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Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Roland A. Spotti

April 12, 2013

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, APPELLEE
v.
ROLAND A. SPOTTI, JR. APPELLANT



Appeal from the Judgment of Sentence Entered March 16, 2011 in the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County Criminal Division, at No(s): CP-02-CR-0010771-2009

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

J-A28042-12

BEFORE: BENDER, DONOHUE, and STRASSBURGER,*fn1 JJ.

OPINION BY BENDER, J.:

Roland Spotti (Appellant) appeals from an aggregate sentence of 2 - 4 years' incarceration following his convictions for four counts of aggravated assault by vehicle while driving under the influence of alcohol (AA-DUI), 75 Pa.C.S. § 3735.1, and related offenses.*fn2 We affirm in part and vacate in part.

This matter arises from an accident that occurred on April 16, 2008, on State Route 376 East, a four-lane highway near Robinson Township, Allegheny County. At 9:30 p.m. that evening, emergency services received multiple reports that Appellant's vehicle was driving erratically. One witness, Elise Blackwell, was advised by emergency services to follow Appellant with her hazard lights flashing in order to assist law enforcement in identifying the Appellant's vehicle. Blackwell complied, but remained several vehicles behind Appellant's. Meanwhile, Steven Chung also contacted emergency services, and he began following directly behind Appellant's vehicle.

Responding State Trooper Thomas W. Armour was able to locate Appellant's vehicle once he observed Blackwell's hazard lights. He pursued Appellant's vehicle in the left lane with his siren and lights activated, but he was still a few vehicles behind Appellant's. Trooper Armour observed Appellant's vehicle repeatedly swerve into the right lane of traffic.

Once Trooper Armour arrived, Chung merged his vehicle into the right lane. Immediately thereafter, Appellant's vehicle swerved into the right lane and braked suddenly, leading Chung to veer right again in order to avoid colliding with Appellant's vehicle. Chung then collided with a van parked on the side of the road, and the van struck a tow truck that was there to assist the disabled vehicle. Richard Benchoff and Eric Hamilton were severely injured as they were changing a tire on the van when the accident occurred. Chung and his passenger, his sister Susan Chung, were also injured.

Appellant, who claimed to be unaware that the accident had occurred, drove on until Trooper Armour subsequently pulled him over. Appellant was transported to Ohio Valley hospital where his blood was drawn. The blood was tested by the Allegheny County Crime Lab, which determined that Appellant's blood alcohol content (BAC) was 0.203, significantly above the legal limit for adults.

At the time of the incident, Appellant was two months shy of his eighteenth birthday and, thus, this case was initially brought before the Family Division, Juvenile Section, of the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County. However, the Commonwealth filed to transfer the proceedings from juvenile to adult court, and a hearing on the matter was held on July 16, 2009. Following that hearing, the court granted the Commonwealth's motion and certified Appellant's case to the Criminal Division.

The matter proceeded to a jury trial and, on December 6, 2010, Appellant was convicted of the aforementioned charges. He was later sentenced to an aggregate term of 2 - 4 years' incarceration. Appellant filed timely post-sentence motions that were denied by the trial court on March 28, 2011.

Appellant filed a timely notice of appeal with this Court, and then filed a timely concise statement in compliance with Pa.R.A.P. 1925. On September 16, 2011, the trial court filed its Pa.R.A.P. 1925(b) opinion.

Appellant now presents the following issues on appeal:

I. Whether the Juvenile Court erred in transferring the case to Criminal Court by failing to properly follow the statutory provisions and errantly determining reasonable grounds to believe that the public interest is served by the transfer of the case for criminal prosecution?

II. Whether the lower court erred in denying [Appellant's]

motion for judgment of acquittal regarding the four [AA- DUI] counts based on the intervening reckless acts of Mr. Chung?

III. Whether the Commonwealth failed to prove as a matter of law that the injuries to Steven Chung and Susan Chung constituted serious[] bodily injury which is necessary for [AA-DUI]?

IV. Whether the destruction of the video tape of [Appellant's] driving on the night in question constituted a violation of the United States Supreme Court decision of Brady v. Maryland?

Appellant's Brief at 3.

Adult Certification

We first consider whether the juvenile court erred by certifying this case to be tried in criminal court. Our standard of review is as follows:

[T]he "ultimate decision of whether to certify a minor to stand trial as an adult is within the sole discretion of a juvenile court." An appellate court may not disturb a certification ruling unless the juvenile court committed an abuse of discretion. The existence of facts in the record that would support a contrary result does not demonstrate an abuse of discretion. Rather, "the court rendering the adult certification decision must have misapplied the law, exercised unreasonable judgment, or based its decision on ill will, bias, or prejudice."

Commonwealth v. In re E.F., 995 A.2d 326, 329 (Pa. 2010) (internal footnotes and citations omitted).

The Juvenile Act permits the transfer of a juvenile case to adult criminal court if there is a "prima facie case that the child committed the delinquent act alleged, the delinquent act would be considered a felony if committed by an adult, and if there are reasonable grounds to believe that the public interest would be served by the transfer of the case for criminal prosecution." Id. (citing 42 Pa.C.S. § 6355(a)(4)(i)-(iii)). When a court considers whether the public interest is served by the transfer, the Juvenile Act requires that the court consider the following factors:

(A) the impact of the offense on the victim or victims;

(B) the impact of the offense on the community;

(C) the threat to the safety of the public or any individual posed by the child;

(D) the nature and circumstances of the offense allegedly committed by the child;

(E) the degree of the child's culpability;

(F) the adequacy and duration of dispositional alternatives available under this chapter and in the adult criminal justice system; and

(G) whether the child is amenable to treatment, supervision or rehabilitation as a juvenile by considering the following factors:

(I) age;

(II) mental capacity; (III) maturity;

(IV) the degree of criminal sophistication exhibited by the child;

(V) previous records, if any;

(VI) the nature and extent of any prior delinquent history, including the success or failure of any previous attempts by the juvenile court to rehabilitate the child;

(VII) whether the child can be rehabilitated prior to the expiration of the juvenile court jurisdiction;

(VIII) probation or institutional reports, if any; (IX) any other relevant factors...

42 Pa.C.S. §6355(a)(4)(iii).

"[T]he Juvenile Act places the burden of proof upon the Commonwealth to establish, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the public interest is served by the transfer of the case ... and that a child is not amenable to treatment, supervision, or rehabilitation as a juvenile." In re E.F., 995 A.2d at 330.

At the certification hearing, Trooper Armour testified regarding the nature and circumstances of the threat to safety posed by Appellant's intoxicated, erratic driving on April 16, 2008. N.T., 7/16/2009, at 3 - 16. Victims Benchoff and Hamilton and their wives testified as to the impact of the incident on their lives, including the severe physical, emotional, and financial consequences arising from their injuries. Id. at 29 - 32, 33 - 39, 52 - 59, and 59 - 63. Candise Kovalchuk, Appellant's probation officer, testified as to Appellant's lengthy involvement with the juvenile court system, which began when Appellant was 13 years old.*fn3 Id. at 41 - 48. The Commonwealth presented argument that Appellant's drunken driving posed a serious risk ...


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