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Jimenez v. Commonwealth

Supreme Court of Virginia
Mar 1, 1991
241 Va. 244 (Va. 1991)

Summary

holding that a manifest injustice occurred because the jury was not properly instructed on the elements of the offense and the Commonwealth failed to prove the omitted element

Summary of this case from Brittle v. Com

Opinion

46830 Record No. 9007712

March 1, 1991

Present: All the Justices

Since a 15-day notice of demand for repayment required in a criminal statute was a material element of the offense charged and that element was omitted from the jury instruction, and evidence addressing it was not produced, the defendant was convicted of a non-offense. In order to attain the ends of justice, the conviction is reversed and the indictment is dismissed.

Criminal Law — Obtaining Money with Fraudulent Intent — Construction Advances — Criminal Procedure — Notice Requirement — Jury Instructions — Sufficiency of the Evidence — Rules of Court — Rule 5:25

The defendant was tried by a jury on a felony indictment charging that he obtained advances of money from the victims, with fraudulent intent, upon a promise to construct a building and that he failed or refused to perform the promise in violation of Code Sec. 18.2-200.1. The defendant had begun work and spent a large portion of the advances on materials and workmen to build a garage. However, he received other advances which he failed to use as he had agreed. He ceased work and the victims returned some of the unused materials. The jury found the defendant guilty and the trial court sentenced him in accordance with the verdict. The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court's judgment and the defendant appeals.

1. Code Sec. 18.2-200.1 provides that if a person receives advances of money with fraudulent intent and fails to make good such advance, he shall be deemed guilty of larceny of such money if he fails to return the advance within 15 days of a request to do so sent by certified mail, return receipt requested, to his last known address or to the address listed in the contract.

2. The Commonwealth failed to prove that such a written request for return of the advance was sent to the defendant, or that he failed to return such advance within 15 days of such request. The jury instruction did not inform the jury that, to convict the defendant, the jury was required to find proof, beyond a reasonable doubt, of such a request for payment and such failure to make payment.

3. Since defendant's trial counsel failed to object to the instruction or to challenge the sufficiency of the evidence on this ground, the Court of Appeals held that the defendant had waived his right to raise these issues for the first time on appeal. Rule 5A:18.

4. Rule 5A:18, one of the rules governing the proceedings in the Court of Appeals, is almost identical to the Supreme Court's Rule 5:25. The purpose of both is to protect the Courts from appeals based upon undisclosed grounds, to prevent the setting of traps on appeal, to enable the trial judge to rule intelligently, and to avoid unnecessary reversals and mistrials.

5. It is a rare case in which, rather than invoke Rule 5:25, the Court relies upon the exception and considers error not preserved at trial to enable it to attain the ends of justice.

6. In a capital murder trial where defense counsel had neither objected to the trial court's erroneous ruling that, under the evidence, capital murder was the only offense of which the defendant could be convicted or proffered an instruction on felony murder of the first degree, the Court reversed the capital murder conviction, and remanded the case for a new trial under proper jury instructions.

7. When a principle of law is materially vital to a defendant in a criminal case, a trial court has an affirmative duty to properly instruct the jury about the matter. The trial court is not required to amend or correct the erroneous instruction, but when the principle of law is materially vital to a defendant in a criminal case, it is reversible error for the trial court to refuse a defective instruction instead of correcting it and giving it in the proper form.

8. A criminal statute must be strictly construed. That the defendant had actual notice of a demand for return of advances does not mean that the statutory requirement of a written notice by certified mail was waived.

9. The notice requirement of the statute was a material element of the offense charged, and the omission of the element of the jury instruction, as well as the failure to produce evidence thereof, constitutes reversible error.

10. Since the granted jury instruction omitted some essential elements of the offense of which defendant was charged and no evidence was produced relating to those elements, the defendant was convicted of a non-offense. To attain the ends of justice, the conviction must be dismissed and the indictment dismissed.

Appeal from a judgment of the Court of Appeals of Virginia

Reversed and dismissed.

J. Heather Mitchell for appellant.

Eugene Murphy, Assistant Attorney General (Mary Sue Terry, Attorney General, on brief), for appellee.


In this appeal, a defendant challenges the sufficiency of the evidence and the granting of a jury instruction, notwithstanding his failure properly to preserve the alleged errors at trial. Consequently, we must decide whether to invoke Rule 5:25, the so-called contemporaneous objection rule, or to apply the rule's exception, in order "to attain the ends of justice."

Eddie Allen Jimenez was tried by a jury on a felony indictment charging that he "did obtain from James O. Simpkins and Sandra D. Simpkins . . . advances of money, with fraudulent intent, upon a promise to perform construction of a building, and did fail or refuse to perform such promise, and . . . to substantially make good such . . . advances," in violation of Code Sec. 18.2-200.1. The jury found Jimenez guilty as charged in the indictment and fixed his punishment at 12 months in jail and a $1,000 fine. The Circuit Court of Montgomery County sentenced Jimenez in accordance with the verdict.

Jimenez appealed his conviction to the Court of Appeals. The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court's judgment, Jimenez v. Commonwealth, 10 Va. App. 277, 10 S.E.2d 277 (1990), and we granted Jimenez this appeal.

Jimenez contracted with the Simpkinses to build them a four-bay garage at a cost not to exceed $12,700. The contract contained various specifications and provided that Jimenez would erect a garage of "fine quality good construction." Jimenez agreed to commence work on October 5, 1987, and, barring any acts of God or other unforeseen circumstances, to complete the structure no later than October 3l, 1987.

During contract negotiations, Jimenez falsely represented himself as a licensed, bonded contractor. When the contract was executed, Jimenez was 26 years old and had been engaged in construction work, "[o]n and off," for 12 years.

During the first two to three weeks of October, Jimenez purchased materials, rented equipment, and performed certain work on the project, with money advanced to him by the Simpkinses. By the agreed completion date, Jimenez had received advances totaling $12,816. The work on the garage, however, was not completed.

On two occasions, Jimenez obtained advances from the Simpkinses by making specific promises to use the money to perform work immediately. Jimenez defaulted on those promises. On one occasion, the Simpkinses advanced $1,540 to Jimenez which he promised would be used to pay for pouring the concrete floor in the garage. Jimenez did not use the advancement to pay for the concrete, and the floor never was poured. On another occasion, Jimenez requested an advance of $500, and promised to use the funds to pay a block mason. Jimenez received the $500, but he never paid the mason. Jimenez never returned these two advancements to the Simpkinses.

Jimenez presented receipts showing that he had purchased $11,690.16 worth of materials which were delivered to the job site. He also claimed that he had paid a foreman approximately $1,200, an electrician approximately $650, and two other workers approximately $2,056. Thus, according to Jimenez, he spent more money on the project than he received in advances from the Simpkinses.

After Jimenez ceased work, the Simpkinses returned certain unused materials to suppliers and received a refund of $1,066.14. The Simpkinses then obtained an $8,077 estimate from another contractor to complete the job.

Code Sec. 18.2-200.1, under which Jimenez was indicted and tried, provides, in pertinent part, as follows:

If any person obtain from another an advance of money, . . . with fraudulent intent, upon a promise to perform construction, . . . and fail or refuse to perform such promise, and also fail to substantially make good such advance, he shall be deemed guilty of the larceny of such money, merchandise or other thing if he fails to return such advance within fifteen days of a request to do so sent by certified mail, return receipt requested, to his last known address or to the address listed in the contract.

(Emphasis added.)

The Commonwealth failed to prove that a written request for return of an advance was sent to Jimenez by certified mail, return receipt requested, or that Jimenez failed to return such advance within 15 days of such request. Additionally, the trial court's jury instruction did not inform the jury that, to convict Jimenez, the jury was required to find proof, beyond a reasonable doubt, of such a written request for payment and of Jimenez's failure to make such payment within 15 days.

The instruction that the trial court granted provides, in pertinent part, that
[t]he Commonwealth must prove beyond a reasonable doubt each of the following elements of [the] crime:
1. That [Jimenez] obtained an advance of money by promising to perform construction or improvement of a building or structure permanently annexed to real estate; and
2. That [Jimenez], with the intent to defraud, failed or refused to perform this promise; and
3. That [Jimenez] failed to repay [the Simpkinses] the money advanced to him.

Jimenez's trial counsel neglected to object to the instruction. His counsel also neglected to challenge the sufficiency of the evidence on this ground.

Invoking its contemporaneous objection rule, Rule 5A:18, the Court of Appeals held that Jimenez had waived his right to raise these issues for the first time on appeal. Jimenez, 10 Va. App. at 281, 392 S.E.2d at 830. The Court of Appeals noted that Rule 5A:18 "does not permit an issue not raised at trial to be raised for the first time upon appeal, unless necessary to attain the ends of justice." Id., The Court of Appeals concluded that "[n]o obvious miscarriage of justice is shown" on the record in this case because the record "supports the finding that [Jimenez] fraudulently obtained the two advances." Id., While conceding that the evidence fails to show that "demand was made by certified mail, return receipt requested, of [Jimenez] to return the advances within fifteen days," the Court of Appeals stated that "the evidence does show that in a face to face confrontation, the Simpkins[es] made demand of [Jimenez] for the return of the advances." Id.

This "confrontation" occurred by telephone only six days prior to Jimenez's arrest.

Rule 5A:18, one of the rules governing proceedings in the Court of Appeals, is virtually identical to Rule 5:25, one of the rules governing proceedings before this Court. The purpose of Rule 5:25 is "to protect the trial court from appeals based upon undisclosed grounds, to prevent the setting of traps on appeal, to enable the trial judge to rule intelligently, and to avoid unnecessary reversals and mistrials." Fisher v. Commonwealth, 236 Va. 403, 414, 374 S.E.2d 46, 52 (1988), cert. denied, 490 U.S. 1028 (1989). Thus, application of the rules tends to promote, not hinder, the administration of justice.

Rule 5A:18, in pertinent part, provides as follows:
No ruling of the trial court . . . will be considered as a basis for reversal unless the objection was stated together with the grounds therefor at the time of the ruling, except for good cause shown or to enable the Court of Appeals to attain the ends of justice.
Rule 5:25, in pertinent part, provides as follows:
Error will not be sustained to any ruling of the trial court . . . before which the case was initially tried unless the objection was stated with reasonable certainty at the time of the ruling, except for good cause shown or to enable this Court to attain the ends of justice.

We consistently have applied the rule in both civil and criminal cases, including cases in which the death penalty was imposed. See, e.g., Mackall v. Commonwealth, 236 Va. 240, 372 S.E.2d 759 (1988), cert. denied, 492 U.S. 925 (1989); Quintana v. Commonwealth, 224 Va. 127, 295 S.E.2d 643 (1982), cert. denied, 460 U.S. 1029 (1983). Indeed, it is a rare case in which, rather than invoke Rule 5:25, we rely upon the exception and consider an assignment of error not preserved at trial "to enable this Court to attain the ends of justice."

One of these rare cases in which we applied the exception was Ball v. Commonwealth, 221 Va. 754, 273 S.E.2d 790 (1981). Ball was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to life imprisonment. Id. at 755-56, 273 S.E.2d at 790-91. The indictment charged Ball with the willful, deliberate and premeditated killing of another "in the commission of robbery while armed with a deadly weapon." Code Sec. 18.2-31(d). We concluded that "[t]he evidence, construed in the light most favorable to the Commonwealth, showed that [the victim] was killed during an attempted robbery, rather than in the actual commission of robbery." Id. at 757, 273 S.E.2d at 792. Thus, "[u]nder the evidence, the only offense of which Ball could properly be convicted was felony murder of the first degree under [Code] Sec. 18.2-32." Id.

Code Sec. 18.2-31(d) subsequently was amended to read, "[t]he willful, deliberate, and premeditated killing of any person in the commission of robbery or attempted robbery while armed with a deadly weapon." Acts 1989, c. 527. (Emphasis added.)

Trial counsel in Ball neither proffered an instruction on felony murder of the first degree nor objected to the trial court's erroneous ruling that, under the evidence, capital murder was the only offense of which Ball could be convicted. Id. at 758, 273 S.E.2d at 793. The Commonwealth contended, however, that the trial court had no duty "to intervene on its own initiative and give [a felony murder] instruction." Id. at 757, 273 S.E.2d at 791. We rejected the contention, reversed the capital murder conviction, and remanded the case for a new trial under proper jury instructions. Id. at 759, 273 S.E.2d at 793. In doing so, we gave the following explanation:

Under Rule 5:21 [now Rule 5:25] we do not notice such errors except in those rare instances when it is necessary to enable us to attain the ends of justice. This is one of those instances. Ball has been convicted of a crime of which under the evidence he could not properly be found guilty. The court erred in overruling the defense motion to strike the evidence as to capital murder, and in instructing the jury on that offense. We understand the reason for the erroneous rulings, but we cannot permit this conviction to stand by ignoring the errors.

Id. at 758-59, 273 S.E.2d at 793 (emphasis added); accord Newton v. City of Richmond, 198 Va. 869, 96 S.E.2d 775 (1957); Brown v. Commonwealth, 8 Va. App. 126, 380 S.E.2d 8 (1989).

We also have said that, when a principle of law is vital to a defendant in a criminal case, a trial court has an affirmative duty properly to instruct a jury about the matter. Bryant v. Commonwealth, 216 Va. 390, 393, 219 S.E.2d 669, 671 (1975); Whaley v. Commonwealth, 214 Va. 353, 355-56, 200 S.E.2d 556, 558 (1973). In Bryant, the defendant was convicted of rape. 216 Va. at 390, 219 S.E.2d at 670. His sole defense was consent by the prosecutrix, and he presented supportive evidence. Id. at 392, 219 S.E.2d at 671. The defendant offered a lengthy instruction which the trial court refused. Id. at 391-92, 219 S.E.2d at 670-71. Although we found the instruction to be "argumentative, confusing and potentially misleading," id. at 392, 219 S.E.2d at 671, we reversed the judgment and remanded the case for a new trial, id. at 393, 219 S.E.2d at 672. We concluded that, because "[a]n instruction on consent was crucial to [the defendant's] sole defense," the trial court was obligated to amend the instruction. Id., 219 S.E.2d at 671-72.

In Whaley, the trial court refused an objectionable instruction relating to the presumption of innocence and sent the case to the jury without a corrected instruction on the subject. 214 Va. at 354-55, 200 S.E.2d at 557-58. We stated that "the presumption of innocence is 'a landmark of the law.' " Id. at 355, 200 S.E.2d at 558. We ruled, therefore, that the trial court's failure to amend the proffered instruction and give it in proper form was reversible error. Id. at 356, 200 S.E.2d at 558. In so ruling, we made the following observation:

We adhere to the rule that the trial court is not required to amend or correct an erroneous instruction, but the rule is subject to the limitation that when the principle of law is materially vital to a defendant in a criminal case, it is reversible error for the trial court to refuse a defective instruction instead of correcting it and giving it in the proper form. A jury should not be left in the dark on the subject.

Id. at 355-56, 200 S.E.2d 558; accord Nelson v. Commonwealth, 143 Va. 579, 589-91, 130 S.E. 389, 392 (1925); Sims v. Commonwealth, 134 Va. 736, 759-60, 115 S.E. 382, 390 (1922).

In 1987, the General Assembly amended Code Sec. 18.2-200.1 by adding the very phrase at issue in the present case, to-wit: "if he fails to return such advance within fifteen days of a request to do so sent by certified mail, return receipt requested, to his last known address or to the address listed in the contract." Acts 1987, c. 358. A criminal statute, such as Code Sec. 18.2-200.1, must be strictly construed. We think it clear that the General Assembly meant what it said, i.e., that a person accused of violating the statute cannot be convicted unless the evidence proves beyond a reasonable doubt, inter alia, that the accused "fail[ed] to return [the] advance within fifteen days of a request to do so," and that the request was "sent by certified mail, return receipt requested."

Consequently, we reject the Attorney General's assertion that, because Jimenez had actual notice of a demand for return of the advances, the statutory requirement of a written notice by certified mail was waived. We think the notice requirement of the statute was a material element of the offense charged, and the omission of the element in the jury instruction, as well as the failure to produce evidence thereof, constitutes reversible error.

We also reject the Attorney General's contention that Jimenez waived his right to raise this matter on appeal because he failed to preserve the error at trial. The granted instruction omitted some essential elements of the offense. Likewise, no evidence was produced relating to those elements. Jimenez, therefore, was convicted of a non-offense.

Accordingly, to attain the ends of justice, we will reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals and dismiss the indictment.

Reversed and dismissed.


Summaries of

Jimenez v. Commonwealth

Supreme Court of Virginia
Mar 1, 1991
241 Va. 244 (Va. 1991)

holding that a manifest injustice occurred because the jury was not properly instructed on the elements of the offense and the Commonwealth failed to prove the omitted element

Summary of this case from Brittle v. Com

holding that Jimenez's failure to object at trial did not waive "his right to raise this matter on appeal" because the judge's "instruction omitted some essential elements of the offense" and permitted the jury to convict Jimenez "of a non-offense"

Summary of this case from Bazemore v. Commonwealth

holding that actual notice of request does not satisfy the requirements of Code § 18.2-200.1

Summary of this case from Holsapple v. Commonwealth

holding that actual notice of request does not satisfy the requirements of Code § 18.2-200.1

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holding that the court's failure to inform the jury of a material element of the offense charged and the failure of the Commonwealth to produce evidence relating to that element was reversible error

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holding that trial court has "affirmative duty properly to instruct a jury" on principles of law "vital" to case and that failure of accused to object does not bar consideration of issue on appeal; jury instruction failed to include all requisite elements of crime and Commonwealth's evidence failed to prove omitted elements

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holding that trial court has affirmative duty properly to instruct jury on elements of charged offense, regardless of whether accused objects or proffers proper instruction

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holding that trial court has "affirmative duty properly to instruct a jury" on principles of law "vital" to case and that failure of accused to object does not bar consideration of issue on appeal

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finding the Commonwealth failed to present any evidence on an element of the charged offense, therefore, defendant could not be convicted of that offense

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reversing appellant’s conviction for construction fraud, in part because the trial court omitted to instruct the jury that written notice was an element of the offense, where language in the relevant statute required that a request for the return of funds advanced be "sent by certified mail, return receipt requested"

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reversing Jimenez's conviction and finding Jimenez was convicted of a non-offense when the granted jury instruction omitted some essential elements of the offense and no evidence was produced relating to those elements

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reversing a conviction because the judge's "instruction omitted some essential elements of the offense" and "no evidence was produced relating to those elements"

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reversing a conviction because the judge's "instruction omitted some essential elements of the offense" and permitted the jury to convict Jimenez "of a non-offense"

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In Jimenez, the defendant failed to object when the Commonwealth did not prove that a written request had been sent by certified mail, return receipt requested and when the trial court failed to instruct that the Commonwealth was required to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the demand letter was sent.

Summary of this case from Johnson v. Commonwealth

explaining that "[i]t is a rare case in which, rather than invoke [the Supreme Court's version of Rule 5A:18], we rely upon the exception and consider an assignment of error [that was] not preserved at trial"

Summary of this case from Byrd v. Commonwealth

In Jimenez, the Commonwealth did not prove the accused was sent a written notice or that he failed to return the advance within fifteen days of such demand.

Summary of this case from McDowell v. Com

In Jimenez, our Supreme Court applied the ends of justice exception because "the granted [jury] instruction omitted some essential elements of the offense.

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characterizing defendant's conviction under these circumstances as one for "a non-offense"

Summary of this case from Herbert v. Commonwealth

In Jimenez, the Supreme Court considered whether the defendant's "actual notice" of a demand for the return of an advancement of money waived the statutory requirement of written notice by certified mail. Jimenez, 241 Va. at 251, 402 S.E.2d at 681 (emphasis added).

Summary of this case from Sensabaugh v. Commonwealth

In Jimenez, 241 Va. at 250, 402 S.E.2d at 681, the Supreme Court of Virginia explained that "when a principle of law is vital to a defendant in a criminal case, a trial court has an affirmative duty properly to instruct a jury about the matter."

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noting that Rule 5A:18 is "virtually identical" to Rule 5:25

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interpreting Rule 5:25, the Supreme Court's counterpart to 5A:18

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In Jimenez, the Supreme Court stated "when a principle of law is vital to a defendant in a criminal case, a trial court has an affirmative duty properly to instruct a jury about the matter."

Summary of this case from Campbell v. Commonwealth

In Jimenez, the Supreme Court stated that "when a principle of law is vital to a defendant in a criminal case, a trial court has an affirmative duty properly to instruct a jury about the matter."

Summary of this case from Campbell v. Commonwealth

In Jimenez v. Commonwealth, on which McKinney relies, the Supreme Court of Virginia held that "when a principle of law is vital to a defendant in a criminal case, a trial court has an affirmative duty to properly instruct a jury about the matter."

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

Jimenez v. Commonwealth

Case Details

Full title:EDDIE ALLEN JIMENEZ v. COMMONWEALTH OF VIRGINIA

Court:Supreme Court of Virginia

Date published: Mar 1, 1991

Citations

241 Va. 244 (Va. 1991)
402 S.E.2d 678

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