(Posted October 28, 2021) The Supreme Court of Virginia closes out October by handing down one published opinion today. Commonwealth v. Cady is an appeal that follows a reversal of a criminal conviction. A jury found Cady guilty of reckless driving, stemming from a fatal collision in which the car that he was driving struck a motorcyclist who was stopped in the roadway, waiting to make a left turn.

The evidence at trial was damning. The skies were clear and the collision occurred on a straight stretch of roadway where Cady should have been able to see the large motorcycle from far off. There was no evidence that Cady suffered a medical emergency. All of the evidence seemed to point to inattentiveness as the cause of the collision.

A jury saw it that way and convicted Cady. But a divided panel of the Court of Appeals reversed, holding that no rational trier of fact could have found him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. The Commonwealth sought and got review in the Supreme Court.

Justice Kelsey pens today’s short opinion for a unanimous court. He first notes that the appropriate standard of appellate review requires the court to accept the evidence in the light most favorable to the Commonwealth, because the jury resolved the facts against Cady. Through that lens, the court today finds that the trier of fact could well have concluded that the only explanation for the collision was Cady’s reckless actions:

Based upon this evidence, a rational trier of fact could reasonably infer that the accident in this case was not the result of a “split-second, momentary failure to keep a lookout,” constituting only simple negligence, but rather a “lengthy, total, and complete” failure to keep a lookout, satisfying the mens rea requirement for reckless driving in violation of Code § 46.2-852.

Today’s opinion explores the difference between simple negligence and the reckless behavior that’s necessary to convict here.