A Charlottesville man will not receive a new trial after his attorney argued there was insufficient evidence to convict him on six counts of shooting in an occupied dwelling.
In March, a jury found Timothy Lamont Miles, 30, not guilty of attempted capital murder of a city policeman in 2018 but did find him guilty of on six counts of shooting in an occupied dwelling during the same incident.
Miles was charged for the shooting of Charlottesville Police Cpl. Chris Huber. As Huber stood in Miles’ kitchen in a home on Hardy Drive on Sept. 8, 2018, testimony showed Miles fired six shots from a bright-orange 9mm semi-automatic in the officer’s direction, hitting him once in the protective vest.
Huber fired five shots at Miles, striking him once in the abdomen and once in the pelvis.
According to testimony, Miles had been drinking that night – his blood alcohol content was estimated to be near .22 – and he did not follow orders from Huber to get on the ground, but turned his left shoulder toward the policeman. That’s when Huber drew his weapon. Shots rang out when Huber saw Miles’ brightly-colored pistol, although neither Huber nor Miles, other police officers nor police body camera footage could determine who fired first.
Prosecutors argued that Miles wanted to kill Huber while the defense insisted that was never his intent.
In the end, the jury acquitted Miles of the attempted capital murder chagre, and for the remaining charges recommended a total sentence of 12 years; five years on one count of shooting in a building, two years on each of two other counts and one year on each of three other counts.
However, in the months following his trial, Miles had a change in court-appointed counsel and filed a motion for dismissal of his adjudications or for the entry of a new trial.
Thursday in Charlottesville Circuit Court, Miles’ attorney, Norman Lamson, argued that the court should set aside the convictions or give his client another trial.
Lamson broke the arguments down into various points, spending the most time arguing about the interpretation of the word “occupied.”
According to Lamson, in the absence of statutory clarification, the word “occupied” should be interpreted to apply only to those who live within a dwelling. This narrow distinction is important because it would mean that the charges could not apply to Huber.
“While we don’t dispute that he was there, Huber did not occupy the premises simply by being there; simply being on the premises is not enough to be considered an occupant,” Lamson said. “It matters whether the space was occupied, who occupies it and whether those persons’ lives were endangered.”
Lamson went on to address other hypotheticals that might apply to non-residences, such as workers within a convenience store. In the event of a shooting at a convenience store, the workers would be considered occupants because they were supposed to be on the premises.
“We agree that there is evidence that the home was occupied but we disagree that there was danger to the occupants, just danger to an invitee and therefore the evidence supporting the charges is insufficient,” he said.
Nina-Alice Antony, senior assistant commonwealth’s attorney for Charlottesville, said the issue could be summed up as a disagreement over the interpretation of the term “occupied.”
Antony pointed to the use of the word “occupied” instead of “occupant” which she argued created an important distinction that didn’t fit with Lamson’s argument. More importantly, Antony said the court should look at the statutory interpretation of the law’s intention.
“This is a law intended to prevent the danger of shooting in an enclosed space with people in it,” she said.
As an example, Antony cited a similar law that criminalizes shooting into an occupied vehicle. In a situation where a vehicle sans a driver was shot into surely the law would still extend to any passengers, she said.
Another argument presented by Lamson was that Miles’ firing of the gun was an involuntary action caused by clenching after he was shot by Huber. Antony countered that this was a question of fact that was properly left up to the jury to decide.
An argument that Miles’ Fourth Amendment rights were violated by the interaction appeared to have caused the most procedural confusion for the court.
Though the 4th Amendment is typically used to suppress evidence, Lamson argued that in this case its excessive force and unreasonable seizure provisions were at issue.
After Huber entered the home he did not show Miles his warrant or explain why he was asking Miles to get on the ground, Lamson said. Additionally, the caliber of bullets used by Huber were particularly lethal.
Judge Daniel R. Bouton said he was unsure this was an argument properly suited for a post-trial hearing and likely should have been raised pre-trial or before jury instruction during the trial.
Antony agreed with Bouton’s assessment and also argued that Huber made it clear he had an arrest warrant, which Miles made it clear he understood when he responded “what for?” as shown in the video evidence.
One of the last arguments raised was whether Miles should have faced fewer charges of firing into an occupied dwelling. According to Lamson, several of the shell casings were found during forensic investigations days after the incident. There was nothing showing of chain of custody, he said, and it was not clear whether those casing were related to the same incident.
Antony again argued that this was a question of fact best left up to the jury and pointed to the “incredible amount” of forensic evidence gathered during the investigation, all of which was available to the defense prior to the trial and little of which was questioned.
After taking a brief recess, Bouton returned and ruled against the defense, breaking down his disagreements for each of Lamson’s points.
Bouton agreed with the commonwealth’s interpretation of “occupied” versus “occupant,” which he also viewed as a broad definition intended to prevent harm.
“Obviously we’re all familiar with synonyms and I think the concept applies here,” he said. “There is no clear way to apply the law in the way the defense defines it.”
On the issue of whether Miles firing the gun was an involuntary action and whether he fired three or six times, Bouton said he found this was a question of fact correctly left to the jury to decide.
Bouton stuck by his earlier assessment that a post-trial hearing was the wrong time to raise a Fourth Amendment issue and said the defense had every opportunity to raise it before the trial ended.
Given the ample evidence presented to the jurors, Bouton said he simply could not find that the evidence was insufficient and denied Miles’ motion to overturn the charges.
Miles will appear in court again on Feb. 1 for a probation violation hearing, after which the court will set a date for his formal sentencing.