Ask the Arlington-Fairfax Attorney: Do I Win My Case if There is a Mistake on the Warrant?

One of the most common misunderstandings in criminal and traffic law is that mistakes on the warrant or summons automatically results in a dismissal of the case.  Most of the time, such mistakes have no effect.

In a recent case, a man was on trial for Domestic Assault and Battery (also known as “Assault and Battery of a Family Member”).  Because it was alleged to be a third offense, the otherwise misdemeanor charge was elevated to a felony.

In order to convict him of the felony, the prosecutor needed to prove that the two prior convictions were valid.  He offered into evidence the Warrants of the two prior cases into evidence.  They both had a court order, signed by the judge, finding the man guilty and sentencing him to 90 days in jail.  However, the judgment never indicated the man’s plea or noted his presence in court.  Both of these are necessary for a conviction.  The man argued that the mistakes on these Warrants were fatal and that they couldn’t be used against him for the purposes of elevating his misdemeanor to a felony.

The Court of Appeals of Virginia disagreed.  It held that Virginia Code sec. 19.2-307, while requiring the judge to note a person’s plea on the judgement order, did not mean that a judgement without these was invalid.  Rather, the Court said that the trial judge was presumed to have followed the law.  It inferred that the man was present in court and provided no remedy for the lack of a recorded plea.

Mistakes such as this usually don’t have the punch many people assume.

The case is Farmer v. Commonwealth, 1389-12-1 (August 13, 2013).

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