Justia Pennsylvania Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Criminal Law
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Appellant Damien Green appealed a superior court order which quashed his appeal of a Court of Common Pleas order. The superior court concluded the trial court’s order, granting decertification to a juvenile who was to be tried as an adult for murder, constituted a legal nullity because the decertification order was not filed within the time constraints set forth in Section 6322(b) of the Juvenile Act, 42 Pa. C.S. § 6322(b), and Pennsylvania Rule of Criminal Procedure 597 (Rule 597). The Pennsylvania Supreme Court accepted review in this case to consider, as a matter of first impression, whether a transfer order filed after the 20-day limitation in Section 6322 of the Juvenile Act and Rule 597 was a legal nullity or should exceptions created by Pennsylvania jurisprudence under similar rules and statutes be applicable. Following oral argument, the Supreme Court entered a per curiam order October 28, 2022, affirming the Superior Court’s order quashing the appeal. The order also remanded the matter to the trial court for immediate entry of an order by the clerk of courts pursuant to Rule 597(D). View "Pennsylvania v. Green" on Justia Law

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In 2010, Appellant Dontez Perrin was convicted after a non-jury trial of conspiracy, aggravated assault, robbery, possessing instruments of crime, simple assault, recklessly endangering another person, receiving stolen property, firearms not to be carried without a license, and possession of firearm by minor for his role in the robbery and assault of victim Rodney Thompson when Thompson arrived at an apartment to deliver a pizza. The trial court imposed an aggregate sentence of five to ten years’ imprisonment. In an appeal by allowance, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court was tasked with determining whether the trial court erred in refusing to accept a proposed stipulation as to witness credibility in the context of a post-sentence motion for a new trial. As the Supreme Court determined the trial court was well within its right to reject the proposed stipulation, it affirmed its denial of Appellant’s motion. View "Pennsylvania v. Perrin" on Justia Law

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The U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals certified a question of law to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. The question centered on the single issue of whether Pennsylvania’s first-degree aggravated assault provision, codified at 18 Pa.C.S. § 2702(a)(1), required some use of physical force. Appellant Marc Harris pled guilty to possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. The United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania sentenced Appellant pursuant to the federal Armed Career Criminal Act (“ACCA”). Notably, the ACCA defines the term “violent felony” as including any crime punishable by a term of imprisonment exceeding one year that, inter alia: (1) “has as an element the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force against the person of another” (“element of force clause”). The Supreme Court answered this inquiry in the negative, holding that the offense of aggravated assault under Section 2702(a)(1) did not require the actor to exercise physical force when inflicting or attempting to inflict serious bodily injury upon the victim. View "United States v. Harris" on Justia Law

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This case arose from the April 2008 murder of D.B., a two-year-old child living with her mother and appellant Harve Johnson, mother’s boyfriend. Johnson appealed a Court of Common Pleas denying his first, timely petition for post-conviction relief pursuant to the Post Conviction Relief Act (PCRA). Johnson raised twenty-two claims; following a comprehensive review, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court concluded none entitled him to relief and affirmed the denial of post-conviction relief. View "Pennsylvania v. Johnson" on Justia Law

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In a discretionary appeal, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court considered whether Global Positioning System (“GPS”) data compiled from a GPS monitoring device on a parolee, was inadmissible hearsay. After careful consideration, the Court held that the challenged evidence was not hearsay because it does not constitute a statement made by a declarant, as outlined in Pennsylvania Rule of Evidence 801, as it is not an assertion (or the nonverbal conduct) of a person. View "Pennsylvania v. Wallace" on Justia Law

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At issue in this case was whether a superior court erred in it affirmed a Court of Common Please Criminal Division's decision overturning a Montgomery County District Attorney (DA) decision. The DA had disapproved the private criminal complaint of Luay Ajaj (Father) against Saja Ibrahim Abdulkareem Al Rabeeah (Mother) for violations of 18 Pa. C.S. § 2904(a) (interference with custody of children), and 18 Pa. C.S. § 2909(a) (concealment of whereabouts of a child). The Pennsylvania Supreme Court determined the proper standard of review courts should apply when reviewing a disapproval decision under Rule of Criminal Procedure 506(B)(2) was: if the private complainant demonstrated that the disapproval decision amounted to bad faith, occurred due to fraud, or was unconstitutional. Applying that standard of review here, the Court concluded Father failed to demonstrate that the DA’s decision to disapprove the Complaint amounted to bad faith, occurred due to fraud, or was unconstitutional, and, consequently, the Supreme Court reversed the superior court’s order. View "In Re: Private Comp. Filed by L. Ajaj" on Justia Law

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The issue presented was one of first impression for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court: whether trial counsel was ineffective for failing to object to a jury instruction in which the judge analogized jurors’ application of the “proof beyond a reasonable doubt” standard to jurors’ hypothetical decision-making regarding surgery involving a “precious one.” Appellant Gerald Drummond was convicted and sentenced to two consecutive life sentences for the shooting deaths of Timothy Clark and Damien Holloway. Holloway had an on-again, off-again relationship with Drummond’s sister, Annie. It was alleged Drummond did not approve of the relationship. Gunshot evidence suggested Clark was killed execution-style by an assailant standing behind him while Clark knelt with his hands interlocked behind his head. Holloway was shot in the cheek; he died later from brain hemorrhaging. After review of the jury instructions, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court concluded the instructions were reasonably likely to cause a jury to apply a diminished standard of proof in criminal cases, thus posing significant risks to a defendant’s due process rights. Accordingly, the Court found arguable merit to Drummond’s ineffective assistance of counsel claim. However, because counsel could not be deemed ineffective for failing to anticipate a change in the law, it affirmed the Superior Court’s order affirming the denial of Drummond’s PCRA petition. View "Pennsylvania v. Drummond" on Justia Law

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Appellant Demetrius Coleman appealed a superior court order vacating his sentence, and remanding the case to the Allegheny County Court of Common Please for resentencing. The Superior Court concluded the sentencing court erred in failing to sentence Appellant pursuant to the mandatory sentencing enhancement set forth in Section 9715(a) of the Sentencing Code, 42 Pa. C.S. § 9715(a), requiring that any person convicted of third-degree murder “in this Commonwealth who has previously been convicted at any time of murder . . . be sentenced to life imprisonment.” The issue presented for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's review was whether the Superior Court was correct in concluding that the mandatory sentencing enhancement applied to a defendant such as Appellant, who killed three people simultaneously and was thereafter convicted of three counts of third-degree murder. Upon careful review, the Supreme Court concluded the sentencing enhancement did apply in such a scenario. View "Pennsylvania v. Coleman" on Justia Law

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Four named appellants were convicted of what was codified in Pennsylvania as second-degree murder, and ineligible for parole per 61 Pa.C.S. § 6137(a)(1). Appellants petitioned for review at Commonwealth Court, seeking a declaration that Section 6137(a)(1) was unconstitutional as applied on the grounds that depriving Appellants of any opportunity for parole violated the Commonwealth and federal constitutions. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted review to determine whether this suit was within the Commonwealth Court’s original jurisdiction to hear suits against government agencies like the Board of Probation and Parole (“Board”) or whether the petition fell within the statutory exception for petitions in the nature of post-conviction relief. The Supreme Court affirmed the Commonwealth Court’s holding that it lacked jurisdiction. View "Scott v. Board of Probation and Parole" on Justia Law

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The Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted allocatur review in this case to determine whether the Commonwealth waived reliance on the doctrine of inevitable discovery where its Concise Statement of Matters Complained of on Appeal asserted only that the trial court erred in granting a motion to suppress filed by Appellant Nathanial Price because the affidavit of probable cause at issue failed to assert probable cause sufficient for the issuance of a warrant. Specifically, the Court addressed whether, under these circumstances, the doctrine of inevitable discovery constituted a “subsidiary issue” to the issue of the sufficiency of probable cause under Pa.R.A.P. 1925(b)(4)(v) and was thus not waived by operation of Pa.R.A.P. 1925(b)(4)(vii). Concluding that it was not a subsidiary issue and thus not preserved for review by the Superior Court, the Supreme Court vacated that court’s order. View "Pennsylvania v. Price" on Justia Law