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COMMONWEALTH PENNSYLVANIA v. CHARLES LITMAN (03/14/80)

filed: March 14, 1980.

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA
v.
CHARLES LITMAN, APPELLANT



No. 1372 April Term, 1978, Appeal from Judgment of Sentence of the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County, Criminal Division, at No. CC 7702625A.

COUNSEL

John Rogers Carroll, Philadelphia, for appellant.

Charles W. Johns, Assistant District Attorney, Pittsburgh, submitted a brief on behalf of Commonwealth, appellee.

Spaeth, Hoffman, and Van der Voort, JJ.

Author: Hoffman

[ 276 Pa. Super. Page 115]

Appellant contends, inter alia, that the trial court failed to instruct the jury adequately on factors relevant to the issue of whether he had the requisite mental state to be convicted of receiving stolen goods.*fn1 We agree and, accordingly, reverse

[ 276 Pa. Super. Page 116]

    the judgment of sentence and grant appellant a new trial.

Appellant was charged with numerous counts of receiving stolen goods*fn2 and one count of conspiracy. The evidence at trial showed that appellant had purchased various items of silver from one Albert Brenner, a Pittsburgh scrap dealer. The Commonwealth attempted to prove that the items in question had been stolen during a series of burglaries in Pittsburgh; that Brenner had purchased the items from the burglars and had sold them to appellant; and that appellant either knew that the items were stolen or believed that they probably were stolen. Appellant attempted to show that he was in the business of buying and selling coins and silver; that he neither knew nor suspected that the silver which he purchased from Brenner was stolen; that he paid Brenner at the ordinary market rate for the items which he purchased;*fn3 and that he transacted business with Brenner openly*fn4 and according to the customs of the trade (i. e., cash payments for scrap silver). After both sides had rested appellant requested the trial court to instruct the jury to consider certain specific matters in deciding whether appellant knew or believed that the silver in question was stolen.*fn5

[ 276 Pa. Super. Page 117]

The court refused this request and instead instructed the jury on the issue of appellant's knowledge as follows: "Now in determining whether or not Mr. Litman knew the property was stolen, or believed it had probably been stolen, you must consider all of the surrounding circumstances." The jury found appellant guilty of conspiracy and two counts of receiving stolen goods. After denying post-verdict motions, the court sentenced appellant to prison terms totaling six to fourteen years. This appeal followed.

Appellant contends that the jury instruction quoted above did not sufficiently apprise the jury of factors relevant to the issue of whether he had the requisite knowledge to be convicted of receiving stolen goods. In Commonwealth v. Simmons, 233 Pa. Super. 547, 336 A.2d 624 (1975), we stated that "[k]nowledge that the property was stolen or a belief that it probably was ('guilty knowledge') is an essential element of the crime of receiving stolen property. 18 Pa.C.S. ยง 3925(a)." Id., 233 Pa. Super. at 552, 336 A.2d at 627. Numerous appellate decisions have noted that circumstances attending a defendant's possession of stolen goods are highly relevant in determining whether such defendant had "guilty knowledge." See e. g., Commonwealth v. Williams, 468 Pa. 357, 362 A.2d 244 (1976); Commonwealth v. Henderson, 451 Pa. 452, 304 A.2d 154 (1973); Commonwealth v. Phillips, 258 Pa. Super. 109, 392 A.2d 708 (1978); Commonwealth v. Bailey, 250 Pa. Super. 402, 378 A.2d 998 (1977); Commonwealth v. Simmons, supra.

The evidence of surrounding circumstances that one should consider in appraising the evidence of possession, will be different in every case, and no description of it can be more than suggestive. "Some of the significant circumstances can be the appellant's conduct; the appellant's relationship to the victim; the elapsed time between the appellant's possession and ...


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