Articles Posted in Criminal Law

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The Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted discretionary review to determine whether the enhanced sentence imposed on appellant Samuel Monarch due to his failure to submit to chemical testing was unconstitutional. The Superior Court acknowledged enhanced penalties for a failure to submit to warrantless blood testing violated the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution under Birchfield v. North Dakota, ___ U.S. ___, 136 S.Ct. 2160 (2016), but nevertheless determined appellant’s enhanced sentence was not unconstitutional because he also refused to submit to breath testing. The Supreme Court held the Superior Court erred in this regard and, accordingly, reversed that court’s order, vacated appellant’s judgment of sentence, and remanded for resentencing. View "Pennsylvania v. Monarch" on Justia Law

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In this appeal by allowance, the issue presented for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's review centered on whether a defendant’s fugitive status during the period for filing a notice of appeal – where his attorney filed a timely notice of appeal on his behalf and he later returned after the appeal period ended, but prior to the deadline for filing an appellate brief – resulted in the defendant forfeiting his right to appeal. The Court affirmed the superior court, which found a defendant fugitive’s right to appeal to be forfeited in these circumstances. View "Pennsylvania v. Adams" on Justia Law

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A jury convicted appellant Ricardo Natividad in 1997 of first-degree murder, carrying a firearm on a public street, two counts of possession of an instrument of crime, two counts of robbery, one count of robbery of a motor vehicle, kidnapping, and criminal conspiracy. The charges arose from separate indictments for the robbery of Michael Havens and the murder of Robert Campbell. At the penalty phase, the jury returned a verdict of death after finding the aggravating circumstances, killing while in the perpetration of a felony, and a significant history of violent felony convictions, outweighed the sole mitigating factor, appellant’s life history. He appealed directly to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court after an order dismissed his petition for post-conviction relief. Appellant presented multiple challenges pursuant to Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963), none of which the Supreme Court determined would afford him relief. Therefore, the Court affirmed the order dismissing appellant’s petition. View "Pennsylvania v. Natividad" on Justia Law

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In May 2015, a jury found Jordan Clemons guilty of first-degree murder for killing Karissa Kunco during the early morning hours of January 12, 2012. Upon the jury’s recommendation, the trial court sentenced Clemons to death. In this direct appeal, Clemons raised numerous instances of trial court error and challenged the weight and sufficiency of the evidence. Finding no reversible errors, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court affirmed Clemons’ judgment of sentence. View "Pennsylvania v. Clemons" on Justia Law

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In December of 2012, a criminal complaint was filed against Appellant Michael Norton, charging him with five counts of indecent assault and one count of corruption of minors. According to the complaint and the accompanying affidavit of probable cause, on at least five occasions from September of 2008 through April of 2012, Appellant sexually abused his paramour’s granddaughter (“Victim”), born in September of 2004. A trial court used the standard announced in Commonwealth v. Carrasquillo, 115 A.3d 1284 (Pa. 2015) to deny a presentence motion to withdraw a plea of nolo contendere, and the superior court concluded the trial court did not abuse its discretion in so denying the motion. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court held the superior court correctly concluded that the trial court acted within its discretion by denying the presentence motion to withdraw a plea of nolo contendere. View "Pennsylvania v. Norton" on Justia Law

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The issue presented to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court by this case was one of first impression: whether a woman’s use of opioids while pregnant, which results in a child born suffering from neonatal abstinence syndrome(“NAS”), constitutes “child abuse.” In 2016, A.A.R. (“Mother”), was released from incarceration, after which she relapsed into drug addiction, using opioids (pain pills) and marijuana. Mother subsequently learned that she was pregnant with L.J.B. (“Child”). She sought treatment for her addiction, first through a methadone maintenance program and then with subutex. Mother again relapsed, and in mid-January 2017 she tested positive for opiates, benzodiazepines and marijuana, none of which were prescribed for her. Mother gave birth to Child on January 27, 2017; at the time of Child’s birth, Mother tested positive for marijuana and subutex. By the third day of life, Child began exhibiting symptoms of NAS, including tremors, excessive suck, increased muscle tone and loose stools, which doctors treated with morphine. Mother reportedly left Child in the hospital and did not consistently check on her or stay with her (despite the availability of a room for her to do so). Hospital personnel communicated all of this information to the Clinton County Children and Youth Social Services Agency (“CYS”), which ultimately took emergency custody of the child. The Pennsylvania Child Protective Services Law (“CPSL”) defined “child abuse,” in relevant part, as “intentionally, knowingly or recklessly ... (1) [c]ausing bodily injury to a child through any recent act or failure to act,” or “(5) [c]reating a reasonable likelihood of bodily injury to a child through any recent act or failure to act.” The Supreme Court concluded,based on the relevant statutory language, that a mother cannot be found to be a perpetrator of child abuse against her newly born child for drug use while pregnant. The Court therefore reversed the decision of the Superior Court and remanded the matter for reinstatement of the trial court’s order. View "In the Interest of: L.J.B" on Justia Law

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William Rivera appealed the death sentence he received for the 1995 carjacking and murder of Tae Hung Kang. The Post-Conviction Relief court limited his appeal to one issue — whether penalty phase counsel was ineffective for failing to present mental health and life history mitigation evidence. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has stated on numerous occasions that “no number of failed claims may collectively warrant relief i[f] they fail to do so individually.” However, the Court has also acknowledged that “‘if multiple instances of deficient performance are found, the assessment of prejudice properly may be premised upon cumulation.’” The Court found "the great majority" of appellant’s individual claims lacked merit, therefore the Court was satisfied appellant was not entitled to relief based on cumulative prejudice. Therefore, the PCR court properly dismissed appellant's petition for relief after having limited its hearing to one issue. View "Pennsylvania v. Rivera" on Justia Law

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In this opinion, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court considered a question left unanswered by its July 27, 2018 opinion. Specifically, the Court addressed what, if any, due process remedy was available to Petitioners, who were former and current priests in various Catholic Dioceses throughout Pennsylvania specifically condemned in Report 1 of the 40th Investigating Grand Jury (“Report 1”) as “predator priests,” to secure their constitutionally guaranteed right to reputation. The Court concluded that it could not employ any of the remedies offered by the parties, and, thus, the Court had to make permanent the redaction of Petitioners’ identifying information from Report 1, which was previously ordered as an interim measure, “as this is the only viable due process remedy we may now afford to Petitioners to protect their constitutional rights to reputation.” View "In Re: Fortieth Statewide Investigation Grand Jury" on Justia Law

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Appellant James Williams appealed a Court of Common Pleas order dismissing his timely first petition for post-conviction relief. In 1995, Appellant, together with four co-defendants, planned to rob Richard White, a drug dealer they believed to possess significant amounts of cash. During the commission of the robbery outside White’s home, Appellant shot White three times with a MAC 10 automatic weapon. White died from his wounds. Acting pro se, Appellant was convicted by jury of first-degree murder, robbery, and conspiracy to commit robbery, for which Appellant was sentenced to death. On appeal, Appellant again proceeded pro se with access to new standby counsel. For post-conviction relief proceedings, the court appointed counsel to represent Appellant. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court concluded after review, Appellant did not present a meritorious issue eligible for relief under the PCRA, and affirmed dismissal of Appellant’s petition for relief. View "Pennsylvania v. Williams" on Justia Law

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Appellee Tex Ortiz was the single father of a two-and-one-half year-old daughter, J.O., with whom he resided. n Allegheny County. In December 2015, the child’s maternal grandmother secured interim primary legal and physical custody of J.O. in a judicial proceeding at which Appellee failed to appear. The grandmother and others made various attempts to implement the custody order, but initially neither Appellee nor J.O. could be located. Appellee apparently took various measures to conceal his and J.O’s whereabouts, and he was eventually located where he surrendered the child to authorities and was arrested. Appellee was charged with various offenses, and convicted of interference with custody of children (“ICC”), a third-degree felony, and kidnapping of a minor under Section 2901(a.1)(2) of the Crimes Code. Throughout the proceedings, Appellee maintained that ICC, committed by a biological parent, could not serve as a predicate felony for purposes of kidnapping of a minor under Section 2901(a.1)(2). Appellee relied substantially upon Commonwealth v. Barfield, 768 A.2d 343 (Pa. Super. 2001). The trial court rejected his argument, intermixing into its explanation a classification of kidnapping with which Appellee was not charged. On appeal, the superior court reversed, relying substantially upon the Barfield decision, recognizing that intermediate-court decisions subsequent to Barfield had determined that a parent could be validly convicted of kidnapping of a minor. According to the superior court, however, where the intention of a defendant-parent is solely to retain custody and/or, correspondingly, reflects a desire to maintain an existing bond with a child, kidnapping of a minor will not lie. Ultimately, the intermediate court determined that ICC cannot serve as a predicate offense, under Section 2901(a.1)(2), where the defendant is the biological parent of the child addressed by the relevant custody order. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court agreed with the superior Court and affirmed its judgment. View "Pennsylvania v. Ortiz" on Justia Law