Oscar F. Spicer, Dist. Atty., John R. White, Gettysburg, for appellant.
Robert E. Campbell, Gettysburg, for appellee.
Jones, C. J., and Eagen, O'Brien, Roberts, Pomeroy, Nix and Manderino, JJ. Eagen, J., concurs in the result.
This appeal by the Commonwealth arises from the granting of a motion in arrest of judgment and discharge of the appellee, David Eugene Slaybaugh, on a charge of "failing to stop at the scene of an accident." Act of April 29, 1959, P.L. 58, § 1027, 75 P.S. § 1027.*fn1
The facts surrounding this appeal are as follows. On January 20, 1974, an automobile operated by Harry Lambert was involved in a minor traffic accident. The car which collided with the Lambert vehicle did not stop. Lambert followed the vehicle and found the car abandoned nearby; he wrote the license number on a piece of paper and reported the accident and license number to the state police.
Police research revealed that appellee was the owner of the abandoned vehicle and subsequently, the state police filed a criminal complaint charging appellee with failing to stop at the scene of an accident. The Commonwealth's
evidence consisted of Lambert's description of the accident and license number but no identification of appellee as the driver. Section 1212 of The Vehicle Code, Act of April 29, 1959, P.L. 58, § 1212, as amended, 75 P.S. § 1212, provides that the owner of a motor vehicle is "presumed" to be the operator at the time of any violation of the Motor Vehicle Code if the Commonwealth introduces into evidence the registration card for the vehicle; provided that such a result is not required if the owner takes the stand and denies operation of the vehicle at the time of the accident and names, if known to him, the driver.
Appellee took the stand and testified that he was not driving at the time of the accident, but that he did not know who was driving and further that numerous persons had access to his automobile. The fact-finder in the instant case chose not to believe appellee's exculpatory testimony, Commonwealth v. Robson, 461 Pa. 615, 337 A.2d 573 (1975), and relied on § 1212 of the Motor Vehicle Code to find appellee guilty of violation of § 1027 of the Motor Vehicle Code (failing to stop at the scene of an accident).
Post-trial motions were filed and on December 4, 1974, the Court of Common Pleas of Adams County granted appellee's motion in arrest of judgment and discharged him. The Commonwealth appealed to the Superior Court, which certified the record to this court for disposition. The basis for granting the motion in arrest of judgment by the court below was its determination that § 1212 of The Vehicle Code was unconstitutional because it created a presumption that the owner of a motor vehicle was the operator of that vehicle at the time of a violation of The Vehicle Code, if the prosecution established mere ownership of the motor vehicle. Moreover, ...