Appeal from the Order of the Court of Common Pleas of Lycoming County, Criminal Division, at No. 96-10003. Before KIESER, J.
Before: Popovich, Hudock and Hoffman, JJ. Opinion BY Hudock, J.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hudock
Robin Lee Hearn (Appellant) appeals from the order of the trial court affirming the district attorney's denial of his private criminal complaint. We affirm.
The facts and procedural history may be summarized as follows: On October 19, 1995, Appellant's apartment was burglarized. The next morning, he reported the incident to the police. After investigation, the police determined the identity of the individuals involved in the burglary. All three suspects confessed to their participation in the burglary. The police then contacted Appellant to inform him of the results of their investigation, and that charges were being sought against all three individuals. At this point, Appellant learned the identity of all three suspects. Initially, he declined to press charges because he was intimately involved with one suspect, Linda Myers. According to police, Appellant was unwilling to file charges if Linda Myers was to be prosecuted along with the other two perpetrators. Therefore, the police never filed charges and the investigation was dropped. Approximately four months later, Appellant filed a private criminal complaint pursuant to Pa.R.Crim.P. 106, 42 Pa.C.S.A., which the district attorney denied. After a hearing on May 28, 1996, the trial court affirmed the district attorney's disapproval of Appellant's private complaint. This appeal followed. Appellant presents the following issue on appeal:
WHETHER THE TRIAL COURT ERRED WHEN IT DENIED APPROVAL OF THE APPELLANT'S PRIVATE CRIMINAL COMPLAINT?
With regard to a private criminal complaint, a plurality of this Court has recently stated that the standard of review is as follows:
When a trial court is asked to review a prosecutor's disapproval of a private criminal complaint, the trial court must first determine the rationale behind the prosecutor's decision. If the prosecutor's decision was based upon a legal evaluation of the sufficiency of the complaint, then the trial court must undertake a de novo review of the complaint to ascertain whether it establishes a prima facie cause of action. If, however, the prosecutor's decision was based upon a policy determination that it would not be in the best interests of the Commonwealth to prosecute, then the trial court must defer to the prosecutor's discretion absent a gross abuse of that discretion.
In determining whether a gross abuse of discretion has occurred, the common pleas court must consider whether the policy advanced by the prosecuting authority comports with both the law and Justice. A policy must embrace the general principles by which the prosecutor is guided in the management of its public responsibilities. A policy connotes a definite course or method of action selected in light of given conditions to guide and determine both present and future decisions. Therefore, it is expected that a prosecutor should be prepared to advance evidence that confirms the establishment of the policy, as well as corroborates its application to matters of similar, or like, import.
This in no way suggests that the common pleas court may substitute its judgment for that of the prosecutor. But where the prosecutor seeks to rest the decision not to prosecute on policy grounds, the prosecutor must be prepared to come forward with a clear statement as to the particular policy that dictates withholding prosecution as well as how that policy relates to the particular facts being advanced by the private prosecutor.
When an appeal is brought from a common pleas court's decision regarding the approval or disapproval of a private criminal complaint, an appellate court is limited to ascertaining the propriety of the trial court's actions. Thus, our review is limited to determining whether the trial court abused its discretion or committed an error of law.
Commonwealth v. Brown, 447 Pa. Super. 454, 467, 669 A.2d 984, 990 (1995) (en banc) (emphasis in original), alloc. granted in part, 544 Pa. 677, 678 A.2d 367 (1996). Accord: Commonwealth v. McGinley, 449 Pa. Super. 130, 135-36, 673 A.2d 343, 345-46 (1996) (en banc) (plurality). See also, ...