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Commonwealth v. Gravely

May 27, 2009

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, APPELLEE
v.
STEVEN GRAVELY, APPELLANT



Appeal from the Superior Court Order dated February 23, 2007, 2722 EDA 2005, affirming the Judgment of Sentence entered January 27, 2006 in the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County, CP-0410-0969 1/1.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Madame Justice Greenspan

CASTILLE, C.J., SAYLOR, EAKIN, BAER, TODD, McCAFFERY, GREENSPAN, J.

SUBMITTED: November 21, 2008

OPINION

This Court granted review to determine whether the Superior Court erred in concluding that Appellant failed to file a timely Pa.R.A.P. 1925(b) Statement despite the fact that he sought and was granted an extension by way of letters exchanged with the trial court. We vacate the Superior Court's order and remand the matter to that court for further proceedings.

Appellant was charged with rape and related offenses in connection with an assault on a Philadelphia street in August 2004. The victim, S.E., testified that her assailant was riding a bicycle and wearing a black outfit. He took her into an alley by a dumpster where he threatened her at gunpoint and forced her to engage in oral and vaginal intercourse.

After the attack, S.E. went to her friend's house. The friend ultimately contacted police, who took the victim to the hospital. Medical personnel observed that the victim had suffered multiple abrasions to the genital area. A rape kit examination yielded DNA evidence that implicated Appellant.

Police interviewed Appellant, who described a number of sexual encounters he had with women on the street in the same neighborhood in which the rape had occurred, and during the same period. Appellant described each encounter and characterized all of them as consensual. He admitted that he wore a black outfit during some of the encounters, that he rode a bicycle, and that the telephone he was carrying could have been perceived as a gun. When asked about any other crimes he knew about in the neighborhood, Appellant told police that a friend of his had raped a woman in an alley. According to Appellant, the friend committed the attack at gunpoint and forced his victim to engage in oral and vaginal intercourse. Appellant explained that his friend told him about the crimes because the two men "looked alike" and Appellant should be careful not to "get caught."

Ultimately, Appellant was charged with rape and other offenses in connection with the assault on S.E. Prior to trial, the court heard argument on a motion in limine regarding the admission of Appellant's statements to police.*fn1 The trial court held that the statements were admissible and the matter proceeded before a different judge for a bench trial. The victim testified to the events set out above and identified Appellant as her attacker. The Commonwealth presented DNA evidence linking Appellant to the attack. The trial judge, the Honorable Albert John Snite, Jr., found Appellant guilty of rape and sexual assault. The court imposed a prison term of 42 to 90 months. Appellant filed a timely notice of appeal to the Superior Court.

The docket reflects that on October 17, 2005, Judge Snite entered an order requiring Appellant to file a Statement of Matters pursuant to Pa.R.A.P. 1925(b) ("Statement") by October 31, 2005. Appellant's counsel sent a letter to Judge Snite memorializing a conversation counsel had with the judge's law clerk regarding the filing of the Statement. That letter, which is dated October 21, 2005 and was entered on the docket on October 24, 2005, is part of the certified record. It states:

Dear Judge Snite,

I am writing to confirm my conversation with your law clerk, Elizabeth. Your Honor ordered Appellant to submit a statement of matters by October 31, 2005. The notes of testimony are not yet complete. Elizabeth advised me that it is acceptable to submit a statement of matters within fourteen days of the date the notes are completed.

I sent new transcript requests and left messages for the court reporters today.

If this is not acceptable to Your Honor, please advise me accordingly. I can be reached at ___________________. Thank you very much for your understanding and assistance in this matter.

Docket Entry D-7.

The letter includes the following handwritten note at the bottom of the page, dated October 24, 2005: "called atty. for copies of Order for Transcripts." On November 29, 2005, counsel wrote another letter to Judge Snite regarding the filing of the Statement and referencing a letter that counsel had received from the court.*fn2 Counsel's letter was docketed on December 5, 2005 and, like counsel's previous letter, was made part of the certified record. It states:

Dear Judge Snite,

I hope you enjoyed your holidays.

Today I received your letter dated November 22, 2005, indicating that the notes of testimony are complete and that I should file the 1925(b). I am still missing one set of notes from a motion in limine that occurred on June 1, 2005 before Judge Dembe in Courtroom 707. I have submitted two requests for the notes and have been in regular contact with the court reporter. He indicated that he would turn them in last week, and that they would be available to counsel shortly after that. I left another ...


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