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EDWARD STEPHENS (07/01/83)

decided: July 1, 1983.

IN THE INTEREST OF EDWARD STEPHENS, A MINOR. APPEAL OF EDWARD STEPHENS


No. 80-3-819, Appeal from the Order of the Superior Court at No. 257 October Term, 1979, dated April 25, 1980, affirming the Adjudication of the Court of Common Pleas of Delaware County at J.V. No. 18499, dated January 23, 1979, Roberts, C.j., and Nix, Larsen, Flaherty, McDermott, Hutchinson and Zappala, JJ.

Author: Roberts

[ 501 Pa. Page 412]

OPINION OF THE COURT

This is an appeal, by allowance, from an order of the Superior Court, 277 Pa. Super. 470, 419 A.2d 1244, affirming an order of the Court of Common Pleas of Delaware County in which appellant Edward Stephens, a juvenile, was adjudged delinquent. Appellant challenges the constitutionality of section 6305 of the Judicial Code, 42 Pa.C.S. § 6305 (formerly § 5 of the Juvenile Act, Act of December 6, 1972, P.L. 1464, 11 P.S. § 50-301), which authorized the court of common pleas to hold a "rehearing" on the petition charging appellant with delinquency following a master's recommendation that the petition be dismissed. Because we conclude that section 6305 is constitutional, we reject appellant's challenge and affirm.

The delinquency petition, filed in February of 1978, alleged that appellant, then fifteen years old, had been involved in an altercation with Santiago Garcia, then twelve, which caused Garcia to sustain injuries to the mouth, teeth, and cheekbone. Appellant was charged with delinquency for having engaged in acts which constitute aggravated assault and simple assault.

[ 501 Pa. Page 413]

Delaware County employs members of the Bar as masters as a means of facilitating the prompt and effective disposition of juvenile cases. See 42 Pa.C.S. §§ 6305(a) and 6305(b).*fn1 Thus the delinquency petition was assigned to a master, who, on June 21, 1978, held a hearing on the petition. At the commencement of the hearing, pursuant to 42 Pa.C.S. § 6305(b),*fn2 the master told the parties of their right to have the matter heard in the first instance by a judge, and further told the parties, "Unless there is an objection to this matter being heard before the Master, we are ready to proceed." Neither appellant nor his counsel objected, and the parties proceeded to present evidence on the petition.

The master heard sworn testimony from Garcia and appellant. Garcia maintained that the altercation had been initiated by appellant and that appellant had kicked him in the face. Appellant acknowledged that he had punched Garcia, but claimed that Garcia had initiated the use of force by swinging at him with a stick, pushing him against a wall, and punching him. On cross-examination, appellant stated that he had considered the fight to be "mutual combat." Marvin Mobley, a cousin of appellant and an alleged eyewitness of a portion of the fight, was also sworn as a witness. He testified that Garcia had sustained his injuries only after falling from a stairway near the point at which the fight had begun.

At the conclusion of the hearing, the master stated:

[ 501 Pa. Page 414]

"I am certain that the parties, all of them, regret the incident occurred, but at this point in time the Master is not convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that the juvenile defendant should be adjudicated delinquent on the charges of simple assault and aggravated assault and is going to dismiss the Petition."

On a printed form which the Master submitted to the Juvenile Court pursuant to section 6305(c) of the Judicial Code, which requires a master to transmit "written findings and recommendations for disposition to the judge," the master entered the notation "Insufficient evidence beyond a reasonable doubt," and circled, as his recommendation, "Petition dismissed."*fn3

The Commonwealth filed a written "Exception to Master's Recommendations and Petition for a Rehearing," which alleged that the master's determination was "arbitrary and capricious," particularly because appellant had "admitted that he considered the fight mutual combat," a misdemeanor of the third degree. See 18 Pa.C.S. § 2701(b). On July 3, 1978, after consideration of the Commonwealth's petition and an answer filed by appellant, the court of common pleas granted a ...


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