Police and prosecutors often cite and prosecute defendants for various crimes in response to conduct that they see as inappropriate or unlawful. Occasionally, prosecutors will seek convictions for a crime that contains elements not met by the defendant’s conduct. Juries are not perfect and prosecutors can be persuasive, sometimes obtaining convictions for crimes that are wholly unsupported by the evidence presented at trial. The Virginia Court of Appeals recently reversed the conviction of a woman who was found guilty of contributing to the delinquency of a minor, finding that the elements of the crime were not actually proven by prosecutors at her trial.
The defendant in the recently heard case is a woman whose daughter called 911 from the backseat of the defendant’s car while being driven home. The daughter reported that her mother was driving erratically and that she was scared. Police arrived at the defendant’s house after she had made it home without incident, and performed field sobriety tests. The defendant was found to have a small amount of an anti-anxiety medication in her system, which she was legally prescribed. Police arrested the woman and charged her with DUI and contributing to the delinquency of a minor. At trial, the defendant was convicted only of the charge of contributing to the delinquency of a minor.
The defendant appealed the verdict to the state court of appeals, arguing that the elements of the charge of contributing to the delinquency of a minor were not proven by the prosecution at trial. Specifically, the defendant claimed that the prosecution provided no evidence that the child was in need of any services that the government could provide, or that the child was in continuing danger without the court’s intervention. The high court agreed with the defendant, finding that the charge of contributing to the delinquency of a minor required that prosecutors prove that the minor was in danger without court intervention and that some type of services were necessary to protect the child from harm. Because the prosecution presented no evidence on these two elements of the crime, the conviction was reversed.
This recent case demonstrates that police and prosecutors may pursue charges for crimes that are not reflective of a defendant’s alleged conduct. Contributing to the delinquency of a minor is a charge reserved for scenarios where a parent or other adult puts a child in danger by failing to properly provide for the child’s well-being. The defendant’s alleged conduct of endangering the child by driving unsafely while possibly under the influence of an intoxicating drug is not the type of conduct that the charged crime is designed to address. By persuading the jury that the defendant did something wrong, and using proposed jury instructions and closing arguments that misrepresented the elements of the crime, the prosecution managed to get a conviction for a crime the defendant clearly did not commit. Only after a long and difficult appeal process was the defendant exculpated for her alleged criminal conduct.
Do You Face Virginia Charges Related to a DUI Arrest?
Defendants are arrested for or charged with crimes in Virginia every day, and many of these allegations are not supported by evidence gathered by law enforcement. Without a qualified Virginia criminal defense attorney to fight for their rights, defendants may be convicted of a crime that they did not commit. If you or a loved one has been charged with a crime, the skilled Virginia DUI defense attorneys at Robinson Law, PLLC can help you fight the charges. Our experienced Virginia criminal defense lawyers have represented clients charged with many Virginia criminal offenses, including DUIs and child endangerment claims. If you’ve been arrested or charged with a crime, call 703-542-3616 to discuss your case and schedule a free consultation with one of our attorneys today.