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COURT OF APPEALS OF VIRGINIAPresent: Judges Benton, Humphreys and Senior Judge Hodges
Argued by teleconference
DAREN GUY PECK, S/K/A
DARREN GUY PECK
MEMORANDUM OPINION* BY
v. Record No. 1972-02-1 JUDGE ROBERT HUMPHREYS
NOVEMBER 12, 2003
COMMONWEALTH OF VIRGINIA
FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF THE CITY OF SUFFOLK
D. Arthur Kelsey, Judge
Timothy E. Miller, Public Defender (Office of the Public
Defender, on brief), for appellant.
Jennifer R. Franklin, Assistant Attorney General
(Jerry W. Kilgore, Attorney General, on brief), for
Darren Guy Peck appeals his conviction, after a bench trial, for attempted malicious
wounding. Peck contends the trial court erred in finding the evidence sufficient to support his
conviction. For the reasons that follow, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.
When examining a defendant's challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence on appeal,
"we must view the evidence and all reasonable inferences fairly deducible therefrom in the light
most favorable to the Commonwealth." Ward v. Commonwealth, 264 Va. 648, 654, 570 S.E.2d
827, 831 (2002). This principle requires us to "`discard the evidence of the accused'" which
conflicts, either directly or inferentially, with the Commonwealth's evidence. Wactor v.
Commonwealth, 38 Va. App. 375, 380, 564 S.E.2d 160, 162 (2002) (quoting Watkins v.
Commonwealth, 26 Va. App. 335, 348, 494 S.E.2d 859, 866 (1998)). We will affirm the trial
court's judgment "unless it appears from the evidence that the judgment is plainly wrong or
without evidence to support it." Higginbotham v. Commonwealth, 216 Va. 349, 352, 218 S.E.2d
534, 537 (1975).
"`An attempt to commit a crime is composed of two elements: (1)
The intent to commit it; and (2) a direct, ineffectual act done
towards its commission.'" Haywood v. Commonwealth, 20
Va. App. 562, 565, 458 S.E.2d 606, 607-08 (1995) (quoting
Merritt v. Commonwealth, 164 Va. 653, 657, 180 S.E. 395, 397
(1935)). In order to convict an accused of attempted malicious
wounding, the Commonwealth must prove that the accused: (1)
intended to "maliciously shoot, stab, cut or wound any person or
by any means cause bodily injury with the intent to maim,
disfigure, disable or kill"; and (2) committed a direct but
ineffectual act toward this purpose. See Code 18.2-51.
Crawley v. Commonwealth, 25 Va. App. 768, 772, 492 S.E.2d 503, 505 (1997). Peck argues the
Commonwealth failed to produce sufficient evidence to prove the requisite intent and overt act.
"Intent is the purpose formed in a person's mind and may be, and frequently is, shown by
circumstances." Barrett v. Commonwealth, 210 Va. 153, 156, 169 S.E.2d 449, 451 (1969). "[A]
person is presumed to intend the immediate, direct, and necessary consequences of his voluntary
act." Nobles v. Commonwealth, 218 Va. 548, 551, 238 S.E.2d 808, 810 (1977).
"`Malice inheres in the doing of a wrongful act intentionally, or
without just cause or excuse, or as a result of ill will.'" Long v.
Commonwealth, 8 Va. App. 194, 198, 379 S.E.2d 473, 475 (1989)
(citation omitted). "Malice is evidenced either when the accused
acted with a sedate, deliberate mind, and formed design, or
committed any purposeful and cruel act without any or without
great provocation." Branch v. Commonwealth, 14 Va. App. 836,
841, 419 S.E.2d 422, 426 (1992) (citation omitted). Volitional
acts, purposefully or willfully committed, are consistent with a
finding of malice and inconsistent with inadvertence. See Porter v.
Commonwealth, 17 Va. App. 58, 61, 435 S.E.2d 148, 149 (1993).
The presence of malice is a question of fact to be determined by
the fact finder. See Long, 8 Va. App. at 198, 379 S.E.2d at 476.
Luck v. Commonwealth, 32 Va. App. 827, 833, 531 S.E.2d 41, 44 (2000). "In Virginia malice
may be inferred from the deliberate use of a deadly weapon in the absence of proof to the
contrary." Pannill v. Commonwealth, 185 Va. 244, 253, 38 S.E.2d 457, 462 (1946). "`A deadly
weapon is one which is likely to produce death or great bodily injury from the manner in which it
is used, and whether a weapon is to be regarded as deadly often depends more on the manner in
which it has been used than on its intrinsic character.'" Id. at 254, 38 S.E.2d at 462 (quoting 40
C.J.S., Homicide, sec. 25).
Evidence adduced at trial proved that on February 12, 2002, Peck engaged in an
altercation with a fellow employee, Jeffrey A. Crawford, while on a job-site. During the
altercation, Peck began "cursing and swearing" at Crawford, then "lunged off" of the ladder he
was standing on toward Crawford. When Peck lunged off of the ladder, he was holding a
"six-inch dry wall knife" in his hand, a tool which Peck agreed "would cause a cut." Peck
lunged toward Crawford, swinging the knife at him. Peck "put [the knife] very close to
[Crawford] and threatened to cut [his] throat." Specifically, Peck made a "back and forth motion
and then a jabbing forward motion" with the knife, bringing it within "five or six inches" of
Crawford's neck area. Peck then stopped, still holding the "knife right there in [Crawford's]
face." A few seconds later, Crawford stepped backward and grabbed another dry wall knife "in
self-defense." At that time, "they both kind of separated" and Peck's supervisor, Rob LeBlond,
"got [his] arm" in the "middle" of the two men to "get it split up."
Based on this evidence, we find that the trial court was not plainly wrong in inferring
from all the facts and circumstances that Peck acted with deliberation and purpose, and intended
to maim or disfigure Crawford by lunging toward him while swinging a dry wall knife near his
throat area. Nor did the trial court err in deciding that Peck intended the natural and probable
consequences of these actions.
Peck correctly argues that, in order to prove an attempt to commit an offense, the
Commonwealth must also adduce evidence of a "direct but ineffectual act" taken toward the
commission of that offense. See Crawley, 25 Va. App. at 772, 492 S.E.2d at 505.
An overt act is required to prove an attempted offense because
without it, there is too much uncertainty as to the accused's actual
intent. However, if "the design of a person to commit a crime is
clearly shown, slight acts done in furtherance of this design will
constitute an attempt."
Tharrington v. Commonwealth, 2 Va. App. 491, 494, 346 S.E.2d 337, 339 (1986) (quoting State
v. Bell, 316 S.E.2d 611, 616 (N. C. 1984)) (other citations omitted).
In the case at bar, the evidence produced by the Commonwealth was clearly sufficient to
establish a basis from which the trial court could infer that Peck's conduct demonstrated his
intent to wound Crawford and that his conduct went beyond mere preparation to carry out his
intention. The mere fact that Peck stopped short of cutting Crawford does not negate the
significance of the evidence of his intent, nor his conduct in furtherance of the crime. Indeed,
Crawford testified that it was not until he picked up another knife, "in self-defense," and
LeBlond intervened, that the altercation came to an end. See Bottoms v. Commonwealth, 22
Va. App. 378, 383, 470 S.E.2d 153, 156 (1996) ("Although an overt act must go beyond mere
preparation, `it need not be the last proximate act to the consummation of the crime in
contemplation, but it is sufficient if it be an act apparently adapted to produce the result
intended.'" (quoting Granberry v. Commonwealth, 184 Va. 674, 678, 36 S.E.2d 547, 548
For the foregoing reasons, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.
Benton, J., dissenting.
"`An attempt to commit a crime is composed of two elements: (1) The intent to commit
it; and (2) a direct, ineffectual act done towards its commission.'" Haywood v. Commonwealth,
20 Va. App. 562, 565, 458 S.E.2d 606, 607-08 (1995) (quoting Merritt v. Commonwealth, 164
Va. 653, 657, 180 S.E. 395, 397 (1935)). Thus, "to convict an accused of attempted malicious
wounding, the Commonwealth must prove that the accused (1) intended to `maliciously shoot,
stab, cut or wound any person or by any means cause bodily injury with the intent to maim,
disfigure, disable or kill' [Code 18.2-51]; and (2) committed a direct but ineffectual act toward
this purpose." Crawley v. Commonwealth, 25 Va. App. 768, 772, 492 S.E.2d 503, 505 (1997).
In discussing the law of attempts, the Supreme Court has noted the following:
"The act must be done with the specific intent to commit a
particular crime. This specific intent at the time the act is done is
essential. To do an act from general malevolence is not an attempt
to commit a crime, because there is no specific intent, though the
act according to its consequences may amount to a substantive
crime. To do an act with intent to commit one crime cannot be an
attempt to commit another crime though it might result in such
other crime. To set fire to a house and burn a human being who is
in it, but not to the offender's knowledge, would be murder, though
the intent was to burn the house only; but to attempt to set fire to
the house under such circumstances would be an attempt to
commit arson only and not an attempt to murder. A man actuated
by general malevolence may commit murder though there is no
actual intention to kill; to be guilty of an attempt to murder there
must be a specific intent to kill."
Thacker v. Commonwealth, 134 Va. 767, 770-71, 114 S.E. 504, 506 (1922) (citation omitted).
"It is the law in this jurisdiction that where a statute makes an offense consist of an act
combined with a particular intent, such intent is as necessary to be proved as the act itself, and it
is necessary for the intent to be established as a matter of fact before a conviction can be had."
Dixon v. Commonwealth, 197 Va. 380, 382, 89 S.E.2d 344, 345 (1955). Indeed, to support a
conviction in this case, the evidence must prove specific intent beyond a reasonable doubt. In re
Winship, 397 U.S. 358, 364 (1970). "Surmise and speculation as to the existence of the intent
are not sufficient, and `no intent in law or mere legal presumption, differing from the intent in
fact, can be allowed to supply the place of the [requisite specific intent].'" Dixon, 197 Va. at
382, 89 S.E.2d at 345 (citation omitted); McKeon v. Commonwealth, 211 Va. 24, 26, 175 S.E.2d
282, 284 (1970).
The evidence is undisputed that during a labor dispute Daren Guy Peck and Jeffrey
Crawford argued about the timeliness and quality of Peck's work on the walls of a new house.
The owner of the construction company described the relevant events as follows:
Q: And what happened then.
A: You know, I could see that they -- you know, we weren't
getting a whole lot with all the arguing, so [Crawford], who heads
up the service department, asked [Peck] to leave. At that point
[Peck] came off the ladder and approached [Crawford] with the dry
Q: Do you recall him saying anything when he came off the
A: . . . I think [Crawford] put it as, well, maybe you ought to just
leave then. And [Peck] came off the ladder and said, "Well,
maybe I just ought to come down here and cut your throat." And
at that point he approached [Crawford], came at him pretty hard,
and had the -- you know, was waving the knife in front of him at
Q: Show the Court how he was holding the knife.
A: He just came off the ladder like he was coming straight at him.
Q: You're indicating your arm straight ahead?
A: Yes, ma'am.
Q: And what was he doing with the knife?
A: Just he was -- kind of movement like this.
Q: You're indicating a forward and back motion?
Q: Did you see where the -- you know, what was in his hand,
A: It was either a five or six-inch, we call them dry wall knives.
They're putty knives, whatever. They're used for touching up
walls and doing dry wall, plaster-type work.
Q: And did you see where the putty knife or dry wall knife was
actually in relationship to . . . Crawford?
A: Yeah. Before I got involved they were getting pretty close to
each other. They were kind of about face to face. . . . [It] was up
towards his neck, about six inches to a foot away, I'd say, roughly.
Q: What did . . . Crawford do?
A: At that point, [Crawford] stepped backwards and there was a
center island in the kitchen and we were all working on the house
and there happened to be a couple of tools on the kitchen island.
[Crawford] grabbed one of those and then it was just kind of a
standoff and that's when I was able to kind of split things up and
ask [Peck] to leave.
Q: What do you mean, you split things up? What specifically did
A: Well, at first I was in the situation where I didn't really want to
get between [Peck] and the knife and so [Crawford] stepped back.
He grabbed a tool, they both kind of separated and then I had to
kind of jump in the middle and get it split up at that point.
* * * * * * *
Q: You said at some point they were face to face. How close were
they when you say they were face to face?
A: The closest it got was when [Peck] came right up to him, then
stopped, with the knife. I'd say six inches to a foot apart at that
Q: When you say that [Peck] came right up to him and stopped
with the knife, he went like that and then stopped?
A: Yes, sir.
Q: How long were they in that position before [Crawford] went
back and grabbed the little putty knife?
A: It might have been maybe ten or fifteen seconds, because they
just, kind of a standoff, then [Crawford] had the other knife and
they'd -- okay.
Q: But during that ten or five seconds would you say it was jawing
off, would you say --
A: I don't think they were saying a whole lot at that stage of the
Q: And in that ten or fifteen seconds [Peck] didn't take any swipes
A: No, he just sat there with that knife right there in his face
This evidence proved Peck, himself, stopped his advance toward Crawford and, while
cursing, stood before Crawford with his putty knife. He made no attempt to act beyond that
threat. No evidence proved "an extraneous circumstance independent of the will of
[Peck] . . . prevented [him] from carrying out" his threat. Howard v. Commonwealth, 207 Va.
222, 228, 148 S.E.2d 800, 804 (1966). The two men were looking at each other in a "standoff"
before Crawford stepped to the table and retrieved his putty knife. No evidence proved Peck
moved toward Crawford when he stepped to the table to get his putty knife. Indeed, when the
owner stepped between them, Peck was not advancing toward Crawford. Peck left the house at
the owner's suggestion without further ado.
I would hold that Peck's volitional act of stopping within six to twelve inches of
Crawford without any further movement toward Crawford negates the alleged intent to
maliciously wound Crawford. The inference of an intent to wound is negated by the evidence
that Peck ceased his approach to Crawford and remained in a "stand off" with Crawford for ten
to fifteen seconds without initiating any further contact and without the intervention of some
Although the evidence does not support a finding of attempt to maliciously wound, Peck
was not blameless. Rather, the evidence shows that Peck's actions constituted an assault against
Crawford because his comments and lunge toward Crawford with a putty knife placed Crawford
in reasonable apprehension of bodily harm. In Virginia, a criminal assault has long been defined
as either (1) an attempt to touch another person in an unprivileged way, see Harper v.
Commonwealth, 196 Va. 723, 725-26, 85 S.E.2d 249, 251 (1955), or (2) an intentional placing of
another in apprehension of receiving an immediate unprivileged touching, see Burgess v.
Commonwealth, 136 Va. 697, 707-08, 118 S.E. 273, 276 (1923). "[B]oth will involve some
physical act which proffers imminent unwanted force." John L. Costello, Virginia Criminal Law
and Procedure 4.2, at 70-71 (2d ed. 1995) (emphasis omitted). Indeed, the Supreme Court
recently reaffirmed that Virginia
adhere[s] to the common law definition of assault, . . . [requiring]
an attempt with force and violence, to do some bodily hurt to
another, whether from wantonness or malice, by means calculated
to produce the end if carried into execution; it is any act
accompanied with circumstances denoting an intention, coupled
with a present ability, to use actual violence against another
Zimmerman v. Commonwealth, 266 Va. 384, 387, 585 S.E.2d 538, 539 (2003). Peck's lunge
toward Crawford with the putty knife followed by a "stand off" before Crawford, was sufficient
to show Peck intended to put Crawford in fear of bodily harm with the threat to use the putty
knife. That conduct is by definition an assault. See id.
For these reasons, I would reverse the conviction for attempted malicious wounding and
remand for proceedings on an offense no greater than assault.
* Pursuant to Code 17.1-413, this opinion is not designated for publication. Further,
because this opinion has no precedential value, we recite only those facts essential to our
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