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Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. andrew Hernandez

February 21, 2012


Appeal from the Judgment of Sentence Entered December 10, 2009 in the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County Criminal Division at Nos.: CP-51-CR-008192-2009 and MC-51-CR-0022197-2008

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Platt, J



Appellant, Andrew Hernandez, appeals from the judgment of sentence imposed following his conviction after waiver trial of two violations of the Uniform Firearms Act,*fn2 and one count of criminal conspiracy (illegal transfer of firearm).*fn3 Specifically, Appellant challenges the trial court's ruling that the Commonwealth properly established the corpus delicti of the crime. We affirm.

Following an abbreviated hearing on the Commonwealth's motion in limine to preclude the defense from challenging the corpus delicti, on which another Common Pleas Court judge had already ruled, the court accepted the Commonwealth's proposal to begin trial with leave for defense counsel to object to the corpus delicti as the trial ensued. (See N.T. Motion, 12/03/09, at 5-6). After a colloquy, the court accepted Appellant's waiver of his right to a jury trial, and proceeded immediately to a bench trial. (See id. at 9- 10).

Appellant's counsel stipulated to almost all of the facts of the case.*fn4 On December 31, 2007, Appellant purchased a Colt .38 revolver. About four months later, late on the evening of April 25, 2008, Philadelphia Police Officer Brian Smith stopped a vehicle at the intersection of A Street and Allegheny Avenue for speeding. The driver explained he was taking a passenger, Omar Hayari, who had shot himself in the hand, to the hospital. The police obtained a search warrant, and found the weapon, a Colt .38 revolver, in the vehicle. Subsequently, Detective Akins*fn5 arrested Mr. Hayari for possession of the firearm. (See id. at 13-14). The police traced the weapon and determined that it was the revolver purchased in December by Appellant.

At this point counsel for Appellant objected that no corpus had been proven. (See id. at 15). The court denied the objection based on independent evidence of the crime and under the closely related crimes exception. (See id. at 17).

The parties further stipulated that Appellant gave a statement to Detective Diaz.*fn6 Previously, at the preliminary hearing, it was noted without objection that Appellant was advised of and waived his Miranda rights before giving the statement. (See N.T. Preliminary Hearing, 6/19/07, at 9- 10). In the statement, Appellant told the detective that about four hours after he purchased the firearm, he gave it to "Mike Carrol."*fn7 (See N.T. Motion, 12/03/09, at 17-18). Appellant qualified this answer by adding that Mr. Carrol asked to see the weapon, and Appellant gave it to him to hold, but Carrol would not give it back. (See N.T. Motion, at 18-19). Appellant denied taking any money for the firearm. (Id. at 20).

After brief argument, the defense rested without calling any witnesses. The trial court found Appellant guilty of the three charges already noted. The court accepted defense counsel's request that sentencing be combined with other outstanding charges, and subsequently sentenced him to an aggregate term of incarceration of time served to twenty-three months followed by four years' probation. (See Trial Court Opinion, 1/06/11, at 1).

Appellant timely appealed on January 7, 2010.*fn8 Appellant also timely filed a court ordered statement of errors pursuant to Pa.R.A.P. 1925(b). Appellant raises one question for our review:

Did the [h]onorable [t]rial [c]court err when it found that the Commonwealth had established a corpus when none existed and subsequently when the [c]court admitted [Appellant's] [o]ut of [c]court statement and all where the Commonwealth could not establish a corpus at any level?

(Appellant's Brief, at 3.).

Appellant argues that the trial court improperly admitted his statement "although there was no corpus" because the Commonwealth did not establish "the requisite criminality for the admission of the statement[.]" (Appellant's Brief, at 6).

We disagree.

At the outset we note that Appellant has failed to provide a statement of either the scope of review or the standard of review. See Pa.R.A.P. 2111(3). Our standard of review for a challenge to the corpus delicti rule is well-settled.

The corpus delicti rule is designed to guard against the "hasty and unguarded character which is often attached to confessions and admissions and the consequent danger of a conviction where no crime has in fact been committed." The corpus delicti rule is a rule of evidence. Our standard of review on appeals challenging an evidentiary ruling of the trial court is limited to a determination of whether the trial court abused its discretion. The corpus delicti rule places the burden on the prosecution to establish that a crime has actually occurred before a confession or admission of the accused connecting him to the crime can be admitted. The corpus delicti is literally the body of the crime; it consists of proof that a loss or injury has occurred as a result of the criminal conduct of someone. The criminal responsibility of the accused for the loss or injury is not a component of the rule. The historical purpose of the rule is to prevent a conviction based solely upon a confession or admission, where in fact no crime has been committed. The corpus delicti may be established by circumstantial evidence. Establishing the corpus delicti in Pennsylvania is a two-step process. The first step concerns the trial judge's admission of the accused's statements and the second step concerns the fact finder's consideration of those statements. In order for the statement to be admitted, the Commonwealth must prove the corpus delicti by a preponderance of the evidence. In order for the statement to be considered by the fact finder, the Commonwealth must establish the corpus delicti beyond a reasonable doubt.

Commonwealth v. Young, 904 A.2d 947, 956 (Pa. Super. 2006), appeal denied, 916 A.2d 633 (Pa. 2006), (quoting Commonwealth v. Rivera, 828 A.2d 1094, 1103-04, n.10 (Pa. Super. 2003) appeal denied, 842 A.2d 406 (Pa. 2004)) (internal quotation marks omitted) (emphasis in original). Additionally,

The corpus delicti rule is an evidentiary one. On a challenge to a trial court's evidentiary ruling, our standard of review is one of deference.

The admissibility of evidence is solely within the discretion of the trial court and will be reversed only if the trial court has abused its discretion. An abuse of discretion is not merely an error of judgment, but is rather the overriding or misapplication of the law, or the exercise of judgment that is manifestly unreasonable, or the result of bias, prejudice, ill-will or partiality, as shown by the evidence of record.

Commonwealth v. Herb, 852 A.2d 356, 363 (Pa. Super. 2004) (citations omitted).

In this case, preliminarily, we agree with the trial court that Appellant's claim is waived for failure to specify the error alleged. (See Trial Ct. Op., at 2, citing Commonwealth v. Rolan, 964 A.2d 398, 964 A.2d 398, 409-10 (Pa. Super. 2008)). The entire assertion of error made in the Rule 1925(b) statement is as follows: "The trial court erred in ruling that the Commonwealth had proved corpus delicti beyond a reasonable doubt." (Statement of Matters [sic] Complained of Pursuant to Rule of Appellate Procedure 1925(b), 9/29/10).*fn9 See Commonwealth v. Hansley, 24 A.3d 410, 415 (Pa. Super. 2011), appeal denied, 2011 Pa. Lexis 2699 (Pa. filed Nov. 9, 2011) ("[A] [c]oncise [s]tatement which is too vague to allow the court to identify the issues raised on appeal is the functional equivalent of no [c]oncise [s]tatement at all. The court's review and legal analysis can be fatally impaired when the court has to guess at the issues raised.") (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). Appellant's claim is waived. Moreover, Appellant's claim would not merit relief.

Appellant's issue also fails because the record confirms that the trial court's acceptance of the Commonwealth's evidence as meeting the corpus delicti rule followed the previous ruling of another common pleas court judge. (See N.T. Motion, 12/03/09, at 5), (referring to prior decision of Judge Palumbo). By applying the previous ruling, the trial ...

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