Appeal from the Order of the Court of Common Pleas, Criminal Division, of Fulton County at No. 53 of 1981. Appeal from the Order of the Court of Common Pleas, Criminal Division, of Fulton County at No. 51 of 1981. Appeal from the Order of the Court of Common Pleas, Criminal Division, of Fulton County at No. 19, 39, 52 & 54 of 1981.
George H. Newman, Philadelphia, for Winter, appellant.
Robert C. Fogelnest, Philadelphia, for Hill, appellant.
Alan Ellis, Philadelphia, for Cromwell, appellant.
Merrill W. Kerlin, District Attorney, McConnellsburg, for Commonwealth, appellee.
Wickersham, Beck and Montemuro, JJ.
[ 324 Pa. Super. Page 260]
This is a consolidated appeal from orders of the Court of Common Pleas of Fulton County, denying the appellants' pre-trial motions to dismiss based on double jeopardy/collateral estoppel grounds.*fn1
[ 324 Pa. Super. Page 261]
The facts are not in dispute. The appellants, Roger Winter, Matt Hill, and Ferron Cromwell, were charged with having committed several burglaries and theft related offenses in Fulton County as part of a multi-county*fn2 burglary ring operating in south-central Pennsylvania in 1980-81.
One of the appellants, Ferron Cromwell, was tried in the Court of Common Pleas of Somerset County on a number of charges which arose in that county, and was acquitted by a jury on October 30, 1981. Appellants Hill and Winter were not tried for any offenses in Somerset County.
Subsequently, all three appellants filed pre-trial motions to dismiss the Fulton County cases on the ground that the prosecutions were barred by the doctrines of double jeopardy and collateral estoppel. Appellants claimed that the evidence presented at Cromwell's Somerset County trial was substantially the same as the evidence to be presented at the Fulton County trials; that the question of the accomplices' credibility as to appellants' involvement in the multi-county burglary ring had been litigated and rejected by the jury in Somerset County; and that the Commonwealth was attempting to relitigate an issue finally litigated in the Somerset County proceeding.
The lower court dismissed the pre-trial motions without hearings on November 20, 1981 and December 1, 1981. The court also filed an opinion in support of the decision to dismiss the motions, which we have examined closely. It is from the lower court's orders dismissing the motions that appellants have now appealed to this court.
Appellants present to us the following question:
Does collateral estoppel bar the instant prosecutions where the issue of appellants' involvement in a multi-county
[ 324 Pa. Super. Page 262]
burglary ring was previously litigated in Somerset County and decided adversely to the Commonwealth?
Consolidated Brief for Appellants at 10.*fn3
In Ashe v. Swenson, 397 U.S. 436, 90 S.Ct. 1189, 25 L.Ed.2d 469 (1970), the United States Supreme Court held that collateral estoppel was part of the fifth amendment's protection against double jeopardy and is applicable to the states through the fourteenth amendment under Benton v. Maryland, 395 U.S. 784, 89 S.Ct. 2056, 23 L.Ed.2d 707 (1969). Collateral estoppel means simply that when an issue of ultimate fact has once been determined by a valid and final judgment, that issue cannot be litigated between the same parties in any future lawsuit. Ashe v. Swenson, supra, 397 U.S. at 443, 90 S.Ct. at 1194, 25 L.Ed.2d at 475. Even where the offense charged is not literally the same as the one previously tried, collateral estoppel bars relitigation between the same parties of issues actually determined at the previous trial. For example, in Ashe, the defendant had been tried and acquitted by a general verdict of the robbery of one of six poker players. The state then tried and convicted him of the robbery of ...