Docket – March 7, 2019

Supreme Court of Virginia

In re: Scott (P), SCV (Goodwyn).

The petitioner’s requested writ of actual innocence should be issued, based on the totality of the evidence. The petitioner was convicted of three offenses relating to a 1975 rape.

Trial established that the victim was attacked by a single perpetrator. Although the victim testified that she didn’t get a good look at her attacker, she assisted the police in creating a composite sketch of her attacker. In a second photo line-up presented to her a couple of months after the incident, the victim identified the petitioner as her rapist. She also identified him at trial and hasn’t retracted her testimony. At trial, two certificates of analysis were entered into evidence relating to samples of a semen stain taken from the victim’s jeans. The two analyses were contradictory. The petitioner presented alibi witnesses stating that he was at the witnesses’ home on the night of the rape.

After the petitioner was convicted, the Department of Forensic Science did a DNA test that revealed the same contributor for the sperm fractions found in both trial samples. This testing conclusively eliminated both the petitioner and the victim’s boyfriend as contributors of the sperm found on the victim’s jeans. It also matched a male profile from a vaginal swab taken from the victim within hours of the rape.

Upon reviewing the totality of the evidence, including records from the original case, the evidence presented at the original trial, the newly-discovered biological evidence, and the proffers made by the petitioner and the Commonwealth, the petitioner has proved, by clear and convincing evidence, all of the allegations required under Code § 19.2-327.3(A) and that no rational trier of fact would have found him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

Petition for writ of actual innocence granted.

Virginia Circuit Courts

Groff v. Lawson, Fairfax (Bellows).

The plaintiff’s negligence claim against a Westfield school resource officer must be dismissed on grounds of sovereign immunity.

The officer heard a report that students were “fleeing” the school, where an all-night graduation was being held. He considered the situation to be dangerous, both to the students and the public. He understood that the exit the students were using was dark and that, once out of the school, the students would be near an unlit, curving street. He knew that the possible reasons for students fleeing a school included a fight, alcohol or drug involvement, or a school shooter. Under these circumstances, the officer was faced with an urgent situation requiring an immediate response to protect the safety of students and the community.

He left school grounds, choosing not to activate his cruiser’s lights or sirens as the roads appeared clear and he did not want to cause any fleeing students to run further from the school. Pursuing what he believed was a student driving a golf cart, he made a right turn from a left turn lane and an auto collision ensued.

The officer was performing a governmental function when he responded to a radio report of students “fleeing” the school. His actions were taken in connection with his duties as a Fairfax police officer and school resource officer. The government’s interest in his work, both generally and at the time of the incident, was very substantial. His driving in the early morning hours of June 22, 2016 involved “special risks” and the exercise of substantial discretion. His evaluation of the situation — that he was dealing with an urgent situation that posed an immediate danger to students and the public — was objectively reasonable, as was his decision to employ his vehicle, and undertake special risks, in an effort to address the danger.

Defendant’s plea in bar granted.

Categories: Daily Dockets

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