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07/31/97 COMMONWEALTH PENNSYLVANIA v. FRANCIS

July 31, 1997

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, APPELLANT,
v.
FRANCIS MATTHEW DOORIS, JR., APPELLEE.



Appeal from the Superior Court Order No. 0146 Harrisburg 1993, entered May 27, 1994 vacating the judgment of sentence the Court of Common Pleas of Lycoming County entered January 25, 1993 at No. 91-11434. JUDGE(S) BELOW: C.C.P. - Hon. Thomas C. Raup / Superior - CAVANAUGH, MC EWEN & DEL SOLE, JJ.

Appeal from the Order of the Superior Court entered May 27, 1994, at No. 00146HBG93, vacating the judgment of sentence of the Court of Common Pleas of Lycoming County, Criminal Division, dated January 25, 1993, at No. 91-11434. JUDGE(S) BELOW: C.C.P. - Hon. Thomas C. Raup / Superior - CAVANAUGH, MC EWEN & DEL SOLE, JJ.

Before: Flaherty, C.j., Zappala, Cappy, Castille, Nigro & Newman, JJ. Mr. Justice Castille files a Dissenting statement in which Madame Justice Newman joins.

ORDER

PER CURIAM

DECIDED: JULY 31, 1997

The appeal is dismissed as having been improvidently granted.

Mr. Justice Castille files a Dissenting statement in which Madame Justice Newman joins.

DISSENTING STATEMENT

JUSTICE CASTILLE

DECIDED: JULY 31, 1997

Appellant, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, is seeking reversal of the Order of the Superior Court which vacated the judgment of sentence of the Court of Common Pleas of Lycoming County. Appellee, Francis Matthew Dooris, Jr., was sentenced to serve a term of imprisonment of not less than three years nor more than ten years after a jury found him guilty of arson endangering persons *fn1 and arson endangering property. *fn2 The Superior Court in a memorandum opinion and order vacated the judgment of sentence and discharged appellee after finding that the circumstantial evidence adduced at trial was insufficient to sustain the jury's verdict. Specifically, the Superior Court found that the Commonwealth had failed to establish beyond a reasonable doubt that the fire in question was of incendiary origin and that appellee set the fire. I believe that the Superior Court erred in this Conclusion in that the court departed from the accepted and usual course of appellate review and rendered a decision that is not in accord with precedent previously established by this Court. Accordingly, I respectfully Dissent from the majority's determination that this appeal was improvidently granted.

The standard of review is well settled when sufficiency of the evidence claims are raised. An appellate court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the Commonwealth as the verdict winner and must give all reasonable inferences favorable to the Commonwealth in order to determine if the trier of fact could reasonably have concluded that all of the elements of the crime were established beyond a reasonable doubt. Commonwealth v. Rhodes, 510 Pa. 537, 540, 510 A.2d 1217, 1218 (1986). Moreover, this Court has established that circumstantial evidence alone can be sufficient to convict a person of a crime. Commonwealth v. Gorby, 527 Pa. 98, 107, 588 A.2d 902, 906 (1991). In testing the sufficiency of the evidence where a conviction is based upon circumstantial evidence, we review the circumstantial evidence, not simply alone, but with all the inferences and Conclusions that reasonably and logically can be drawn therefrom. Commonwealth v. Rivers, 537 Pa. 394, 403, 644 A.2d 710, 714 (1994).

The Superior Court noted the aforementioned standard of review in its memorandum opinion; however, the court then erroneously proceeded to state that extra caution is to be used in reviewing a conviction based solely on circumstantial evidence. This Court has never mandated nor prescribed that such extra caution be used where a conviction is based solely upon circumstantial evidence. Conversely, this Court has repeatedly acknowledged that circumstantial evidence can be as reliable and persuasive as eyewitness testimony and may be of sufficient quantity and quality to establish guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Commonwealth v. Tedford, 523 Pa. 305, 322, 567 A.2d 610, 618 (1989); Commonwealth v. Buehl, 510 Pa. 363, 375, 508 A.2d 1167, 1173 (1986) (citing Commonwealth v. Pronkoskie, 498 Pa. 245, 445 A.2d 1203 (1982); Commonwealth v. Berrios, 495 Pa. 444, 434 A.2d 1173 (1981); Commonwealth v. Paquette, 451 Pa. 250, 301 A.2d 837 (1973); Commonwealth v. Cimaszewski, 447 Pa. 141, 288 A.2d 805 (1972)). Of course, whether circumstantial or direct evidence is used at trial, any verdict based wholly on inference and suspicion must be overturned. Pronkoskie, 498 Pa. at 251, 445 A.2d at 1206. Using this proper standard of review, the record establishes the following facts:

Appellee owned and operated a video rental store known as "Video Plus," located within the borough of South Williamsport, Lycoming County, Pennsylvania. *fn3 Video Plus was located in the end-unit of a single story building that housed other businesses including a radio station. The Video Plus store consisted of a ...


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