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How to Get Away with Murder

Some are saying that a man has gotten away with murder from a recent case, Davis v. Commonwealth. The case arises out of an incident outside of a night club where an assailant fired shots into an occupied vehicle, killing a passenger.

The defendant was charged with shooting into an occupied vehicle, first-degree murder, and the use of a firearm in the commission of a murder, and reckless handling of a firearm. The general district court acquitted the defendant of the misdemeanor of reckless handling of a firearm. When the Commonwealth of Virginia obtained indictments against the defendant for the felony charges, the defendant moved to dismiss the indictments based on collateral estoppel. While the trial court refused to dismiss on collateral estoppel and found him guilty of first-degree murder and attempted first-degree murder, the Circuit Court overturned this decision and dismissed the felony charges based on collateral estoppel.

Collateral estoppel is a doctrine that protects an individual from litigating an issue more than once. The idea is that once a court has decided that an issue of fact, that issue cannot be re-litigated in a suit in another cause of action which involves the party to the first case. In this case, the defendant was acquitted for the misdemeanor because the commonwealth had not shown its case beyond a reasonable doubt as to that charge, and thus, the acquittal was based on the commonwealth's failure to show that the defendant was the assailant for the misdemeanor or reckless handling of a firearm. Because it was found that the defendant had not committed that misdemeanor, it is impossible, due to collateral estoppel, that he committed the felony charges laid against him.