements, the Act does not bar this type of evidence. …

“Rigdon presented evidence regarding her daughter Samantha’s overdose from drugs supplied by Laney and its impact on the family. Samantha and her son lived with Rigdon. Rigdon watched her grandson run into Samantha’s bedroom upon getting home from daycare, and she heard her grandson’s exclamations when he found Samantha unconscious.

“When Rigdon herself went into the bedroom, she saw that Samantha was dead. Samantha was within arm’s length of heroin and fentanyl.

“Rigdon also testified that she had previously ‘asked [Samantha] if [Laney] was a drug dealer and she said yes,’ which served to rebut Laney’s claim that he merely distributed the drugs as an accommodation.

“Under the circumstances of this case, Rigdon’s testimony and written statement constituted relevant evidence for the court to consider in imposing sentence.”

Laney argues that Rock should be overturned. “The interpanel-accord doctrine, however, precludes us from doing so.” Only the Court of Appeals sitting en banc or the Virginia Supreme Court can overrule a prior Court of Appeals decision.


“Code § 18.2-248(D) allows a reduced sentence if a defendant distributes drugs ‘only as an accommodation to another individual … and not with intent to profit thereby from any consideration received or expected nor to induce the recipient or intended recipient of the controlled substance to use or become addicted to or dependent upon such controlled substance.’ …

“Laney argues that he did not intend to profit from the transaction and therefore he should have been sentenced under the accommodation provision of the statute.

“However, the court found that Laney did not meet his burden of proof, and this finding is not plainly wrong. Laney did not have money to buy drugs, so he obtained the money from Samantha and then kept some of the drugs he bought for his own use.

“Even assuming Laney wanted to help Samantha through her debilitating withdrawal symptoms, the record supports a finding that he also intended to profit by allowing Samantha to buy and share drugs that he could not purchase for himself.”


Laney v. Commonwealth, Record No. 0833-21-2, Dec. 6, 2022. CAV (O’Brien). From the Circuit Court of New Kent County (Bondurant). Ivan D. Fehrenbach for appellant. Matthew J. Beyrau, Jason S. Miyares for appellee. VLW 022-7-552, 8 pp.

VLW 022-7-552

Virginia Lawyers Weekly