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Date: 09-20-2020

Case Style:

Antonio Jermaine Spencer v. Commonwealth of Virginia

Case Number: 1044-19-2



Plaintiff's Attorney: Victoria Johnson, Assistant Attorney General (Mark R. Herring,
Attorney General, on brief)

Defendant's Attorney:

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Description: Salem, VA - carrying a concealed weapon, possession of a firearm by a convicted felon

“On appeal of the denial of a motion to suppress evidence, settled principles require the
appellate court to consider the evidence introduced at the suppression hearing and at trial.”
Salahuddin v. Commonwealth, 67 Va. App. 190, 202 (2017). Further, “[u]nder familiar
principles of appellate review, we will state ‘[that] evidence in the light most favorable to the
Commonwealth, the prevailing party [below].’” Chavez v. Commonwealth, 69 Va. App. 149,
153 (2018) (quoting Sidney v. Commonwealth, 280 Va. 517, 520 (2010)).
So viewed, the evidence demonstrates that on April 10, 2017, appellant visited a friend’s
home in Richmond’s Mosby Court community. At around 10:00–10:30 p.m., appellant left the
home with another friend and began walking back to his wife’s car. As the two men turned a
corner, appellant “was blinded by a flashlight” and “couldn’t see anything.”
The flashlight was lowered, and appellant could see two police officers standing directly
in front of him. Officers Baer and Kelly of the Richmond Police Department were conducting a
uniformed foot patrol. They stated that they were checking for trespassers in the area, and Baer
asked the men if they lived in Mosby Court. Appellant and his companion replied that they did
Officer Baer then asked appellant and his companion for identification, and appellant
handed Baer a Virginia I.D. card. While Officer Kelly recorded information from appellant’s
I.D., Baer engaged appellant in “general conversation, just chitchat.” Baer testified that his tone
of voice in speaking with appellant was “casual” and that he neither told appellant that he was
free to walk away nor that appellant could not continue walking.
According to appellant, he had “already gotten [his] I.D. back” and was “waiting on” the
officers to tell him “that [he] could go” when Baer began to ask him about a pill bottle he could
see in an open cargo pocket of appellant’s pants. Baer testified that he asked appellant “if [he]
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had a prescription for the pill bottle” and that appellant said no. Baer then asked appellant if he
could see the bottle, and appellant removed it from his pocket and handed it to Baer. The bottle
was blue, “kind of translucent,” and lacked a label. Baer opened the bottle and discovered
“[m]ultiple bags of a green leaf substance” which he suspected was marijuana. The officer then
conducted a pat-down search of appellant and found a firearm.
Appellant filed a pretrial motion to suppress the evidence. He argued that he had been
unlawfully seized by officers who lacked both probable cause and a reasonable articulable
suspicion of criminal wrongdoing and that Baer’s warrantless seizure and search of the pill bottle
had thus been unlawful. Consequently, appellant contended, the subsequent search of his person
“flow[ed] from the illegal seizure” and “the discovered items are therefore inadmissible as ‘fruit
of the poisonous tree.’”
Following a hearing, the trial court granted appellant’s motion. The court found that
appellant had been seized when he complied with the request for identification, the pill bottle had
been unlawfully seized and searched, and “the discovery of the gun during the pat down of
[appellant’s] person was the direct result of the unlawful seizure and search of the pill bottle.”
The Commonwealth appealed the trial court’s ruling on the motion to suppress.3
A panel
of this Court unanimously held that appellant was not seized for Fourth Amendment purposes “at
any point prior to the discovery of the marijuana”; rather, appellant’s interaction with the officers
up to that point had been consensual. Commonwealth v. Spencer, No. 1821-17-2, at *4
(Va. Ct. App. May 1, 2018). A majority of the panel also held that when appellant “voluntarily
gave the pill bottle to [Officer] Baer,” a “typical reasonable person would [have] conclude[d]
that consent had been given” for the officer to open the bottle. Id. at *7, *10. Thus, because
appellant’s “actions viewed in context evidenced consent for Baer to open the pill bottle, . . .
3 See Code § 19.2-398(A)(2) (permitting such pretrial appeals in felony cases).
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Baer’s doing so did not offend the Fourth Amendment.” Id. at *11. Although there was “no
question that [appellant] was seized for Fourth Amendment purposes after the discovery of the
marijuana . . . , at that point, the officers had probable cause to arrest him as a result of the
discovery of the [drug].” Id. at *7 n.7. The Court reversed the trial court’s ruling on the motion
to suppress and remanded the matter for further proceedings. Id. at *12.
At trial upon remand, the court heard evidence from Officers Baer and Kelly about their
encounter with appellant and the circumstances of the discovery of the pill bottle, marijuana, and
firearm. When the Commonwealth sought the pill bottle’s admission into evidence, counsel for
appellant objected on grounds of relevance. Specifically, appellant’s counsel stated that “[t]he
pill bottle is not relevant to either of the gun charges that are being tried here today. It [was]
filled with marijuana, but it has nothing to do with the firearm that’s at issue in the case.” The
Commonwealth responded that the bottle was “relevant. This is the reason the pat-down
occurred.” The trial court overruled appellant’s objection “for that reason.”
Counsel for appellant also objected to the firearm’s admission into evidence. When it
was marked for identification by the trial court, appellant’s counsel stated, “I will have an
objection to the gun, just based on my previous motion to suppress, just to preserve that issue for
appeal. . . . That’s my objection to the gun once chain of custody is established.” The trial court
replied, “I’ll just put that on the record when it comes in so you maintain [the objection] if the
[chain of] custody is established.” When the Commonwealth moved to admit the firearm,
counsel for appellant stated, “we just renew our previous objection.” The trial court replied, “All
right. That is noted and placed in the record.” The trial court did not rule on appellant’s
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The jury convicted appellant of carrying a concealed weapon, second offense, in violation
of Code § 18.2-308, and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, in violation of Code
§ 18.2-308.2. This appeal followed.
Appellant argues he had been unconstitutionally seized for Fourth Amendment purposes
at the time that Officer Baer came into possession of the pill bottle. Thus, appellant contends,
any alleged consent by him to the search of the pill bottle was invalid. Appellant also argues that
he did not consent to the search of the pill bottle, because an objectively reasonable person
would not have understood Officer Baer’s request to see the bottle as a request to search it;
instead, such a person would have understood the request to indicate “simply [that the officer]
wanted to observe the outside of the bottle.” Further, appellant contends, “[n]o . . . actions or
circumstances surrounding the interaction establish that [appellant] consented to a search of the
pill bottle.”
It is well established that “when a party fails to obtain a ruling on a matter presented to a
trial court, there is ‘no ruling [for this Court] to review on appeal.’” Bethea v. Commonwealth,
68 Va. App. 487, 498 (2018) (alteration in original) (quoting Schwartz v. Commonwealth, 41
Va. App. 61, 71 (2003)). See also Williams v. Commonwealth, 57 Va. App. 341, 347 (2010)
(“Because appellant did not obtain a ruling from the trial court . . . , ‘there is no ruling for [this
Court] to review’ on appeal, and his argument is waived under Rule 5A:18.” (quoting Fisher v.
Commonwealth, 16 Va. App. 447, 454 (1993))).
We hold that appellant failed to preserve his arguments for appellate review because at
trial, he did not obtain any ruling from the court on a Fourth Amendment objection. In his
pretrial motion to suppress, appellant did object to the admissibility of both the pill bottle and the
firearm on Fourth Amendment grounds. The trial court granted appellant’s motion and, upon
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appeal by the Commonwealth, this Court reversed the trial court’s exclusion of the evidence. At
trial upon remand, evidence about appellant’s encounter with the police and the discovery of the
contraband was presented anew to the trial court. Appellant then “renew[ed] [his] previous
objection” to the firearm’s admission into evidence “based on [his] previous motion to suppress”
on Fourth Amendment grounds.4
However, as noted above, the trial court did not rule on
appellant’s renewed Fourth Amendment objection at trial, stating only that it would “put that on
the record” and that the renewed objection was “noted and placed in the record.” This failure to
obtain a ruling on his Fourth Amendment objection to the evidence at trial leaves us with “no
ruling . . . to review on appeal.”5
Bethea, 68 Va. App. at 498 (quoting Schwartz, 41 Va. App. at
In reaching our conclusion that appellant’s failure to obtain a ruling on his Fourth
Amendment objection at trial waived any Fourth Amendment arguments on appeal, we find
4 We note that although appellant renewed his objection to the firearm’s admission into
evidence on Fourth Amendment grounds, he made no such objection with respect to the pill
bottle. When the Commonwealth sought the bottle’s admission into evidence, appellant raised
only a relevance objection and was silent with respect to his previous Fourth Amendment
objection to the bottle. By not raising at trial an objection based upon the allegedly unlawful
seizure and search of the pill bottle, appellant waived any Fourth Amendment objection to
Officer Baer’s acquisition of the bottle and discovery of the marijuana within. See McDuffie v.
Commonwealth, 49 Va. App. 170, 177 (2006) (noting that “[i]n order to preserve an issue for
appeal, ‘an objection must be timely made and the grounds stated with specificity’” (quoting
Marlowe v. Commonwealth, 2 Va. App. 619, 621 (1986))); Arrington v. Commonwealth, 53
Va. App. 635, 641-42 (2009) (holding that the appellant had waived his argument on appeal that
evidence was the product of an illegal search and seizure when he did not object to its admission
on that basis at trial); Rule 5A:18. In turn, appellant’s waiver of any argument that the discovery
of the marijuana offended the Fourth Amendment necessarily waived any argument that the
firearm found incident to his arrest for drug possession offended the Fourth Amendment.
In his reply brief, appellant contends that his Fourth Amendment argument was
preserved for appeal because the trial court “ma[d]e a ruling denying [his] motion to suppress.”
This is so, appellant argues, because this Court’s order in Commonwealth v. Spencer “was
adopted by the trial court, therefore denying [appellant’s] motion to suppress.” Appellant does
not indicate where in the record the trial court “adopted” this Court’s order in Spencer and thus
“mad[e] a ruling” denying his motion to suppress. We note that the trial court made no reference
to this Court’s order, either from the bench at trial, in its trial order, or in its sentencing order.
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instructive our ruling in Satchell v. Commonwealth, 20 Va. App. 641 (1995) (en banc). In
Satchell, as in the instant case, the Commonwealth successfully appealed the trial court’s ruling
granting the defendant’s motion to suppress evidence allegedly obtained in violation of the
Fourth Amendment. Id. at 644-45. Also similar to this case, at trial upon remand in Satchell, the
circumstances of the discovery of the contraband and its admissibility were again at issue and the
court heard further evidence on those matters. Id. at 645-46. Although after hearing the
evidence, the trial court in Satchell “[a]dher[ed] to its previous factual findings and reaffirm[ed]
its earlier conclusion,” it nonetheless acknowledged that it was “fully aware of [its] obligation to
follow the holdings of the Court [of Appeals].” Id. at 646 (final alteration in original). The court
then stated that “for that reason I deny [the objection to the evidence].’” Id. (alteration in
original). Thus, it is clear from Satchell that notwithstanding a reversal by this Court of a trial
court’s suppression of evidence, at trial on remand, a defendant must again raise and obtain a
ruling on his Fourth Amendment objection in order to preserve his Fourth Amendment
arguments for further appellate review.

Outcome: For the foregoing reasons, we hold that appellant failed to preserve his Fourth
Amendment arguments for appellate review. Accordingly, we affirm.


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