The Virginia Court of Appeals today granted a petition that I filed on behalf of my client, Felecia Amos, asking for a rehearing en banc of the Court’s decision in the Amos v. Commonwealth case. The Court of Appeals’ initial ruling in the case, which was issued in August by a three judge panel of the Court before Ms. Amos hired me to represent her, upheld an Arlington County Circuit Court judge’s order sentencing Ms. Amos to ten days in jail for supposedly lying about her husband’s violations of a protective order. The Circuit Court judge convicted and sentenced Ms. Amos for criminal contempt of court, but he denied her the most basic due process—Ms. Amos was not charged with a crime before she was convicted, she was not allowed to have an attorney and she was given no opportunity to present any evidence or even to saying anything in her defense. In the petition that I filed I argued that this denial of Ms. Amos’ due process rights was a clear violation of the United States Constitution.
The decision to grant the petition for rehearing en banc means that the full Virginia Court of Appeals will now hear the case and that, at least for the moment, the decision upholding Ms. Amos’ conviction has been set aside. The decision to grant a rehearing en banc is unusual and presumably means that a number of judges on the full court believe that the three judge panel may have decided the case incorrectly. Both sides (Ms. Amos, who I represent, and the Commonwealth of Virginia) will now have a new opportunity to submit briefs. Hopefully the Court of Appeals will take this opportunity to correct what was, in my view, a truly shocking and entirely unjustified violation of Ms. Amos’ constitutional rights.
In addition to the constitutional issues that are at the heart of Ms. Amos’ argument that her conviction was improper, the case has important public policy implications for women trying to escape abusive relationships. It is no secret that some women are reluctant to complain when a person with whom they have had a relationship violates a protective order. But that reluctance to come forward is likely to be multiplied several times over if victims come to fear that they may be thrown in jail if a judge decides that they are not telling the truth, without even being allowed to have a lawyer represent their interests or to make any argument in their defense.
A copy of the initial Virginia Court of Appeals’ decision can be found here.
A copy of the brief I filed seeking a rehearing en banc, which explains in considerable detail our argument that Ms. Amos’ rights were violated, can be found here.
A copy of the very short Virginia Court of Appeals order granting rehearing en banc can be found here.