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Elam v. Commonwealth

Supreme Court of Virginia. at Richmond
Mar 8, 1985
326 S.E.2d 685 (Va. 1985)

Summary

holding victim's factual testimony and medical evidence supported conviction for rape despite victim's conclusory statement that defendant "didn't rape me" because "the jury could rationally discount the [conflict] . . . as the product of lay ignorance of . . . legal principles"

Summary of this case from Sayers v. Commonwealth

Opinion

44769 Record No. 840465

Decided March 8, 1985

Present: All the Justices

Convictions for rape and breaking and entering with intent to commit rape affirmed over challenges to sufficiency of the evidence of penetration and to the seating of a juror related to a former prosecuting attorney as well as some who were formerly clients of the present Commonwealth's Attorney.

Criminal Law — Rape — Sufficiency of Evidence — Penetration — Jury Trial — Impartiality of Relative of Former Prosecutor as Juror — Former Clients of Prosecutor as Jurors

In a rape prosecution, the court seated five jurors challenged by defendant; one was the sister of a former Commonwealth's Attorney and four were former clients of the incumbent Commonwealth's Attorney. All were interrogated by the court and defense counsel, and all declared that the relationships noted would not affect the ability to give the defendant a fair trial. The trial court overruled the defense objections.

The victim, a crippled 87-year-old woman, testified that defendant broke into her home, wakened her, threatened her and tore off some of her clothes. She testified that he tried to rape her but she was unable to say whether defendant's penis penetrated her vagina. The Commonwealth produced evidence of a tear in the victim's vaginal tissue, partly outside and partly inside the entrance, which caused bleeding. Blood of the victim's type was found in defendant's pubic area and the residue of seminal fluid was found in a blanket on the victim's bed. Defendant was convicted on both counts and was sentenced to life and 20 years.

1. Penetration by a penis of a vagina is an essential element of the crime of rape; proof of penetration, however slight, is sufficient; ejaculation is not required; no hypothesis of penetration with another object is sufficient to reverse a conviction unless based on probative evidence rather than conjecture. Tuggle v. Commonwealth, 228 Va. 493, 323 S.E.2d 539 (1984), applied.

2. The Jury may discount the uncertainty of the victim on the fact of penetration with sufficient circumstantial evidence to support a finding that penetration occurred.

3. The circumstantial evidence of penetration in this case, and the absence of another explanation for the laceration and bleeding of the victim, is sufficient to support the rape conviction.

4. Whether a juror related to counsel may sit in a criminal case need not be addressed in this case, since the juror was not related to the Commonwealth's Attorney presently in office and prosecuting this case; moreover, the allocution negated any suspicion of bias.

5. There is no per se disqualification of a prospective juror simply because the Commonwealth's Attorney has sometime in the past represented him. Calhoun v. Commonwealth, 226 Va. 256, 263, 307 S.E.2d 896, 900 (1983), followed.

Appeal from a judgment of the Circuit Court of Charlotte County. Hon. John R. Snoddy, Jr., judge presiding.

Affirmed.

James E. Ghee for appellant.

Marla Lynn Graff, Assistant Attorney General (Gerald L. Baliles, Attorney General, on brief), for appellee.


A jury convicted Frank Linwood Elam under separate indictments, tried jointly, charging rape and breaking and entering with intent to commit rape. Confirming the verdict, the trial court imposed penitentiary sentences of life and 20 years.

In his appeal of the rape conviction, Elam contends that "the prosecution failed to show penetration". Otherwise, he does not challenge the sufficiency of the evidence as to either conviction. Elam broke and entered the prosecutrix's mobile home, wakened her in her bed, "jerked the cover off", told her that "he was mean as the devil and he'd do something to hurt [her]", and "jerked off some of [her] clothes." The prosecutrix, 87 years of age and crippled, "commenced yelling" and tried to resist the assault, but her efforts "didn't do no good."

As proof that penetration never occurred, the defendant relies upon the following excerpt from the transcript of the victim's testimony:

Q. All right, after he jerked off your clothes, what did he do?

A. Well, he didn't rape me; I don't think he raped me; but it seemed like they thought he did.

Q. Did he try to put his penis into your sexual organ?

A. Yes.

Q. But you don't know whether he got it in or not?

A. No, I don't, but it liked to scared me to death.

We agree with the defendant that this testimony, while sufficient to prove attempted rape, is insufficient, standing alone, to prove rape. But it does not stand alone, and we do not agree that it forecloses proof of penetration.

[1-3] To the lay person, rape is generally construed to mean total consummation of an act of sexual intercourse, committed forcibly and with complete penetration. But the law does not define the crime in the vernacular. We have recently summarized and reaffirmed the legal principles. Penetration by a penis of a vagina is an essential element of the crime of rape; proof of penetration, however slight the entry may be, is sufficient; evidence of ejaculation is not required; and no hypothesis that penetration was accomplished by some object other than a penis is sufficient to reverse a conviction unless it reasonably flows from the evidence itself rather than the imagination of counsel. Tuggle v. Commonwealth, 228 Va. 493, 323 S.E.2d 539 (1984). Given the circumstantial evidence of penetration adduced by the Commonwealth in this case, the jury could rationally discount the uncertainty reflected in the prosecutrix's testimony as the product of lay ignorance of these legal principles.

The medical and forensic evidence was compelling. The examining physician testified that he found a vaginal laceration "about the length of my little finger in the vertical position, and about twice that in the horizontal position." He said that "half of the vertical tear, was outside of the entrance, and the other half was inside." The "dome of the vagina . . . [was] reddened as if it had been struck by something." Type A blood, consistent with that of the prosecutrix and inconsistent with that of the defendant, was found on the bed, on the defendant's clothes, and in his pubic area. There was no evidence of ejaculation in or about the vagina, but a blanket contained the residue of seminal fluid.

There is nothing in the record to account for the laceration and bleeding other than the prosecutrix's testimony that the defendant attempted forcible intercourse, and we hold that the evidence of penetration was fully sufficient to support the rape conviction.

Attacking both convictions, Elam argues that he was denied his Sixth Amendment right to trial by an impartial jury. He challenged the impartiality of one member of the venire because she was the sister of a former Commonwealth's Attorney and that of four other members because they were former clients of the incumbent Commonwealth's Attorney. All five were interrogated individually by the court and defense counsel, each declared that his relationship would not affect his ability to give the defendant a fair trial, and the court overruled the defendant's several objections.

Affirming the common-law rule, we have held that a person is not disqualified to sit as a juror in a civil case solely because he is related to counsel for one of the parties. Petcosky v. Bowman, 197 Va. 240, 253-54, 89 S.E.2d 4, 14 (1955) (first cousin). We have never had occasion to consider whether that rule applies in a criminal case, and we do not now. The prospective juror was not related to the attorney representing the Commonwealth in this case, and her answers on voir dire contradict any suspicion of bias.

There is no merit in Elam's challenge to the other four veniremen. The question is squarely controlled by our decision in Calhoun v. Commonwealth, 226 Va. 256, 263, 307 S.E.2d 896, 900 (1983), where we said that "we will not adopt a per se rule disqualifying a prospective juror solely on the ground that sometime in the past the Commonwealth's Attorney had represented him."

Finding no error in the court below, we will affirm the judgments in both cases.

Affirmed.


Summaries of

Elam v. Commonwealth

Supreme Court of Virginia. at Richmond
Mar 8, 1985
326 S.E.2d 685 (Va. 1985)

holding victim's factual testimony and medical evidence supported conviction for rape despite victim's conclusory statement that defendant "didn't rape me" because "the jury could rationally discount the [conflict] . . . as the product of lay ignorance of . . . legal principles"

Summary of this case from Sayers v. Commonwealth

holding medical and forensic evidence of physical injury to be sufficient circumstantial evidence, along with other evidence, to prove rape, despite the prosecutrix's testimony that she did not believe she had been raped

Summary of this case from Taylor v. Commonwealth

In Elam, the victim testified that she did not know if the appellant actually penetrated her, and specifically testified, "he didn't rape me; I don't think he raped me."

Summary of this case from Roberts v. Commonwealth

In Elam, the Court allowed medical evidence of the tearing of skin to prove penetration when the victim did not know whether the assailant had raped her during the assault.

Summary of this case from Taylor v. Commonwealth

In Elam, the victim, an eighty-seven year old woman, testified that she did not know if the defendant actually penetrated her. The Supreme Court held that the circumstantial evidence created a jury issue as to whether penetration in fact occurred.

Summary of this case from Morrison v. Commonwealth
Case details for

Elam v. Commonwealth

Case Details

Full title:FRANK LINWOOD ELAM v. COMMONWEALTH OF VIRGINIA

Court:Supreme Court of Virginia. at Richmond

Date published: Mar 8, 1985

Citations

326 S.E.2d 685 (Va. 1985)
326 S.E.2d 685

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