Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Pennsylvania

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In 2011, when she was sixteen years old, the victim, C.S., reported that she had been raped and otherwise sexually abused repeatedly by her stepfather, Appellee Kenneth Maconeghy, Jr. C.S. related that the assaults had occurred in the home that she shared with her mother, Appellee, and several siblings, during the summer months of 2005, when she was eleven years old. Appellee was arrested and charged with various sexual crimes, including rape by forcible compulsion and rape of a child. The question presented for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s review concerned whether, in a criminal prosecution, a sexual abuse evaluator may testify to his opinion that a child was sexually assaulted, where there was no physical evidence of abuse, and the opinion was premised upon the expert’s apparent acceptance of the child’s reporting and description. The Supreme Court agreed with the Superior Court, as well as the wide body of decisions from other jurisdictions, that expert testimony opining that a child has been sexually abused (which is predicated on witness accounts and not physical findings) is inadmissible. The Court’s decision was limited according to the terms of this opinion, i.e., the Court did not presently assess whether, or under what circumstances, such evidence may be appropriate in light of physical findings or as fair response on redirect examination or in rebuttal. View "Pennsylvania v. Maconeghy" on Justia Law

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At issue in this case was whether the Commonwealth Court erred when it vacated the decision of the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole regarding the allocation of pre-sentence confinement credit to which appellee Derek Smith was entitled. While on parole for a crime committed in Pennsylvania, appellee committed another crime in North Carolina. Appellee filed two pro se administrative appeals, arguing, inter alia, the Board should have awarded him credit on his state sentence for all the time he was detained. After review, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court determined the Commonwealth Court erred, and therefore remanded for recalculation of appellee’s maximum release date. View "Smith v. PA Board of Probation & Parole" on Justia Law

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In consolidated appeals, the issue presented for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s review centered on whether the invocation of the United States Supreme Court’s decisions in Johnson v. United States, 135 S.Ct. 2551 (2015), and Welch v. United States, 136 S.Ct. 1257 (2016), satisfied the newly-recognized constitutional right exception to the time limit prescribed by the Pennsylvania Post Conviction Relief Act (“PCRA”). The Pennsylvania Court held that neither “Johnson” nor “Welch” created a constitutional right that applied retroactively to Mark Spotz. In 1995, Spotz embarked upon a three-day homicide spree through York, Schuylkill, Cumberland, and Clearfield Counties. Spotz killed four people, one of whom was his own brother. In 1996, Spotz was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death in York, Schuylkill, and Cumberland Counties. In Clearfield County, Spotz was convicted of, inter alia, voluntary manslaughter for the killing of his brother, and received a lengthy prison sentence. The cases at issue here concerned Spotz’ death sentences in Cumberland and Schuylkill Counties. In each case, Spotz filed facially untimely petitions for collateral relief, in which he maintained that “Johnson” and “Welch” sufficed to satisfy the newly-recognized constitutional right exception. The Pennsylvania Court determined the timeliness exception did not apply, and affirmed the PCRA court’s conclusion that Spotz’ petitions were untimely, rendering Pennsylvania courts without jurisdiction to provide relief. View "Pennsylvania v. Spotz" 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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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 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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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

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The Superior Court held Pennsylvania’s Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA) registration provisions were not punishment, and therefore retroactive application to appellant Jose Muniz, who was convicted of sex offenses prior to SORNA’s effective date but sentenced afterwards. The court held that sentencing did not violate either the federal or state ex post facto clauses. Appellant argued that applying SORNA retroactively to him was unconstitutional. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court reversed, holding: (1) SORNA’s registration provisions constituted punishment notwithstanding the General Assembly’s identification of the provisions as nonpunitive; (2) retroactive application of SORNA’s registration provisions violated the federal ex post facto clause; and (3) retroactive application of SORNA’s registration provisions also violated the ex post facto clause of the Pennsylvania Constitution. View "Pennsylvania v. Muniz" on Justia Law