Walter R. Stamper v. Commonwealth of Virginia: Supreme Court of Virginia
Facts: After suspicion of Stamper accepting contraband as payment for his legal services, two law enforcement officers persuaded a drug suspect to solicit Stamper for his services. The two officers gave 3.88lbs of marijuana to the suspect to offer Stamper as a mode of paying for legal fees. The officers instructed the suspect not to specifically ask to pay Stamper with the contraband and the suspect complied. The two officers recorded and took photographs of the meeting between the suspect and Stamper where Stamper willingly accepted the contraband as a retainer. The police officers later found the 3.88lbs of marijuana in Stamper’s car after Stamper tried to evade the police in his vehicle. On the day of the arrest, Stamper won a case in court where the judge presiding over Stamper’s eventual court case heard the case. Stamper was convicted of possession and intent to distribute 3.88lbs of marijuana. On appeal Stamper raised issues which included, an error in citation of the statutory subsection in the indictment, entrapment, an argument that the trial judge should have recused himself sua sponte, that evidence of diminished mental competency should be allowed despite not pleading insanity, and that the judge attempted to punish him for appealing by denying motions to suspend sentencing and for probation.
Procedural History: Appealed to the Circuit Court of Washington County. Circuit Court upheld district court’s decision. Appealed to the Supreme Court of Virginia.
Issues: 1) Whether an error in the citation of a statutory subsection of a indictment results in the dismissal of a indictment or conviction.
2) Whether the actions by the two officers violated entrapment rules.
3) Whether a judge must be disqualified from the case because he heard a case in which the defendant participated in on the day of his arrest and that could affect his judgment of the defendants argument of his mental competency.
4) Whether questions of mental competency can be raised in a case in absence of a insanity defense.
5) Whether the defendants constitutional right to appeal a case was infringed by the court denying motions to suspend sentencing and denying probation.
Holding: 1) No 2) No 3) No 4) No 5) No
Reasoning: 1) The dismissal of a indictment or the reversal of a conviction only occurs when it is found that the error prejudiced the accused in preparing his defense. In this case, the defense knew about the discrepancy five months before hand, that was enough time to adjust or to ask for its amendment.
2) According to Sorrells v. U.S. the definition of entrapment is the “conception and planning of an offense by a officer, and his procurement of its commission by one who would not have perpetrated it except for the trickery, persuasion, or fraud of the officer. In this case, the use of the suspect did not violate this definition because the suspect did not actively offer the contraband as payment. He only said, “some other stuff I could get rid off.” It was solely Stampers decision to make the deal to exchange his legal services for marijuana.
3) Since the defendant did not use an insanity plea, the question of his mental competency on that day has no outcome on the case, therefore the judge’s perception of the defendant on that day would have no effect on the impartial judgment of the case.
4) Since the state of knowledge in the fields of medicine and psychology are constantly changing, the classifications for mental illnesses and conditions are constantly changing. Our common law system cannot allow each case to be decided on different standards of an ever changing fields of study. Instead the courts use a constant standard of mental competence to determine criminal responsibility. Either a person is Sane or Insane according to this standard. Since the defendant did not claim to beyond the borderline of sanity, he is perceived by the court to be sane. His claims of his mental competency do not affect his guilt.
5) The attorney general said that it is within the trial courts discretion to deny suspension of sentencing and to deny probation. Since there is no evidence of the Court doing this to punish the defendant, there is no reason to think that the court denied him his right to appeal. Also, since the defendant was able to appeal his case to the Virginia Supreme Court, a decision on whether he was denied the right to appeal would be moot.