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COMMONWEALTH PENNSYLVANIA v. MCDUFFY SPURGEON (04/03/81)

filed: April 3, 1981.

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA,
v.
MCDUFFY SPURGEON, APPELLANT



No. 395 Phila., 1980, Appeal from the Order of the Court of Common Pleas of Montgomery County indexed at No. 3636-79.

COUNSEL

Mabel Ditter-Sellers, Ambler, for appellant.

Ronald T. Williamson, Assistant District Attorney, Norristown, for Commonwealth, appellee.

Price, Watkins and Montgomery, JJ. Price and Montgomery, JJ., concur in the result.

Author: Watkins

[ 285 Pa. Super. Page 565]

This is an appeal from the order of the Court of Common Pleas of Montgomery County, by the defendant-appellant, McDuffey Spurgeon, which dismissed the defendant's pretrial motion requesting the court to quash certain criminal informations brought against him.

On July 22, 1979 one Jeffrey Benton was struck and killed by a motor vehicle while he was walking along a roadway. On August 23, 1979 the defendant was arrested and charged with Homicide by Vehicle (75 Pa.C.S.A. 3732), which is a misdemeanor of the first degree, Reckless Driving (75 Pa.C.S.A. 3714), a summary offense, Failure to Stop Vehicle at the Scene of an Accident where death or personal injury occurs, (75 Pa.C.S.A. 3742), a misdemeanor of the third degree, and Unsworn Falsification to Authorities (18 Pa.C.S.A. 4904), a misdemeanor defined under the crimes code and graded pursuant thereto, in connection with Benton's death. A preliminary hearing was held on August 30, 1979 before a District Justice. After the hearing the District Justice dismissed the reckless driving charge on the grounds that the Commonwealth had not proved a "prima facie" case against the defendant. The other charges were held for court. The defendant then filed his Motion to Quash the

[ 285 Pa. Super. Page 566]

    other charges claiming that: (1) he is subject to double jeopardy as a result of the other charges being held for court; (2) the principle of collateral estoppel should be applied to the Commonwealth relative to the charges bound over for court; and (3) Section 110 of the Pennsylvania Crimes Code (18 Pa.C.S.A. 110) bars prosecution on the charges held for court. On January 14, 1980 the court below issued an order refusing defendant's Motion to Quash and defendant appealed therefrom.

Once again we are confronted with a situation wherein several offenses arising from a series of incidents, some summaries and some criminal, are brought against a defendant. The difficulty with such cases is that summary cases are tried before the District Justice and his rulings with regard thereto are final unless an appeal is taken to the Common Pleas Court*fn1 while in the case of criminal charges (felonies and misdemeanors) the District Justice merely determines whether sufficient evidence exists to hold the defendant for court, in other words, whether the Commonwealth has proved a "prima facie" case against the defendant. In the instant case the District Justice held that the Commonwealth had failed to prove a "prima facie" case against the defendant on the reckless driving charge which is a summary offense. This ruling constitutes an acquittal of the defendant on that charge since the standards for proving a "prima facie" case are less than are the standards for obtaining a final conviction. Thus, where the Commonwealth failed to prove even a "prima facie" case against the defendant on that summary charge it surely failed to present enough evidence to convict the defendant and the District Justice's ruling, despite the nomenclature he gave to it, constitutes an acquittal of the defendant on the reckless driving charge and he cannot be tried subsequently for that offense. The issue before us is whether the District Justice's acquittal of the defendant on the reckless driving charge bars any further prosecution of the defendant on the other charges.

[ 285 Pa. Super. Page 567]

The offense of Homicide by Vehicle is defined in 75 Pa.C.S.A. 3732 as follows:

"Any person who unintentionally causes the death of another person while engaged in the violation of any law of this Commonwealth or municipal ordinance applying to the operation or use of a vehicle or to the regulation of traffic is guilty of homicide by vehicle, a ...


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