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The facts of this matter arose out of a fatal accident involving a collision between a motor vehicle and a pedestrian. In this appeal by allowance, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court considered the admissibility of the pedestrian’s postmortem blood alcohol content (“BAC”) in a personal injury action against a motorist and, whether independent corroborating evidence of the pedestrian’s intoxication was required, in addition to expert testimony interpreting the BAC, before the BAC evidence may be admitted. The Court declined to adopt a bright-line rule predicating admissibility on the existence of independent corroborating evidence of intoxication and instead held that the admissibility of BAC evidence was within the trial court’s discretion based upon general rules governing the admissibility of evidence, and the court’s related assessment of whether the evidence establishes the pedestrian’s unfitness to cross the street. Thus, the Court found the trial court properly exercised its discretion in admitting the BAC evidence at issue and affirmed the Superior Court order. View "Coughlin v. Massaquoi" on Justia Law

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Timothy Jacoby was sentenced to death after a jury convicted him of the 2010 first-degree murder of Monica Schmeyer, burglary, tampering with physical evidence, and robbery. Direct appeal to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court was automatic; the Court found no basis to vacate the penalty, and affirmed. View "Pennsylvania v. Jacoby" on Justia Law

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Due to the impending special election on March 21, 2017, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court resolved this matter by per curiam Order on March 3, 2017, leaving in place the Pennsylvania Bureau of Commissions, Elections and Legislation’s (Bureau) determination that Appellant Cheri Honkala was ineligible to appear on the ballot as a candidate in the special election. The Court concluded appellant Honkala and the Green Party of Pennsylvania failed to comply with Section 629 of the Election Code, which required the nomination certificate to be filed by January 30, 2017. The Commonwealth Court determined that: the nomination certificate was presented to the State one day past the filing deadline; individual notice was provided by e-mail almost two weeks prior to the filing deadline; public notice was timely available on the Bureau’s website; and the requirements were readily accessible through the election law. The Commonwealth Court refused to grant relief on Appellants’ claim that a Bureau employee provided appellants with misinformation. The Supreme Court affirmed the Commonwealth Court, and denied mandamus relief. View "Green Party of Pennsylvania v. Dept of State" on Justia Law

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Matthew Snyder was killed in an automobile collision caused by Danielle Packer, who inhaled (or “huffed”) difluoroethane (“DFE”) immediately before and while operating her vehicle. This case presented an issue involving the distinctions between ordinary recklessness and malice in the context of death or serious bodily injury caused by one driving under the influence of alcohol and/or a controlled substance. The Commonwealth charged Packer with a litany of offenses, including, inter alia, third-degree murder, aggravated assault, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, homicide by vehicle, homicide by vehicle while driving under the influence (“DUI”), and aggravated assault by vehicle while DUI. In separate conversations immediately following the accident, Packer told emergency medical personnel and a state trooper that the crash occurred while she was leaning down to adjust the radio. Packer also volunteered that she had used dust remover to clean her air vents. None of the individuals who spoke with Packer at the scene of the collision observed any signs of intoxication. While speaking with police, Packer complained of pain in her chest. Thereafter, she was taken to the hospital by ambulance. Packer consented to the request by police for a blood test at the hospital. The blood draw occurred at 12:47 a.m., three hours after the accident. Subsequent testing of her blood revealed DFE at a concentration of 0.28 micrograms per milliliter. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court concluded the evidence presented at trial supported a finding that Packer acted with the requisite malice to support her convictions of third-degree murder and aggravated assault for the death and serious bodily injury she caused when she decided to drive a vehicle under the influence of DFE. View "Pennsylvania v. Packer" on Justia Law

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In 1998, in order to pursue a real estate investment and development project, Lynn and Connie Hanaway, T.R. White, Inc. (“T.R. White”), and several others formed a limited partnership, Sadsbury Associates, L.P. (“Sadsbury”). The Hanaways were among several limited partners of Sadsbury, while T.R. White served as the general partner. In 2002, acting independently from Sadsbury, T.R. White contracted for options to purchase two separate tracts of land. In 2005, prompted by the success of Sadsbury, the partners of Sadsbury formed The Parkesburg Group, LP (“Parkesburg”) in order to implement a new residential development project involving two tracts of land. T.R. White served as Parkesburg’s general partner, and the Hanaways were among several limited partners. Parkesburg’s limited partnership agreement gave T.R. White broad discretion to carry out its duties. Pursuant to the express terms of the agreement, T.R. White, as the general partner, controlled “the business and affairs of the Partnership.” The crux of this dispute concerned Parkesburg’s sale of the land to a newly formed limited partnership, Parke Mansion Partners (“PMP”). The Hanaways filed a six-count complaint against T.R. White, PMP, Parkesburg, and Sadsbury, alleging T.R. White, as general partner, breached Parkesburg’s limited partnership agreement. They viewed the sale of the Parkesburg tracts to PMP as a sham, executed to freeze them out of Parkesburg. The issue presented for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s review centered on the applicability of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing to a limited partnership agreement formed pursuant to Pennsylvania’s Revised Uniform Limited Partnership Act (“PRULPA”). The Superior Court reversed the trial court’s order, which had granted partial summary judgment in favor of Parkesburg’s general partner and against two of its limited partners. The Supreme Court reversed the Superior Court’s order in relevant part, holding that the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing was inapplicable to the Pennsylvania limited partnership agreement at issue, which was formed well before the enactment of amendments that codified such a covenant. View "Hanaway v. Parkesburg Group" on Justia Law

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In 2013, the Commonwealth charged appellant Markeith Aikens with unlawful contact with a minor and involuntary deviate sexual intercourse (IDSI), both graded as first-degree felonies, as well as corruption of minors, graded as a third-degree felony. This appeal presented for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s review an issue of proper grading for sentencing of a defendant’s conviction for unlawful contact with a minor when the grading was based on the offense for which the defendant contacted the minor (here, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse (IDSI)), but where the jury ultimately acquitted the defendant of that substantive offense. The Court found that because the trial court instructed the jury that if it concluded the purpose of contacting the minor was to engage in IDSI, appellant would be guilty of unlawful contact with a minor, and the jury convicted appellant of that crime, the court properly graded the crime as a first-degree felony. Accordingly, the Supreme Court affirmed the Superior Court’s judgment. View "Pennsylvania v. Aikens" on Justia Law

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A former West Point cadet could not qualify for veterans’ preference on applications for Commonwealth civil service jobs. Appellee Scott Blake attended West Point for three years, but did not graduate, was not obliged to perform any military service, and was honorably discharged prior to his third year. The Pennsylvania Civil Service Commission informed Blake he did not qualify for the preference because his time at West Point was not “creditable as ‘time in service.’” Blake maintains the CSC had made an erroneous determination and cited two federal statutory provisions as evidence that cadet time is considered both “active duty,” and “active service.” After reviewing the relevant statutory language, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court concluded the General Assembly did not intend to bestow a veterans’ preference to someone who was a cadet at a military academy, but never obligated himself to perform, or otherwise undertook, any subsequent military service. View "Blake v. Pennsylvania Civil Service Commission" on Justia Law

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In 2009, the Pennsylvania General Assembly codified the Recidivism Risk Reduction Incentive Act (the “RRRI Act” or the “Act”), intended to encourage eligible offenders to complete Department of Corrections programs that are designed to reduce recidivism. Eligibility was conditioned, in relevant part, upon the absence of a “history of present or past violent behavior.” The Commonwealth filed a number of informations against Appellant Sean Cullen-Doyle, each charging him with burglary, conspiracy, and theft-related offenses. Appellant pled guilty to several counts of criminal conspiracy to commit first-degree felony burglary and one count of first-degree felony burglary. The court found Appellant ineligible for the RRRI program and sentenced him to three-to-six years’ imprisonment on the burglary conviction, followed by an aggregate fifteen-year term of probation on the conspiracy counts. In a post-sentence motion, Appellant asked the court to reconsider his eligibility for the program. The court denied the motion for reconsideration, referencing Appellant’s “prior first degree burglary conviction,” although it was unclear whether the court was referring to the present offense or another, earlier offense. On appeal, Appellant maintained he was never convicted of burglary on a prior occasion, and the Commonwealth admitted it could not find any indication of such a prior conviction. Therefore, the parties filed a joint motion to remand the matter to the common pleas court to determine whether that court’s ruling was based on inaccurate information concerning Appellant’s criminal record. The Superior Court acknowledged the confusion on this point but found the uncertainty immaterial and denied the motion, concluding that Appellant was ineligible for the RRRI program based solely on his present conviction for a crime of violence. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court concluded the RRRI Act was a statute subject to the rule of lenity, thus any ambiguity surrounding the meaning of the word “history” (as was deemed an issue here) should have been resolved in favor of those seeking admission into the program. The Court reversed the Superior Court and remanded for further proceedings. View "Pennsylvania v. Cullen-Doyle" on Justia Law

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The Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted allowance of appeal to consider the lawfulness of a warrantless blood draw conducted upon a motorist who, having been arrested for DUI, had then been rendered unconscious by medical personnel before a police officer provided “O’Connell” warnings and before the officer requested the motorist’s submission to a chemical test. The Philadelphia Municipal Court, the Court of Common Pleas, and the Superior Court all held that a blood draw conducted under these circumstances was impermissible, and that the results of the derivative blood test are accordingly inadmissible at trial. Because the seizure of appellee Darrell Myers’ blood violated Pennsylvania’s implied consent statute, 75 Pa.C.S. 1547, and because no other circumstances justified the failure to obtain a search warrant, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Pennsylvania v. Myers" on Justia Law

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In 2013, Saleem Shabezz was a passenger in a vehicle that was seized unconstitutionally by police officers. Following the stop, the officers searched the vehicle, finding drugs and weapons in various locations and compartments, as well as on Shabezz’ person. The question this case presented for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s review was whether an illegal seizure entitled a passenger to suppression only if he could establish a reasonable expectation of privacy in the areas of the car where the evidence was found, or whether that evidence instead is barred outright as fruit of the poisonous tree. The Court held the contested evidence, tainted by the initial illegality, had to be suppressed, even absent a demonstrable expectation of privacy in the locations where the evidence was found. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the Superior Court’s order, and remanded this case to the trial court for further proceedings. View "Pennsylvania v. Shabezz" on Justia Law