August 13, 2013:
The Virginia Court of Appeals upheld a felony conviction by the Circuit Court of the City of Portsmouth for assault and battery of a family member, in violation of Virginia Code §18.2-57.2(B). The Court of Appeals further held that the Circuit Court of the City of Portsmouth did not abuse its discretion in admitting three certified criminal warrants from the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court for the purpose of proving appellant’s predicate misdemeanor convictions for assault and battery of a family member.
At trial, the Commonwealth asserted that appellant was subject to felony provisions for offense of assault and battery of a family member. Under Virginia law this requires proof of at least two predicate misdemeanor convictions for the same offense. The Commonwealth offered into evidence, three criminal warrants showing that appellant was charged and found guilty on three counts of the offense in question. On appeal, appellant argued that the warrants were “fatally deficient” because they did not indicate whether he plead guilty, not guilty, or nolo contendere. Further, they did not reflect whether appellant was actually present in court when he was tried and found guilty.
Evidence is rendered admissible when it is relevant, having any logical tendency to establish a fact at issue. Further it must be material, being related to a matter at issue. The trial court is given broad discretion, and the judgment shall not be disturbed unless there is an abuse of discretion. Under Virginia law prior convictions may be proved by any competent evidence. The fact finder must be able to infer, free from conjecture, that defendant was in fact convicted.
All three conviction orders bear the signature of the Juvenile and Domestic Relations judge and the date, reasonably indicating that appellant was in fact tried and found guilty of the three offenses. The Virginia Court of Appeals rejected appellant’s argument the orders were irrelevant because under Virginia Code § 19.2-307, a judgment order must indicate a defendant’s plea. Indeed the court holds that such a finding would be “patently absurd.” The statute makes no mention of admissibility of the evidence, and in fact Virginia Code § 8.01-389 states that any record of a judicial proceeding shall be accepted a prima facie evidence so long as it is properly authenticated and certified. Appellant makes no objection to the authenticity or certification or the conviction orders.
Further, the Virginia Court of Appeals has previously held that a certified warrant with indication of the adjudication is admissible as evidence, even if it lacks the criteria required of a judgment order under Virginia Code § 19.2-307. With respect to appellant’s presence in the courtroom during the prior trials, adjudicated criminal cases are presumed to have been carried out correctly unless evidence is produced to the contrary. As such, the Court of Appeals presumed that the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court did not try appellant in absentia. Appellant offered no evidence to the contrary. In light of the fact that there was no evidence the trial court abused its discretion, the felony conviction was affirmed.