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JEAN MARIE MINNICH v. GREGORY L. RIVERA (03/21/86)

decided: March 21, 1986.

JEAN MARIE MINNICH, APPELLANT,
v.
GREGORY L. RIVERA, APPELLEE



Appeal from Judgment of the Court of Common Pleas of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, Domestic Relations Division, No. 1435 of 1983. No. 161 E.D. Appeal Docket 1984.

COUNSEL

Mary Louise Barton, Asst. Dist. Atty., for appellant.

William W. Campbell, Lancaster, for appellee.

Nix, C.j., and Larsen, Flaherty, McDermott, Hutchinson, Zappala and Papadakos, JJ. Nix, C.j., filed a dissenting opinion.

Author: Larsen

[ 509 Pa. Page 589]

OPINION OF THE COURT

The issue presented in this appeal is whether the evidentiary standard in a paternity trial, proof by a preponderance of the evidence, as prescribed by statute, 42 Pa.C.S.A. § 6704(d), violates the due process clause of the 14th Amendment of the United States Constitution.

The Act of April 28, 1978, P.L. 202, No. 53, as amended by the Act of October 5, 1980, P.L. 693, No. 42, as further amended by the Act of December 20, 1982, P.L. 1409, No. 326, 42 Pa.C.S.A. § 6704 abolished criminal paternity proceedings and the evidentiary burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt.*fn1 Instead the legislature mandated that

[ 509 Pa. Page 590]

    the trial of paternity shall be a civil action with the lessened standard of proof generally applicable to civil trials -- proof by a preponderance of the evidence. Section 6704(d) provides:

Trial of Paternity -- Where the paternity of a child born out of wedlock is disputed, the determination of paternity shall be made by the court without a jury unless either party demands trial by jury. The trial, whether or not a trial by jury is demanded, shall be a civil trial and there shall be no right to a criminal trial on the issue of paternity. The burden of proof shall be by a preponderance of the evidence. (Emphasis supplied).

42 Pa.C.S.A. § 6704(d).

On May 28, 1983, the appellant, Jean Marie Minnich, gave birth to a baby boy, Cory Michael Minnich. Approximately three weeks later, on June 17, 1983, appellant filed a complaint in the domestic relations division of the Common Pleas Court of Lancaster County seeking support for her son from the appellee, Gregory L. Rivera, alleged to be the father of the newly born infant. Appellee denied paternity and a trial on that issue was held before a jury on April 24, 1984. The jury returned a verdict in favor of appellant and against appellee finding that the appellee, Gregory L. Rivera, was the father of Cory Michael Minnich.

Prior to the start of the trial, the appellee moved the court that the burden of proof as set forth in 42 Pa.C.S.A. § 6704(d) -- proof by a preponderance of the evidence -- offends the due process clause of the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution.*fn2 Appellee argued that due process

[ 509 Pa. Page 591]

    requires that the burden of proof in paternity cases be proof by clear and convincing evidence. He requested that the jury be so charged. The trial judge denied appellee's motion and refused to charge on the heightened burden of proof. The court instructed the jury in accordance with 42 Pa.C.S.A. § 6704(d) that the burden of proof in establishing paternity is proof by a preponderance of the evidence.

Following the verdict against him, the appellee filed post-trial motions arguing that the trial court had erred in refusing to impose the clear and convincing evidence standard to the issue of paternity and in charging the jury on the preponderance standard. The lower court reversed itself holding that due process requires that the burden of proof in a paternity case be by clear and convincing evidence. The court held that 42 Pa.C.S.A. § 6704(d) requiring only proof by a preponderance of the evidence is unconstitutional and ordered a new trial. From the lower court's holding and order, this appeal followed.*fn3

At the outset, we begin our consideration of the issue here with the strong presumption that enactments of the legislature are constitutional and he who challenges the constitutionality of an act of assembly carries a heavy

[ 509 Pa. Page 592]

    burden of proof. Commonwealth v. Mikulan, 504 Pa. 244, 470 A.2d 1339 (1983). Snider v. Thornburgh, 496 Pa. 159, 436 A.2d 593 (1981). National Wood Preserves v. ...


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