Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Pennsylvania

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In a case brought in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's original jurisdiction, Petitioner Sands Bethworks Gaming, LLC, challenged a recent amendment to Pennsylvania gaming law in which casinos paid a supplemental assessment on slot-machine revenue, and the funds are then distributed primarily to underperforming slot-machine facilities to be used for marketing and capital development. Sands alleged that the amendment violated the Pennsylvania Constitution’s requirement of uniform taxation, its mandate that all enactments have a public purpose, and its rule against special legislation. Sands also claimed the scheme violated the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment to the federal Constitution. The Supreme Court concluded the amendments were indeed unconstitutional, and the offending parts could be severed from the rest of the statute. Any assessment monies paid to the Commonwealth pursuant to the amended gaming law were ordered to be refunded. View "Sands Bethworks Gaming v. PA Dept of Revenue et al" on Justia Law

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The Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted discretionary review to determine whether, under Pennsylvania’s recidivist sentencing statute, 42 Pa.C.S. 9714, a second-strike offender could receive separate mandatory minimum sentences for a conspiracy conviction and a conviction for the offense underlying that conspiracy, when both offenses were separately listed as “crimes of violence” subject to the sentencing enhancement. Appellant Tyrice Griffin and a cohort, Juan Garcia, committed three armed robberies of restaurants/bars over the span of approximately one month beginning in October 2013. The Supreme Court found that robbery and conspiracy to commit robbery were crimes of violence as defined in subsection 9714(g). Because all six of Appellant’s robbery and conspiracy convictions constituted crimes of violence, both the trial court and Superior Court correctly determined that Appellant, as a second-strike offender, was to receive a sentencing enhancement for each conviction. View "Pennsylvania v. Griffin" on Justia Law

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In a published opinion, a divided en banc panel of the Superior Court concluded that Subsection 110(1)(ii) of Pennsylvania’s compulsory joinder statute, 18 Pa.C.S. 110(1)(ii), did not preclude the Philadelphia District Attorney (the “Commonwealth”) from prosecuting appellant Marc Perfetto on pending misdemeanor criminal charges that arose from the same criminal episode that resulted in Appellant also being charged with a summary traffic offense, despite the fact that the Commonwealth already had prosecuted Appellant for that summary traffic offense. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted allowance of appeal and held that Subsection 110(1)(ii) of the compulsory joinder statute barred the Commonwealth from further prosecuting Appellant on his pending charges. Accordingly, the Court reversed the Superior Court, reinstated the trial court's order, which granted Appellant's motion to dismiss his pending charges. View "Pennsylvania v. Perfetto" on Justia Law

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Appellant Eric Frein was sentenced to death after he was convicted by jury of first-degree murder, first-degree criminal homicide of a law enforcement officer, criminal attempt to commit first-degree murder and criminal homicide of a law enforcement officer, assault of a law enforcement officer in the first degree, terrorism, weapons of mass destruction, discharge of a firearm into an occupied structure, possessing instruments of crime, and recklessly endangering another person. These charges arose from the 2014 fatal shooting of one Blooming Grove (Pike County) state police corporal, and the injury of others when appellant opened fire upon the barracks and parking lot with a high-powered rifle. Appeal to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court was automatic; finding no reversible error, the Court affirmed the sentence. View "Pennsylvania v. Frein" on Justia Law

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In 2004, the Pennsylvania General Assembly transferred regulatory authority over Philadelphia taxicabs to the Philadelphia Parking Authority (“Authority”) through Act 94. The Act also created a budget submission process for the Authority to follow, and prescribed a formula that the Authority uses to ascertain assessments imposed upon Philadelphia taxicabs. In 2013, the Commonwealth Court found certain portions of Act 94 to be unconstitutional. The General Assembly then enacted Act 64 to cure the constitutional shortcomings identified by the Commonwealth Court. Partial rights taxicab owners in Philadelphia challenged the new scheme on constitutional grounds. The Commonwealth Court granted relief, finding that Subsection 5707(c) of the Parking Authorities Law, 53 Pa.C.S. 5707(c), violated the substantive due process rights of partial rights taxicab owners. Furthermore, the Commonwealth Court found that the budget submission process prescribed in 53 Pa.C.S. sections 5707(a) and 5710 constituted an unconstitutional delegation of legislative power. Upon review, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court concluded the Commonwealth Court erred in both respects: (1) subsection 5707(c) did not impair the substantive due process rights of partial rights taxicab owners; (2) subsections 5707(a) and 5710 did not amount to unconstitutional delegations of legislative power. View "Germantown Cab Co., et al. v. P.P.A." on Justia Law

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Appellant Anthony Machicote argued his sentence was illegal because he was subject to a potential sentence of life without parole, and prior to imposing his sentence, the trial court did not consider the factors enumerated in Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S. 460 (2012), as adopted by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in Commonwealth v. Batts, 66 A.3d 286 (Pa. 2013) (Batts I) and Commonwealth v. Batts (Batts II), 163 A.3d 410 (Pa. 2017). In 2003, Appellant was 17 years old and a resident at George Junior Republic, a residential treatment facility for at-risk youth. Appellant and a co-resident, Jeremy Melvin, devised a plan to subdue a night supervisor at the facility in order to escape. Appellant called the night supervisor, Wayne Urey, Jr., to his room. Melvin, who was hiding, attacked Urey from behind, put him in a chokehold, and brought him to the ground. Appellant and Melvin bound and gagged Urey, and proceeded to steal his keys, wallet, and truck. Appellant and Melvin escaped, and Urey ultimately died of suffocation. Appellant and Melvin turned themselves in later that same day. Appellant was charged with homicide, robbery, and related offenses. Appellant pled guilty to second-degree murder and the remaining charges were dismissed. Appellant was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. Appellant did not appeal his sentence. The Superior Court concluded that Appellant’s challenge to his sentence was moot because he was ultimately not sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. The Supreme Court concluded the issue was not moot, and the trial court erred when it failed to consider the Miller factors on the record when it resentenced Appellant. View "Pennsylvania v. Machicote" on Justia Law

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The Commonwealth Court dismissed appellant Bert Hudson's petition for review, in which he argued he was entitled to be considered for parole after having received a life sentence for second-degree murder. In 1978, Appellant burglarized a home and shot two individuals with a handgun, killing one of them. The court imposed a sentence of life imprisonment on the murder conviction, and a separate, consecutive sentence of fifteen-to-thirty years on the other convictions, to be served first. Appellant completed this latter sentence in 2009, and was serving his life sentence for second-degree murder. In 2017, Appellant applied for parole. The Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole (the “Board”) denied his application on the basis that his life sentence had no minimum date. After exhausting administrative remedies, Appellant filed a petition for review in the Commonwealth Court’s original jurisdiction, contending that because the common pleas court had failed to specify a minimum sentence, he should be deemed to have an implied minimum of one day of confinement. Appellant thus asked the court to direct the Board to review him for parole. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court concluded the Board lacked the power to release on parole an inmate servicing a mandatory life sentence for second-degree murder. That being the case, the Commonwealth Court correctly sustained the Board’s demurrer and dismissed the petition for review. View "Hudson v. Pa. Bd. of Probation & Parole" on Justia Law

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In 2015, the Pennsylvania State Police filed a criminal complaint against appellant Robert Gill, Jr., charging him with, inter alia, burglary, theft by unlawful taking, receiving stolen property, and criminal trespass. The issue his appeal presented for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's review centered on whether the Superior Court properly applied the “abuse of discretion” standard of review when, in a published opinion, it reversed a trial court order that granted Gill's motion in limine to admit evidence of a subsequent similar crime committed by another individual. The Supreme Court concluded the Superior Court misapplied this standard of review. Consequently, it reversed in part and vacated in part the Superior Court’s judgment and remanded to the Superior Court with instructions. View "Pennsylvania v. Gill" on Justia Law

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During a routine patrol, Officer James Falconio of the Pleasant Hills Police Department observed a white Dodge Dart enter a parking lot that served two closed businesses – a hobby store and a pizza shop – and drive behind the buildings. Believing that the vehicle may have made a wrong turn, Officer Falconio waited and watched for the vehicle to exit the parking lot. When it did not, the officer drove into the parking lot and behind the buildings to “simply check[] to see why a car drove behind two dark, closed businesses at [three] o’clock in the morning,” as he recognized the potential for “drug activity or an attempted burglary.” When he arrived behind the buildings, Officer Falconio observed a white Dodge Dart parked behind the pizza shop. Officer Falconio found the driver inside, appellant Edward Adams, observing the driver had glassy eyes and slurred speech. The officer requested that Adams perform several field sobriety tests, and although “argumentative,” Adams complied and failed the tests. Officer Falconio then placed Adams under arrest for suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol. He transported Adams to Jefferson Regional Hospital, where Adams consented to a blood draw. Adams declined to provide the name of a person who could pick him up, and so he remained in jail until police believed he was sober enough to leave on his own, which occurred several hours later. This discretionary appeal presented for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's review the the question of when an interaction between an ordinary citizen and a law enforcement official ripens from a mere encounter, requiring no level of suspicion, to an investigative detention, which must be supported by reasonable suspicion that criminal activity is afoot. The Court concluded, based on longstanding precedent, that the line is crossed when a reasonable person would not feel free to leave, and that a detention effectuated by police in the interest of officer safety is impermissible in the absence of reasonable suspicion of criminal activity. The Court concluded Officer Falconio subjected Adams to an investigative detention unsupported by reasonable suspicion of criminal activity. The trial court erred by denying Adams’ suppression motion on that basis and the Superior Court erred in its affirmance of that decision. View "Pennsylvania v. Adams" on Justia Law

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In 1998, Appellant Milton Montalvo, along with his brother, conspired to kill Appellant's wife Miriam Ascensio. At the time, the couple had recently separated. One neighbor observed broken glass on Ascensio’s porch, knocked on the door, and received no response. After looking into the window and observing a male lying on the floor, the neighbor instructed his wife to call the police. Upon their arrival, the police discovered the bodies of Ascensio and Lugo inside the residence: Ascensio’s neck was slashed several times, her skull fractured by a blunt object, and her eye punctured; Lugo’s body had a fatal stab wound to the chest, and a tube of lipstick was protruding from his teeth. Crime scene investigators collected a blood sample on a window blind hanging inside the broken pane of glass in Ascensio’s porch door and another blood sample on a cloth bag found on a sofa bed. Both samples were later determined to be Appellant’s blood. A witness who knew the brothers gave a tape-recorded statement to police, relaying what she heard at a grocery store. She further indicated that Appellant and his brother appeared at her home the morning after the murders and that Appellant stated, “We killed my wife.” Soto also told police that the men explained that Appellant killed Lugo and his brother killed Ascensio, and that they intended to flee to Florida or the Dominican Republic. More than eight months later, in January of 1999, police apprehended Appellant in Florida. In a recorded statement to police, Appellant denied any involvement in the murders. Pennsylvania charged Appellant with two counts of murder. He was convicted by jury; at issue before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court was Appellant's appeal of post-conviction relief on grounds he received ineffective assistance of counsel in the penalty phase of his trial. Finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed denial of relief. View "Pennsylvania v. Montalvo" on Justia Law