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Commonwealth v. Halstead

Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania

November 14, 2013

Commonwealth of Pennsylvania
Laurence Halstead, Appellant

Submitted: September 27, 2013.




Laurence Halstead (Halstead) appeals from an order of the Court of Common Pleas of Carbon County (trial court). Following a de novo hearing, the trial court determined that Halstead had violated seven provisions of the Property Maintenance Ordinance (PMO) of the Borough of Weaver (Borough).[1] The trial court also imposed fines for each violation from $500 to $1, 000 per day commencing January 13, 2013, the date on which the trial court found Halstead guilty. We affirm in part, reverse in part, vacate in part, and remand.

Halstead owns commercial property in the Borough, which once was a local public school. On February 20, 2012, Harold J. Pudliner, Jr. (Mr. Pudliner), the Borough's Manager and Code Enforcement Officer, issued an enforcement letter to Halstead, advising him of the violations and that he had thirty days to abate the violations. The letter also notified Halstead that he could appeal the enforcement notice. Halstead appealed the notice to the Borough's Property Maintenance Appeal Board, which upheld the violations following a hearing that Halstead did not attend.

It appears that Mr. Pudliner then issued summary offense citations to Halstead on May 9, 2012. On September 20, 2012, a Magisterial District Judge (MDJ) convicted and sentenced Halstead on the seven charged offenses. The MDJ imposed fines between $500 and $1, 000 for each of the seven offenses for a total of $6, 218, which sum included costs in addition to the fines.

Halstead appealed the MDJ's determinations to the trial court, which conducted a de novo hearing. Halstead again did not appear at the hearing, although his attorney appeared. The trial court determined that Halstead was guilty of the seven offenses and assessed the same fines the MDJ imposed for each violation. Additionally, however, the trial court's sentencing order determined that Halstead should be fined the same amount for each additional day that the offenses remained uncorrected. Thus, the trial court's orders provided for fines of $500 to $1, 000 per day beginning on January 15, 2013 "for each day that the violation continues and until such time as the defendant brings the subject property into compliance with the [PMO]. Said costs and fine to be paid on or before March 15, 2013." (Reproduced Record (R.R.) 70-76.)

In reviewing a summary conviction matter, where the trial court has taken additional evidence in de novo review, our standard of review is limited to considering whether the trial court abused its discretion or committed an error of law. Commonwealth v. Spontarelli, 791 A.2d 1254, 1255 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2002). In Spontarelli, we noted that "[i]n summary offense cases, the Commonwealth is required to establish" guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Spontarelli, 791 A.2d at 1258. This court views "all of the evidence admitted at trial, together with all reasonable inferences therefrom, in the light most favorable to the Commonwealth." Id. "The test of sufficiency of the evidence is whether the trial court, as trier of fact, could have found that each element of the offenses charged was supported by evidence and inferences sufficient in law to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt." Id.

Here, however, Halstead does not contest evidentiary issues or the Borough's burden of proof. Rather, Halstead challenges the sufficiency of the notice the Borough provided to him. Specifically, Halstead asserts in his concise statement of errors complained of on appeal that "the citations were not valid when issued and not specific as required by Pa. R.Crim. P. 403, which requires sufficient notice of the offense charged or sufficient [sic] as to the facts supporting the citations." (Certified Record (C.R.), Item No. 14.) For example, one of the citations was for "glazing" "broken windows and unsecured windows." Halstead's attorney asserted during the hearing before the trial court that this notice was insufficient, because the building has more than 100 windows and the notice did not advise him as to which windows violated the ordinance.

Rule 403 of the Pennsylvania Rules of Criminal Procedure provides:

Contents of Citation
(A) Every citation shall contain:
(6) a citation of the specific section and subsection of the statute or ordinance allegedly violated, together with a summary of the facts sufficient to advise the defendant of the nature of the offense charged.

This Court has held that "it is well established that the essential elements of a summary offense must be set forth in the citation so that the defendant has fair notice of the nature of the unlawful act for which he is charged." Commonwealth v. Borriello, 696 A.2d 1215, 1217 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1997), affirmed, 555 Pa. 219, 723 A.2d 1214 (1999). Pennsylvania Rule of Criminal Procedure 109 provides, however, that cases shall not "be dismissed because of a defect in the form or content of a . . . citation . . . unless the defendant raises the defect before the conclusion of the trial in a summary case . . . and the defect is prejudicial to the rights of the defendant." This rule is derived in part from former Pennsylvania Rule of Criminal Procedure 90. In Borriello, we concluded that "[s]uch prejudice will not be found where the content of the citation, taken as a whole, prevented surprise as to the nature of summary offenses of which [the] defendant was found guilty . . . at trial, . . . or the omission does not ...

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