Virginia Court of Appeals Upholds Culpeper Town Police Officer’s Conviction in Manslaughter Case

In December of last year, Daniel Harmon-Wright’s appeal of a conviction on voluntary manslaughter charges in the shooting death of Patricia Cook was struck down by the Court of Appeals in Virginia. Following the rejection, Harmon-Wright and his attorney, Daniel Hawes, took the appeal to the state’s Supreme Court, who just this week refused to hear the case. A Student’s Guide to the Law of the Land and The Supreme Court Pic

Harmon-Wright, who is 35-years-old, is a former Culpeper police officer who was found guilty of voluntary manslaughter after he shot a woman, allegedly in self-defense, while responding to a report of a suspicious vehicle in a church parking lot. According to news articles, the incident took place in February of 2012. Harmon-Wright responded to the call, finding 54-year-old Patricia Cook in the parking lot of the church. He maintains that the woman tried to drive away while his arm was caught in the window of her vehicle, and that he shot in self-defense.

Hawes appealed his client’s conviction on two counts, invoking the “double jeopardy” protection in state and federal law. Under the law, an individual cannot be found guilty for the same offense twice. Hawes maintains that Harmon-Wright was convicted of both unlawful shooting into an occupied vehicle, and unlawful shooting into an occupied vehicle resulting in death. In addition, Hawes argued the evidence against his client was insufficient to support his conviction.

The Virginia Court of Appeals found that the actions taken by Harmon-Wright were two separate and distinct conscious acts, that he shot into the window while she was in the parking lot, then shot in into the victim’s vehicle from behind as she attempted to drive away.

Harmon-Wright was sentenced to three years in prison following his conviction in January of 2013. Now that the Virginia Supreme Court refuses to hear his case, Hawes says that they plan to appeal the conviction to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Appealing a conviction for a criminal offense can be an extremely long and involved process. While many attempts end at the state court of appeals, some who feel they have been unfairly convicted decide to continue to the state Supreme Court, then on to the U.S. Supreme Court if they cannot get the relief they seek from the lower courts.

As any Michigan criminal appeals attorney knows. appealing a conviction successfully is not easy, and obtaining the result the client desires is rare. However, there are cases in which as appeals court will overturn a conviction, giving the defendant another chance at freedom.

If you have been unfairly convicted, it is critical you choose an attorney who is highly skilled and experienced in the criminal appeals process, and who has a successful track record.