FREDERICK C. MWANGI v. COMMONWEALTH OF VIRGINIA
SUPREME COURT OF VIRGINIA
277 Va. 393
Mwangi appealed his conviction to the Court of Appeals of Virginia. The Court of Appeals affirmed Mwangi’s conviction. At trial, the Commonwealth sought to simultaneously introduce three exhibits as evidence of Mwangi’s prior DUI convictions, and the trial court admitted the exhibits over Mwangi’s objections. One of those exhibits, Exhibit 1, is a transcript from the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) showing that Mwangi had been convicted of DUI in the General District Court of the County of Arlington on April 22, 2005, as well as a purported DUI conviction in the City of Alexandria. Another of those exhibits, Exhibit 3, is a summons that purports to show that Mwangi had been convicted of DUI in the Alexandria General District Court. The summons indicates that the alleged offense occurred on January 21, 2005, and that Mwangi appeared in the general district court, represented by counsel, on July 15, 2005. The summons also indicates that Mwangi entered a guilty plea, was tried and found guilty as charged, and was fined and sentenced to a jail term. The summons, however, is not signed by a judge. Mwangi contends that the trial court erred in convicting him of DUI, third offense, because Exhibit 3, the purported DUI conviction order, is not endorsed by a judge and, thus, is no order at all.
The dispositive issue in this appeal is whether the Court of Appeals erred in affirming a conviction for driving under the influence, third offense, where the Commonwealth’s proof of recidivism relies on a purported order from a general district court which was never endorsed by a judge.
The Commonwealth of Virginia has the burden of proving all elements of a crime, including prior convictions, beyond a reasonable doubt. In a court-not-of-record, a judge’s signature proves the rendition of a judgment. The purported disposition on the back of a warrant is not an order because it is not signed by the judge. While the DMV transcript was admissible in evidence to prove prior convictions, the Commonwealth’s Exhibit 3 rebutted the evidence as to the Alexandria conviction. The Commonwealth, therefore, failed to prove that Mwangi had been twice before convicted of DUI. It follows, then, that the Court of Appeals erred in affirming Mwangi’s conviction.
The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the Court of Appeals, vacated the trial court’s judgment, and remanded the case to the Court of Appeals with direction that the Court of Appeals remand the case to the trial court for a new trial on the lesser-included misdemeanor charge if the Commonwealth be so advised.
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Source by Atchuthan Sriskandarajah