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Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. John Brock

January 23, 2013

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, APPELLANT
v.
JOHN BROCK, APPELLEE



Appeal from the Order of the Superior Court entered on June 8, 2010 at No. 435 EDA 2008, affirming the order of the Court of Common Pleas, Philadelphia County, Criminal Division, entered on January 18, 2008 at No. CP-51-CR-0708871-2003

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

CASTILLE, C.J., SAYLOR, EAKIN, BAER, TODD, McCAFFERY, ORIE MELVIN, JJ.

ARGUED: March 6, 2012

OPINION

In this appeal by the Commonwealth, we accepted review to consider whether Appellee John Brock waived his speedy trial claim under Pa.R.Crim.P. 600, either by failing to file a written motion to dismiss, or by failing to appear for a trial listing. We hold that Rule 600 requires a defendant to file a written motion to dismiss, and that, by failing to appear in court on the day his or her case is listed for trial, a defendant waives his or her Rule 600 claim. Accordingly, we reverse.

On June 3, 2003, the Commonwealth filed a criminal complaint against Brock, charging him with burglary, attempted murder, aggravated assault, criminal trespass, and firearms violations. Brock was arrested on June 16, 2003. The case was first listed for trial on December 15, 2003, but was continued numerous times until March 8, 2005.

On that date, Brock, who was on house arrest pursuant to Pa.R.Crim.P. 600(E),*fn1 failed to appear for court. A bench warrant for his arrest was issued on March 18, 2005; however, when police went to his residence on that date, he was not there. Thereafter, the Commonwealth made no further efforts to locate him.

On January 25, 2006, Brock was arrested in Williamsport, Pennsylvania on unrelated charges. On that same day, a Williamsport police officer notified authorities in Philadelphia that Brock was in custody, but no attempt was made to secure his return to Philadelphia for trial. On September 27, 2006, authorities from the State Correctional Institute at Camp Hill ("SCI-Camp Hill") notified Philadelphia police that Brock was in custody on an unrelated matter. At this point, the Commonwealth arranged for Brock's return to Philadelphia to stand trial on the June 3, 2003 charges.

On May 24, 2007, Brock's attorney orally argued that he was entitled to the dismissal of all charges, with prejudice, pursuant to Pa.R.Crim.P. 600*fn2 because more than 365 days of non-excludable time had elapsed from the date of the filing of the original criminal complaint. That same day, the trial court held a hearing on Brock's oral motion. Eight months later, the trial court held a second hearing on January 18, 2008, at which the Commonwealth argued that Brock waived his Rule 600 claim by failing to file a written motion. Additionally, the Commonwealth asserted that Brock waived his Rule 600 claim by failing to appear for the trial listing on March 8, 2005. On January 18, 2008, the trial court granted Brock's motion and dismissed the charges against him.

In granting Brock's motion to dismiss, the trial court concluded, inter alia, the Commonwealth failed to exercise due diligence between January 25, 2006 (the day it was notified that Williamsport police had Brock in custody) and September 27, 2006 (the day it was notified that Brock was in custody at SCI-Camp Hill) because it made no attempt to have Brock returned to Philadelphia for trial. Thus, the trial court found this 244-day period chargeable to the Commonwealth, and held that, at the time Brock moved for discharge, there already had been 504 days of non-excludable time and the run date for Rule 600 had expired. The trial court further rejected the Commonwealth's contention that Brock waived his Rule 600 claim by failing to file a written motion. Citing Commonwealth v. Bowes, 839 A.2d 422 (Pa. Super. 2003), the trial court stated "Rule 600 contains no requirement that a motion to dismiss be written." Trial Court Opinion, 3/19/08, at 5. The Commonwealth appealed.

On June 8, 2010, the Superior Court affirmed the trial court's decision in an unpublished memorandum opinion. The Superior Court first rejected the Commonwealth's argument that Brock waived his Rule 600 claim by failing to file a written motion. Like the trial court, the Superior Court relied on its decision in Bowes for the proposition that an oral motion is sufficient to preserve a Rule 600 claim. The court further rejected the Commonwealth's argument that Brock waived his Rule 600 claim by failing to appear in court on March 8, 2005, the date his case was listed for trial. The court reasoned that a trial commences under Rule 600 when the first substantial step toward the guilt-determining process occurs, and, because there was no evidence that such first step occurred on March 8, 2005, trial had not commenced, and thus Brock had not waived his Rule 600 claim. Commonwealth v. Brock, 435 EDA 2008, unpublished memorandum at 7 (Pa. Super. filed June 8, 2010).

Thereafter, the Commonwealth filed a petition for allowance of appeal, which this Court granted to address the following question: "Did the trial court err in dismissing the serious charges against defendant under Rule 600, where he waived his Rule 600 claim by failing to file a motion to dismiss, and by voluntarily failing to appear for the March 8, 2005 trial listing?" Our standard of review in evaluating a Rule 600 claim is whether the trial court abused its discretion. Commonwealth v. Selenski, 606 Pa. 51, 58, 994 A.2d 1083, 1087 (2010). We begin by addressing the Commonwealth's argument that Brock waived his Rule 600 claim by failing to file a written motion to dismiss.

Rule 600, titled "Prompt Trial," provides, in relevant part:

(A)(3) Trial in a court case in which a written complaint is filed against the defendant, when the defendant is at liberty on bail, shall commence no later than 365 days from the date on which the complaint is filed.

(B) For the purpose of this rule, trial shall be deemed to commence on the date the trial judge calls the case to trial, or the defendant tenders a plea of guilty or nolo contendere.

(G) For defendants on bail after the expiration of 365 days, at any time before trial, the defendant or the defendant's attorney may apply to the court for an order dismissing the charges with prejudice on the ground that this rule has been violated. A copy of such motion shall be served upon the attorney for the Commonwealth, who shall also have the right to be heard thereon.

If the court, upon hearing, shall determine that the Commonwealth exercised due diligence and that the circumstances occasioning the postponement were beyond the control of the Commonwealth, the motion to dismiss shall be denied and the case shall be listed for trial on a date certain. If, on any successive listing of the case, the Commonwealth is not prepared to proceed to trial on the date fixed, the court shall determine whether the Commonwealth exercised due diligence in attempting to be prepared to proceed to trial. If, at any ...


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