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Law School Case Brief

Carpitcher v. Commonwealth - 273 Va. 335, 641 S.E.2d 486 (2007)


In considering the term "material" in the context of Va. Code Ann. § 19.2-327.11, the state's highest court must determine and give effect to the intent of the Virginia legislature. The state's highest court considers the words the legislature has employed, the subject matter of the statutes governing writs of actual innocence based on non-biological evidence, the apparent object of the statutes, and the legislative purpose in enacting the statutes. The state's highest court also examines the words of the particular statute at issue, § 19.2-327.11, in its entirety rather than by isolating particular words or phrases. The state's highest court's application of these principles renders § 19.2-327.11 harmonious with its legislative purpose and avoids any construction defeating that purpose.


In August 1999, Aleck Jacob Carpitcher was convicted by a jury in the Circuit Court of Roanoke County of aggravated sexual battery, of taking indecent liberties with a minor, and of three counts of animate object sexual penetration. The circuit court sentenced Carpitcher to a total of 73 years' imprisonment, with 35 years of that total sentence suspended. The alleged victim of the offenses was H.L., who was 10 years old at the time of the charged offenses. H.L. was also the Commonwealth's primary witness at Carpitcher's trial. H.L. testified that between January and May 1998, Carpitcher asked her on one occasion to touch his penis, removed her underwear and inserted his finger into her vagina on three occasions, and routinely grabbed her vagina or buttocks when he was alone with her in her mother's bedroom. In March 2000, in conversations with her mother and her therapist, H.L. recanted her testimony that Carpitcher had committed the various acts she described at trial. In April 2000, H.L. wrote a letter to Governor James S. Gilmore, III, stating that she had falsely accused Carpitcher and requesting that he be released from prison. In November 2004, Carpitcher filed in the court of appeals a petition for a writ of actual innocence based on non-biological evidence under Code §§ 19.2-327.10 through -327.14. He alleged that upon consideration of H.L.'s recantation, no rational trier of fact could have found him guilty of the crimes for which he was convicted. The appellate court denied the Carpitcher's motion to submit another brief and dismissed his petition. Thereafter, Carpitcher appealed, arguing that the victim's recantation was material.


Did Carpitcher prove the materiality of H.L.'s recantation?




The judgment of the appellate court was affirmed by the state supreme court. According to the court, the appellate court did not err in holding that Carpitcher failed to prove that the victim's recantation was true. As Carpitcher failed to meet his burden of establishing the first component of the two-part statutory burden, he failed to meet his burden of proof. 

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