Justia Pennsylvania Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

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On September 20, 2010, at age of 13 appellant, H.R., was adjudicated delinquent for indecent assault of a complainant less than 13 years of age. Appellant was placed on official probation and, pursuant to Section 6352 of the Juvenile Act, was ordered to undergo inpatient treatment at a sex offender residential treatment facility. Appellant remained in treatment when he turned 20 in February 2017 and he was assessed pursuant to Section 6352, the results of which found that involuntary treatment at a sex offender residential treatment facility pursuant to the Court-Ordered Involuntary Treatment of Certain Sexually Violent Persons Statute (Act 21) was still necessary. On January 4, 2018, following a hearing, a trial court denied appellant's motion to dismiss and granted the petition for involuntary treatment, determining appellant was an sexually violent delinquent child (SVDC) and committing him to one year of mental health treatment. On appeal, appeal, appellant argued: (1) Act 21 was punitive in nature, and this its procedure for determining whether an individual was an SVDC was unconstitutional; and (2) retroactive application of amendments to Act 21 made effective in 2011, was also unconstitutional. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court determined the superior court correctly determined the relevant provisions of Act 21 were not punitive, were constitutional, thus, affirming the trial court's order. View "In re: H.R." on Justia Law

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Appellee William Housman petitioned for post-conviction relief, and appealed when that relief was denied. Housman was accused of murdering Leslie White in 2000. He was convicted by jury of first-degree murder, kidnapping, theft by unlawful taking or disposition, unlawful restraint, abuse of a corpse, and criminal conspiracy. The Commonwealth sought the death penalty for Housman and his co-defendant, his former girlfriend, Beth Ann Markman. The Commonwealth appealed the PCRA court’s grant of a new penalty-phase trial, and Housman cross-appealed the court’s denial of guilt-phase relief. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court concluded the record supported the PCRA court’s determination that Housman’s claim that trial counsel was ineffective for failing to investigate and present mitigating evidence at his penalty phase had arguable merit; that trial counsel’s performance lacked a reasonable basis; and that Housman suffered prejudice as a result of counsel’s ineffectiveness. Accordingly, with respect to the Commonwealth’s appeal, the Supreme Court affirmed the PCRA court’s grant of a new penalty trial. In light of the Court's affirmance of the PCRA court’s grant of a new penalty trial, the Court did not address Housman’s remaining penalty-phase claims. View "Pennsylvania v. Housman" on Justia Law

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Appellant William Rohland was an inmate confined at SCI-Huntingdon. In 2005, he was charged in Lackawanna County, Pennsylvania, with various offenses. He was ultimately sentenced on those charges in November 2006 to one-to-five years’ imprisonment, and was required as part of his sentence to pay restitution, fines, and costs. Thereafter, in 2007, Appellant was convicted in Luzerne County on two counts of first-degree murder and sentenced to two consecutive terms of life imprisonment. As of December 2016, the Department of Corrections' records reflected Appellant still owed approximately $2,300 in connection with his Lackawanna County sentence, although the incarceration aspect of that sentenced had expired. Thus, the prison’s business office sent Appellant a memorandum notifying him of the amount owed and indicating that the prison would begin making periodic Act 84 deductions from his inmate account to satisfy that obligation. The memo also gave instructions on how Appellant could challenge the deductions. The issue this case presented for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's review was whether the deductions from an inmate account could continue after Appellant finished serving the prison-term portion of the sentence while still incarcerated on a separate sentence. The Supreme Court determined the Department had clear legal authorization under Act 84 to effectuate such deductions. That being the case, the Supreme Court determined the Commonwealth Court acted properly in granting the Department's motion for summary judgment. View "Rohland v Business Office, Dept. of Corrections" on Justia Law

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In this appeal by allowance, the issue this case presented for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's review centered on whether the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education's (“State System”) policy regarding the protection of minors ― requiring, inter alia, that faculty members submit to criminal background checks and report to their university employers if they are arrested or convicted of a serious crime, or found or indicated to be a perpetrator of child abuse ― constituted an inherent managerial policy or prerogative, rendering it nonbargainable for purposes of collective bargaining between the faculty and the State System. The Supreme Court determined the policy at issue constituted a nonbargainable inherent managerial policy. The Court reversed the Commonwealth Court, which held to the contrary. View "APSCUF v. PLRB" on Justia Law

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The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania challenged a superior court's application of United States v. Cronic, 466 U.s. 648 (1984) to find that trial counsel's failure to secure a Spanish language interpreter for appellee Miguel Diaz on the first day of his trial for charges relating to rape, rape of a child, endangering the welfare of children, statutory sexual assault, indecent assault, corruption of minors, and conspiracy. The argument was that failure in not securing a translator was prejudice per se because Diaz was not a native English speaker, and could not fully understand the proceedings. After review, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court concluded that where the absence of a needed interpreter at a critical stage of trial obstructs his ability to communicate with counsel, Cronic applies such that the defendant need not prove he or she was prejudiced by a Sixth Amendment violation. Based on the record, the Supreme Court found the Superior Court correctly concluded that Cronic was applicable and that no specific showing of prejudice was required because of the absence of an interpreter on the first day of trial during critical stages of the proceeding. View "Pennsylvania v. Diaz" on Justia Law

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The Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted discretionary review to determine whether the procedure used to designate certain individuals convicted of sexual offenses as sexually violent predators (SVPs), codified at 42 Pa.C.S. section 9799.24(e)(3), was constitutionally permissible in light of the Court's decision in Commonwealth v. Muniz, 164 A.3d 1189 (Pa. 2017). The Superior Court extrapolated from our decision in Muniz to hold the lifetime registration, notification, and counseling requirements (RNC requirements) applicable to SVPs pursuant to 42 Pa.C.S. sections 9799.15, 9799.16, 9799.26, 9799.27, and 9799.36 were increased criminal punishment such that the procedure for conducting SVP determinations violated the requirements of Apprendi v. New Jersey, 530 U.S. 466 (2000) and Alleyne v. United States, 570 U.S. 99 (2013). The Pennsylvania Supreme Court held RNC requirements did not constitute criminal punishment and therefore the procedure for designating individuals as SVPs under 9799.24(e)(3) was not subject the requirements of Apprendi and Alleyne, and remained constitutional. View "Pennsylvania v. Butler" on Justia Law

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In October 2019, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court reversed a Commonwealth Court order and directed that the name of Sherrie Cohen be placed on the November 5, 2019 ballot as an independent candidate for Philadelphia City Council-at-Large. Because the Board of Elections only had until the close of business on October 4, 2019 to add Cohen’s name to the ballot, the Supreme Court issued its order noting that an opinion would follow. By this opinion, the Supreme Court forth its reasons for concluding that Cohen’s withdrawal as a candidate in the Democratic primary election for City Council-at-Large did not preclude her from running in the general election as an independent candidate. On August 16, 2019, the trial court issued an order granting the petitions to set aside Cohen’s nomination papers. In an opinion in support of the order, the court looked to Packrall v. Quail, 192 A.2d 704 (Pa. 1963), where the Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that when a candidate withdraws his nomination petitions for a primary ballot “within the permitted period,” his subsequently filed nomination papers may be accepted. The trial court distinguished Cohen’s case from Packrall because “Cohen required Court intervention to leave the primary ballot.” The court determined this to be the decisive factor in concluding that she was “subject to the ‘sore loser’ provision.” Cohen filed a timely appeal to the Commonwealth Court. In a single-judge memorandum and order, the trial court was affirmed, holding “[w]hen a person withdraws of his or her own volition within the time for filing, it ‘undoes,’ ab initio, the filing because a person gets to choose whether he or she wants to go through the primary process to seek an office.” Cohen asserted on appeal of the Commonwealth Court’s order that that court erred by failing to consider withdrawal by court order under Election Code Section 978.4 to have the same effect as voluntary withdrawal pursuant to Section 914. The Supreme Court agreed with Cohen that “[t]he Commonwealth Court failed to acknowledge that the important dividing line in this area of the law is between voluntary withdraw[als] and candidates getting stricken from the ballot. … Because there is no principled reason to distinguish between the voluntariness of a withdrawal under Section 914 or Section 978.4, Cohen is entitled to relief from this Court.” View "In Re: Nomination Papers of Sherrie Cohen" on Justia Law

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Thirty years ago, Appellee Otto Young was sentenced to twenty-five years in prison after he was convicted of aggravated assault, burglary, terroristic threats, and conspiracy. He was repeatedly released on parole and his parole was repeatedly revoked. On three occasions, the revocations were due to crimes that Young committed while at liberty on parole. This case presented a straightforward issue for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s review, namely whether the Board of Probation and Parole (the “Board”) had the statutory authority to rescind a previous grant of credit for time spent at liberty on parole. The Supreme Court agreed with the Commonwealth Court’s determination that the Board lacked any such statutory authority and thus affirmed its order. View "Young v. PA Board of Probation & Parole" on Justia Law

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The issue this case presented for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s review centered on the scope and application of the qualified immunity provided under Section 114 of the Mental Health Procedures Act (MHPA), 50 P.S. sections 7101-7503. On November 20, 2012, twenty-three year-old Andrew Johnson (Andrew) voluntarily admitted himself to Bowling Green-Brandywine Addiction Treatment Center (Brandywine). Andrew sought drug rehabilitation treatment for his addiction to opiates (OxyContin) and benzodiazepines (Xanax), which were first prescribed to him two years earlier for pain and anxiety related to back injuries arising from an ATV accident. He was accompanied by his mother, appellant Melissa Dean, and reported his health history to Brandywine staff. Appellee Mohammad Ali Khan, M.D., a physician at Brandywine, took Andrew’s medical history and performed a physical exam. At approximately 8:15 in the evening of November 28, 2012, the nursing staff informed Khan of Andrew’s elevated vital signs, but Khan declined to examine Andrew, did not issue any new treatment orders, and instructed the nursing staff not to transfer Andrew to the emergency room. The nursing staff again checked Andrew every few hours, noting his vital signs but giving no additional treatment. At approximately 7:50 a.m. the next morning, Andrew was found lying on the floor of his room, face down, without a pulse. He was transferred to a nearby hospital where he was pronounced dead. Andrew’s parents, appellant Dean and Clifton Johnson, as administrators of Andrew’s estate and in their individual capacities, filed suit against Brandywine, Dr. Kahn, and others who treated Andrew, raising medical malpractice, wrongful death and survival claims. Specifically, appellants alleged Andrew died of a cardiac arrhythmia due to the combination of medications prescribed during treatment at Brandywine, and that his death was the result of medical negligence including the failure to properly examine, diagnose, appreciate, and treat his medical condition. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court concluded the Superior Court erred in affirming entry of a compulsory nonsuit and held immunity did not apply under circumstances where: (1) the patient was admitted for and primarily received drug detoxification treatment; and (2) the patient did not receive treatment to facilitate recovery from a mental illness. Consequently, the Court reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "Dean v. Bowling Green-Brandywine" on Justia Law

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On the night of May 29, 2012, appellant Patrick Tighe, then 58 years old, sexually assaulted a minor female victim, J.E., then 15 years old. In this discretionary appeal, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court examined whether the trial court improperly limited appellant’s right to self-representation in violation of the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution and Article I, Section 9 of the Pennsylvania Constitution when, during appellant’s jury trial, the court prohibited appellant, who was proceeding pro se, from personally conducting cross-examination of the victim-witness, and instead required stand-by counsel to cross-examine the witness using questions prepared by appellant. The Supreme Court concluded there was no constitutional violation and affirmed the order of the Superior Court. View "Pennsylvania v. Tighe" on Justia Law