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COMMONWEALTH PENNSYLVANIA v. CHARLES DANIEL EMANUEL (04/03/81)

filed: April 3, 1981.

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, APPELLANT,
v.
CHARLES DANIEL EMANUEL, JR.



No. 2006 October Term, 1979, Appeal from the Order of the Court of Common Pleas of Delaware County, Criminal Division, No. 4303 of 1978.

COUNSEL

David E. Fritchey, Deputy District Attorney, Media, for Commonwealth, appellant.

James P. McHugh, Chester, submitted a brief on behalf of appellee.

Wickersham, Hoffman and Van der Voort, JJ. Wickersham, J., files a dissenting opinion.

Author: Hoffman

[ 285 Pa. Super. Page 595]

The Commonwealth contends that the lower court erred in granting defendant-appellee's motion in arrest of judgment on the basis that the bills of information had not been properly signed by the district attorney.*fn1 We disagree and, accordingly, affirm the order of the court below.

On August 10, 1978, a complaint was filed, charging defendant, a Chester police officer, with, inter alia, tampering with public records, theft by unlawful taking, and criminal conspiracy in connection with a scheme to obtain witness fees in cases in which he had not been a witness. On September 20, 1978, ten bills of information were filed against defendant. Each information contained a rubber stamp facsimile of the signature of Frank T. Hazel, the District Attorney of Delaware County. In a supplemental pretrial motion, defendant alleged that the informations were invalid because the district attorney had not personally signed them. The lower court denied the motion, and the case proceeded to trial, after which defendant was convicted of theft by unlawful taking and criminal conspiracy. Defendant renewed his objection to the informations in post-verdict motions. The lower court granted defendant's motion in arrest of judgment, and the Commonwealth then took this appeal.

[ 285 Pa. Super. Page 596]

Rule 225(b) of the Pennsylvania Rules of Criminal Procedure provides in part that an "information must be signed by the attorney for the Commonwealth . . . ." (Emphasis added.) The rules of criminal procedure do not define the word "signed." Pa.R.Crim.P. 2 states in part that the rules "shall be construed . . . as nearly as may be in consonance with the rules of statutory construction." The Statutory Construction Act of 1972 states that "[w]ords and phrases shall be construed . . . according to their common and approved usage." 1 Pa.C.S. ยง 1903(a). The Commonwealth argues that the common usage of the word "sign" includes the use of a rubber stamp. See Department of Transportation v. Ballard, 17 Pa. Commw. 310, 331 A.2d 578 (1975). We note, however, that the word "sign" has many meanings, one of which is "subscribe in one's own handwriting." Webster's Third New International Dictionary 2115 (unabridged 1967). See also Knox's Estate, 131 Pa. 220, 230, 18 A. 1021 (1890). Consequently, we must inquire further to determine the meaning of the word "signed" as used in Rule 225(b).

In Commonwealth v. Belcher, 258 Pa. Super. 153, 392 A.2d 730 (1978), our Court held that an information which had not been signed by the district attorney was void. The Court stated:

When the vehicle for initiating a criminal trial (i. e., the information) is unsigned, it is not at all apparent that a reasoned evaluation of the advisability of instituting a criminal trial has been made. The signature on the information is, therefore, a vital ingredient which guarantees the authenticity and reliability of the document. The requirement of Rule 225(b) that the information be signed by the attorney for the Commonwealth must, as a result, be deemed mandatory rather than merely directory.

Id., 258 Pa. Super. at 156-57, 392 A.2d at 731. In Commonwealth v. Levenson, 282 Pa. Super. 406, 422 A.2d 1355 (1980), our Court held that an information was not rendered invalid by the fact that an assistant district attorney had signed the district attorney's name followed by his own ...


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