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Commonwealth v. Mendez

Superior Court of Pennsylvania

August 6, 2013

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, Appellee
v.
ONEXIMO MENDEZ, Appellant

Appeal from the Order August 14, 2012 In the Court of Common Pleas of Lancaster County Criminal Division at Nos.: CP-36-CR-0000566-2012 CP-36-CR-0005523-2011

BEFORE: FORD ELLIOTT, P.J.E., PANELLA, J., and PLATT, J. [*]

OPINION

PLATT, J.

The Commonwealth appeals from the trial court's order of August 14, 2012, prohibiting the Commonwealth from providing a narrative report regarding expert testimony to Appellee, Oneximo Mendez. After careful review, we vacate the order and remand with instructions.

The trial court set forth the facts of the case as follows:
[Appellee] is charged with numerous offenses related to his alleged sexual relationship with a minor. The complaining witness, Y.S., [born June 21, 1993, ] claims that from late 2004 until 2011 [Appellee] repeatedly engaged her in acts of sexual misconduct. These allegations include seven years of sexual abuse beginning when Y.S. was 12 years old. In July 2011, shortly after her 18th birthday, Y.S. gave birth to a baby. DNA testing identified [Appellee] as the child's probable biological father. Prior to the birth, Y.S. was not aware that she was pregnant because she experienced episodes of "spotting" that she mistook for her menstrual period.
. . . [O]n May 21, 2012, th[e trial c]ourt met with counsel to discuss discovery, scheduling and other issues which needed to be addressed before trial. Following this conference, [the court] issued an Order scheduling trial to begin on September 10, 2012 and directing that "[a]ll discovery [is] to be completed by the Commonwealth by Friday, June 8, 2012. There shall be no further discovery from the Commonwealth without cause shown."
On August 6, 2012, a month before trial and nearly two months after th[e trial c]ourt's deadline, the Commonwealth submitted a Request to Provide Discovery. The Request stated that, upon further review of the case, the Commonwealth believed it would be necessary to present expert testimony to explain how Y.S. could have given birth without ever knowing that she was pregnant. As a result, the Commonwealth sought to provide defense counsel with a narrative report prepared by Detective Jimmy Mummau of the Lancaster City Police containing notes of an interview with Dr. Philip Bayliss. The goal of the interview was to obtain Dr. Bayliss' opinion on the reasons a woman may not be aware that she is pregnant until she gives birth. The Commonwealth also wished to provide a copy of Dr. Bayliss' curriculum vitae.
On August 14, 2012, oral argument was held in this matter, and later that same day th[e trial c]ourt issued an Order stating: "It is hereby ordered that [the Commonwealth's] Request is denied. Nothing in this Order precludes the Commonwealth from introducing the expert testimony subject to this Request should the alleged victim's 'unknown pregnancy' be the subject of any cross-examination or any testimony or evidence introduced by [Appellee]."
On August 28, 2012, the Commonwealth filed a Notice of Appeal to the Superior Court accompanied by a certification stating that the [c]ourt's Order would "terminate or substantially handicap the prosecution of the case" pursuant to the Pennsylvania Rules of Appellate Procedure. On September 14, 2012, the Commonwealth filed a Statement of [Errors] Complained of on Appeal, and on October 1, 2012, [Appellee] filed a Response. The Commonwealth's sole claim is that th[e trial c]ourt erred in denying the Request to Provide Discovery, thereby precluding the Commonwealth from presenting expert testimony. The Commonwealth has followed all appropriate procedures and is entitled to an interlocutory appeal of th[e trial c]ourt's Order pursuant to Pa. R.A.P. 311(d).

(Trial Court Opinion, 11/02/12, at 1-3). The trial court entered its 1925(a) opinion on November 2, 2012.

The Commonwealth raises three questions for our review:
A. Whether the trial court committed an abuse of discretion by denying the Commonwealth's Request to Provide Discovery regarding critical medical expert testimony in a sexual assault case, more than thirty days before trial, thereby precluding the Commonwealth from presenting critical evidence at trial?
B. Whether the trial court committed an abuse of discretion by denying the Commonwealth's Request to Provide Discovery, thereby preventing the Commonwealth from performing its duty to provide mandatory ...

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