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COMMONWEALTH PENNSYLVANIA v. NATHANIEL RANDALL (06/05/81)

filed: June 5, 1981.

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA
v.
NATHANIEL RANDALL, APPELLANT



No. 1941 October Term, 1979, Appeal from the Judgment of Sentence of the Court of Common Pleas, Criminal Division, of Philadelphia County, No. 194 February Term, 1979.

COUNSEL

Elaine DeMasse, Assistant Public Defender, Philadelphia, for appellant.

Gaele McLaughlin Barthold, Assistant District Attorney, Philadelphia County, for Commonwealth, appellee.

Hester, Shertz and Wieand, JJ.

Author: Wieand

[ 287 Pa. Super. Page 481]

Nathaniel Randall was tried non-jury and found guilty of unauthorized use of an automobile.*fn1 On appeal, his sole contention is that the evidence was insufficient to support a finding that he knew he lacked the owner's permission to drive the vehicle.*fn2 We disagree and affirm the judgment of sentence.

"In testing the sufficiency of the . . . evidence, we proceed in several steps. First, we accept as true all the evidence upon which the finder of fact could properly have reached its verdict. Next we give the Commonwealth the benefit of all reasonable inferences arising from that evidence. And finally, we ask whether the evidence, and the inferences arising from it, are sufficient in law to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty of the crime or crimes of which he has been convicted. This inquiry is bounded by two poles. On the one hand, the Commonwealth does not have to establish guilt to a mathematical certainty and may in a proper case rely wholly on circumstantial evidence. On the other hand, guilt must be proved; mere conjecture or surmise is not sufficient." Commonwealth v. Herman, 271 Pa. Super. 145, 148-149, 412 A.2d 617, 619 (1979).

In the instant case, the Commonwealth proved that on January 27, 1979, appellant had been stopped by police officers who observed him drive a 1975, brown and beige Chrysler through a stop light at 56th and Lansdowne Streets in Philadelphia. When requested to produce a driver's license and registration card, appellant was unable to produce either. Further investigation disclosed that the vehicle had been stolen from the 5800 block on Pemberton Street, Philadelphia, between 5:00 P.M. on January 3, 1979, and 6:00 A.M. on January 4, 1979. Appellant offered no explanation

[ 287 Pa. Super. Page 482]

    for his possession of the stolen vehicle. The owner, Mozella Lowe, testified that she had not at any time given appellant permission to drive her car.

Appellant concedes the sufficiency of the Commonwealth's proof that he had been operating the vehicle without the owner's consent. This Court, however, has added a requirement that "proof of mens rea or guilty knowledge" must also be shown in order to convict. Waldron Appeal, 237 Pa. Super. 298, 353 A.2d 43 (1975). Thus, in order to prove that appellant committed a criminal offense the Commonwealth was required to prove that appellant knew or had reason to know that he lacked permission of the owner to operate the vehicle.

Guilty knowledge, however, may be proved by circumstantial evidence. Moreover, a permissible inference of guilty knowledge may validly be drawn from the unexplained possession of recently stolen property. Commonwealth v. Williams, 468 Pa. 357, 362 A.2d 244 (1976). See also: Barnes v. United States, 412 U.S. 837, 93 S.Ct. 2357, 37 L.Ed.2d 380 (1973).

The applicable law has been set forth in Commonwealth v. Williams, supra 468 Pa. at 366-68, 362 A.2d at 249, ...


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