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Commonwealth v. Nuse

July 8, 2009

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA APPELLEE
v.
GRACE MAY NUSE APPELLANT



Appeal from the Judgment of Sentence May 7, 2008 In the Court of Common Pleas of Chester County. Criminal No. CP-15-CR-0003320-2007.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Kelly, J.

BEFORE: STEVENS, KLEIN and KELLY, JJ.

OPINION

¶ 1 Grace May Nuse, Appellant, appeals from the judgment of sentence entered in the Chester County Court of Common Pleas following her guilty plea to accidents involving damage to an attended vehicle or property*fn1 and driving while operating privilege is suspended or revoked,*fn2 a summary offense. Specifically, she challenges the court order, as amended, ordering restitution as a condition of probation. We affirm.

¶ 2 On May 1, 2007, Appellant was driving a car belonging to her purported common law husband when it collided with the vehicle in front of her, which was owned and operated by Robert Keys. Keys' vehicle struck the vehicle in front of him. Keys was injured and his vehicle "totaled."

Appellant, who was driving with a suspended license, told Keys to pull over to exchange information, but when he did, she fled. Keys had no collision coverage. Because Appellant was driving while her license was suspended, her insurance company refused to indemnify Keys' loss.

¶ 3 After her open guilty plea, the court sentenced Appellant to one year's probation on accidents involving damage to an attended vehicle or property. After a hearing, the court ordered Appellant to pay restitution to Keys in the amount of $5,224.69, his property loss, as a condition of probation.*fn3 She was also sentenced to pay a $200.00 fine for the summary offense.

¶ 4 On March 13, 2008, Appellant filed a post-trial motion seeking to dispense with restitution on the basis that her crime was not the direct cause of the victim's loss. On May 7, 2008, after a hearing, the court reduced the amount to $1,000.00, leaving the other provisions unchanged. This timely appeal followed, in which Appellant raises a single question for our review: whether the sentencing court erred by ordering restitution as a condition of probation, when the loss resulted from the accident, not from her criminal act of leaving the scene of an accident involving damage to the attended vehicle.

¶ 5 Appellant concedes that a sentencing court has greater flexibility in ordering restitution as a condition of probation than as part of a direct sentence; nevertheless, she argues that there must be a significant connection between the crime and the damages under 42 Pa.C.S.A. § 9754(c)(8). She maintains that her leaving the scene of the accident was criminal, but had no connection to the damage or loss caused by the accident. We disagree.

¶ 6 Because Appellant contends that a particular statute was improperly applied by the sentencing court, she challenges the legality of her sentence. See Commonwealth v. Pleger, 934 A.2d 715, 719 (Pa. Super. 2007). "The determination as to whether the trial court imposed an illegal sentence is a question of law; our standard of review in cases dealing with questions of law is plenary." Commonwealth v. Love, 957 A.2d 765, 767 (Pa. Super. 2008) (citation and quotation marks omitted).

¶ 7Appellant's restitution was imposed as a condition of probation under 42 Pa.C.S.A. § 9754, which provides in relevant part:

(a) General rule.-In imposing an order of probation the court shall specify at the time of sentencing the length of any term during which the defendant is to be supervised, which term may not exceed the maximum term for which the defendant could be confined, and the authority that shall conduct the supervision.

(b) Conditions generally.-The court shall attach such of the reasonable conditions authorized by subsection (c) of this section as it deems necessary to insure or assist ...


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