Difference Between Role Of Judge and Jury In Virginia
In Virginia, the distinctions between the role of judge and jury are well established: "It is the duty of the trial judge to interpret and to apply the law; but it is the peculiar duty of the jury to evaluate the evidence.
A judge must not express or indicate, by word or deed, an opinion as to the credibility of a witness or as to the weight or quality of the evidence.
Any question or act of the judge which may have a tendency to indicate his thought or belief with respect to the character of the evidence is improper, and should be avoided.
The impartiality of the judge must be preserved in form and fact."
Brown v. Commonwealth, 3 Va. App. 101, 106, 348 S.E.2d 408, 411 (1986) (quoting Jones v. Town of LaCrosse, 180 Va. 406, 410, 23 S.E.2d 142, 144 (1942)).
If the trial judge improperly comments on or suggests such an opinion, the "error is presumed to be prejudicial unless it plainly appears that it could not have affected the result." Spence v. Miller, 197 Va. 477, 482, 90 S.E.2d 131, 135 (1955).
"Criminal intent is an essential element of the statutory offense of trespass, even though the statute is silent as to intent, and if the act prohibited is committed in good faith under claim of right . . . although the accused is mistaken as to his right, . . . no conviction will lie . . . ."
Therefore, one cannot be convicted of trespass when one enters or stays upon the land under a bona fide claim of right. A good faith belief that one has a right to be on the premises negates criminal intent. Reed v. Commonwealth, 6 Va. App. 65, 71, 366 S.E.2d 274, 278 (1988).
"A bona fide claim of right is a sincere, although perhaps mistaken, good faith belief that one has some legal right to be on the property." Id.