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Commonwealth v. Lynch

Superior Court of Pennsylvania

July 29, 2013


Appeal from the Judgment Nunc Pro Tunc March 24, 2011 In the Court of Common Pleas of Lancaster County Criminal Division at No(s): CP-36-CR-0005345-2009, CP-36-CR-0005350-2009




Calvin Lynch, Appellant, files this appeal from the judgment of sentence of six to twelve years' incarceration for intimidation of a witness or victim, 18 Pa.C.S. § 4952. Appellant contends that the evidence was either insufficient to prove intimidation as contemplated by the statute or, if deemed so sufficient, unsupportive of a felony grading of the offense. On a record showing Appellant offered to his assault victim benefits designed to compel her absence from his criminal trial, we hold that Appellant committed an act the legislature explicitly sought to proscribe through its enactment of Section 4952. We affirm.

The trial court provides an apt recitation of relevant and undisputed facts, as follows:

On October 10, 2009, the victim in this case was brutally beaten with a baseball bat by [Appellant] who was her boyfriend and the father of her children After hitting his victim with the bat, [Appellant] choked her until she lost consciousness. As a result of this assault the victim sustained a large gash to her head requiring six or seven stitches, a fractured elbow requiring surgery, bruises to her neck and arm and cuts on her legs and one of her knees. Just days later, [Appellant] made two collect calls to the victim from prison asking her to drop the charges and not to show up in court to testify On October 17, 2009, the victim received the handwritten letter from [Appellant] asking her to drop the charges or not show up to testify.

Trial Court Opinon ("TCO"), 6/8/11, at 1-2.

[t]he evidence was insufficient to prove the offense of intimidation of witnesses at 18 Pa.C.S. § 4952—or at least a felony version of that offense—where the content of the communications was not intimidating and where [Appellant] did not offer the complainant a pecuniary or other benefit.

Brief for Appellant at 13.

As a general matter, our standard of review of sufficiency claims requires that we evaluate the record "in the light most favorable to the verdict winner giving the prosecution the benefit of all reasonable inferences to be drawn from the evidence." Commonwealth v. Widmer, 560 Pa. 308, 744 A.2d 745, 751 (Pa.2000). "Evidence will be deemed sufficient to support the verdict when it establishes each material element of the crime charged and the commission thereof by the accused, beyond a reasonable doubt." Commonwealth v. Brewer, 876 A.2d 1029, 1032 (Pa. Super. 2005). Nevertheless, "the Commonwealth need not establish guilt to a mathematical certainty." Id.; see also Commonwealth v. Aguado, 760 A.2d 1181, 1185 (Pa. Super. 2000) ("[T]he facts and circumstances established by the Commonwealth need not be absolutely incompatible with the defendant's innocence."). Any doubt about the defendant's guilt is to be resolved by the fact finder unless the evidence is so weak and inconclusive that, as a matter of law, no probability of fact can be drawn from the combined circumstances. See Commonwealth v. DiStefano, 782 A.2d 574, 582 (Pa. Super. 2001).
The Commonwealth may sustain its burden by means of wholly circumstantial evidence. See Brewer, 876 A.2d at 1032. Accordingly, "[t]he fact that the evidence establishing a defendant's participation in a crime is circumstantial does not preclude a conviction where the evidence coupled with the reasonable inferences drawn therefrom overcomes the presumption of innocence." Id. (quoting Commonwealth v. Murphy, 795 A.2d 1025, 1038–39 (Pa. Super. 2002)). Significantly, we may not substitute our judgment for that of the fact finder; thus, so long as the evidence adduced, accepted in the light most favorable to the Commonwealth, demonstrates the respective elements of a defendant's crimes beyond a reasonable doubt, the appellant's convictions will be upheld. See Brewer, 876 A.2d at 1032.

Commonwealth v. Stays, __ A.3d __, 2013 WL 3378980, at *7 - 8 (Pa. Super. filed July 8, 2013).

The witness intimidation statute reads, in its entirety, as follows:
(a) Offense defined.--A person commits an offense if, with the intent to or with the knowledge that his conduct will obstruct, impede, impair, prevent or interfere with the administration of criminal justice, he ...

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