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COMMONWEALTH PENNSYLVANIA v. WILLIAM R. EISEMANN (04/11/80)

SUPERIOR COURT OF PENNSYLVANIA


filed: April 11, 1980.

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA
v.
WILLIAM R. EISEMANN, DONALD V. FREDERICK, HORACE T. HANNA, JR., ALFRED C. HOBERMAN, R. BRUCE MCCORMICK, DIANE H. STUMPFLE, GLENN R. TWEED. APPEAL OF GEORGE MILLER, PRIVATE PROSECUTOR

No. 2336 October Term, 1978, Appeal from the Order entered July 26, 1978, by the Court of Common Pleas of Clinton County, Criminal Division, at Nos. 58, 59, 60, 61, 62, 63, 64 April Term, 1978.

COUNSEL

George Miller, in pro. per.

Martin A. Flayhart, District Attorney, Lock Haven, for Commonwealth, appellee.

Cercone, President Judge, and Wieand and Louik, JJ.*fn*

Author: Wieand

[ 276 Pa. Super. Page 544]

George Miller, appellant herein, was given a place on the agenda for the meeting of the mayor and council of the City of Lock Haven on April 3, 1978, so that he might present his views concerning the hiring and resignation of a former city code enforcement officer. When Miller began to speak, an acrimonious debate ensued between Miller, on the one hand, and the mayor and members of council, on the other. Discussion was thereupon terminated, city officials refused to answer further questions, and council voted not to discuss the subject of the code enforcement officer's employment at any future meeting. Miller subsequently prepared a criminal complaint against the mayor and members of council, charging them with the crime of official oppression in violation of 18 Pa.C.S. § 5301(2).*fn1 He alleged that the accused

[ 276 Pa. Super. Page 545]

    defendants, knowing their conduct to be illegal, had denied him his right and privilege to speak. When the complaint was submitted to the District Attorney, as required by Pa.R.Crim.P. 133(B)(1),*fn2 the complaint was disapproved. Appellant thereafter filed the complaint with a judge of the Court of Common Pleas of Clinton County.*fn3 A hearing was held thereon,*fn4 and President Judge Carson V. Brown sustained the District Attorney's action in disapproving the complaint. This appeal followed.

Assuming, without deciding, that appellate review is available from decisions by the District Attorney and a trial judge who refuse to approve a private, criminal complaint,*fn5 what is the standard which is to be applied in reviewing their decisions? Whether to charge a person with a criminal offense depends upon the exercise of prosecutorial discretion. This discretionary power of the District Attorney in

[ 276 Pa. Super. Page 546]

    determining whether prosecution shall be commenced or maintained may well depend on matters of policy wholly separate and apart from the existence or nonexistence of probable cause. For this reason, the courts have been wary of interfering with or attempting to supervise the District Attorney in the exercise of his discretion in controlling criminal prosecutions. United States v. Cox, 342 F.2d 167, 171 (5th Cir. 1965), cert. denied, 381 U.S. 935, 85 S.Ct. 1767, 14 L.Ed.2d 700. See also: A.B.A. Standards Relating to the Prosecution Function and the Defense Function § 3.4.

In Piscanio Appeal, 235 Pa. Super. 490, 494-96, 344 A.2d 658, 660-62 (1975), this Court said: "The power granted the district attorney under Rule 133(B) to approve or disapprove private criminal complaints is consistent with the authority regularly exercised by that office in deciding whether to initiate or to discontinue prosecutions. . . . In addition, Rule 133(B) protects the interest of the private complainant by allowing for the submission of the disapproved complaint to a judge of a court of common pleas. The judge's independent review of the complaint checks and balances the district attorney's decision and further hedges against possibility of error. . . .

". . . The [private] prosecutor . . . even as a victim . . . has no legitimate interest, other than as a member of the general public, in seeing a violator of the laws brought to justice by the Commonwealth and punished for his misdeeds. If a private prosecutor feels individually harmed his remedy is a civil suit for damages."

It would seem, therefore, that a court should not interfere with the exercise of prosecutorial discretion under Rule 133 unless there has been a gross abuse of discretion. In the instant case, both the District Attorney and Judge Brown were of the opinion that the Commonwealth would not be able to achieve a conviction on the criminal complaint offered by appellant. Each had an obligation to achieve justice; each had a responsibility to prevent the misuse of judicial and prosecutorial personnel in the pursuit of futile convictions. Appellant has not demonstrated that these

[ 276 Pa. Super. Page 547]

    decisions involved an abuse of discretion by the District Attorney or by Judge Brown. The decision to disapprove a private criminal complaint, therefore, must be affirmed.


*fn* Judge DONALD E. WIEAND is sitting by special designation. Judge MAURICE LOUIK of the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, is sitting by designation.


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