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[U] Commonwealth v. Ingram

Superior Court of Pennsylvania

December 10, 2013



Appeal from the Order Entered November 13, 2012, December 11, 2012 In the Court of Common Pleas of Lycoming County, Criminal Division, at No. CP-41-CR-0000528-2010.




The Commonwealth appeals from the pretrial orders that denied the Commonwealth's motions in limine to admit transcripts and prior convictions of Appellee, Christopher L. Ingram, Sr. In this criminal case, Appellee was charged with aggravated assault, simple assault, and endangering the welfare of children, in relation to injuries suffered by Appellee's then seven- week-old son ("Child"). In addition, Appellee has filed a motion to quash the Commonwealth's interlocutory appeals. We deny the motion to quash, reverse the trial court's order of November 13, 2012, affirm the trial court's order of December 11, 2012, and remand for further proceedings.

The trial court summarized the procedural history of this case as follows:

By way of background, Defendant was charged by Information filed on April 29, 2010, with one count of aggravated assault, one count of simple assault and one count of endangering the welfare of children. Defendant is alleged to have knowingly or recklessly caused injuries to his then seven (7) week old infant son. The Commonwealth alleges that the son received multiple metaphyseal fractures to both of his legs, a fracture to his right arm, a fracture to his big toe, multiple bruises to his facial area and a torn frenulum, all while in the care and custody of Defendant, Defendant's then girlfriend [the mother of the infant] or both of them.
By Opinion and Order dated October 5, 2010, the Court granted Defendant's petition for habeas corpus and dismissed the charges. The Commonwealth filed a timely appeal on October 12, 2010.
In a memorandum decision filed on October 24, 2011, the Superior Court vacated the order granting Defendant's petition for habeas corpus and remanded the case for further proceedings consistent with the decision. While the Superior Court agreed with the trial court that the evidence failed to establish that Defendant was alone with the infant when the infant sustained the fractures to his limbs and torn frenulum, the Superior Court concluded that the sole custody inference applied with respect to the bruising to the infant's face and head, and that the Commonwealth established a prima facie case with respect to the crimes charged. Defendant subsequently filed a petition for allowance of appeal to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, which was denied on June 20, 2012. The case was remanded to the trial court on July 16, 2012.
On November 2, 2012, the Commonwealth filed a motion in limine which, among other things, requested that the court admit transcripts of statements made by Defendant during prior dependency proceedings and sought to admit Defendant's prior crimen falsi convictions. The court denied the Commonwealth's motion to admit transcripts on November 13, 2012. The Commonwealth appealed the Court's Order on December 13, 2012. The Court ordered the Commonwealth to file a concise statement of errors on appeal, to which the Commonwealth responded on December 26, 2012.
The Court denied the request to admit crimen falsi convictions on December 11, 2012. The Commonwealth filed a motion for reconsideration on December 18, 2012, which the Court denied on January 4, 2013. The Commonwealth also appealed this decision.

Trial Court Opinion, 4/26/13, at 1-2. This Court sua sponte consolidated the appeals for disposition.

Before we address the merits of the Commonwealth's case, we must first consider whether we have jurisdiction to hear this claim. We note that this matter involves interlocutory appeals from pretrial orders. Under Pennsylvania Rule of Appellate Procedure 311(d), in criminal cases the Commonwealth has a right to appeal such interlocutory orders if the Commonwealth certifies that the orders will terminate or substantially handicap the prosecution. Commonwealth v. Flamer, 53 A.3d 82, 86 n.2 (Pa.Super. 2012). Specifically, Rule 311(d) provides as follows:

In a criminal case, under the circumstances provided by law, the Commonwealth may take an appeal as of right from an order that does not end the entire case where the Commonwealth certifies in the notice of appeal that the order will terminate or substantially handicap the prosecution.

Pa.R.A.P. 311(d). The rule does not explicitly limit the Commonwealth's right of interlocutory appeal to any particular class of pretrial orders. Rather, it indicates that the Commonwealth may take an appeal as of right "under the circumstances provided by law." Id.

The justification for Rule 311(d) is that double jeopardy concerns make such rulings effectively final. Commonwealth v. Shearer, 828 A.2d 383 (Pa.Super. 2003) (en banc). The Double Jeopardy Clause of the United States Constitution bars a second prosecution for the same offense following an acquittal or a conviction. Id. at 385. The Court in Shearer explained that some pretrial "evidentiary rulings are in essence 'final' in the sense that if the defendant is acquitted, appellate review of the trial court's order can never be attained." Id. at 386. The Shearer Court cited Commonwealth v. Bosurgi, 190 A.2d 304, 308 (Pa. 1963), wherein the Supreme Court explained that, unless the prosecution is afforded the right of appeal after entry of an adverse suppression order, the Commonwealth and the interests of society which it represents will be completely deprived of any opportunity ever to secure an appellate court evaluation of the validity of that pretrial order.

Here, the record reflects that the Commonwealth has filed a certification pursuant to Rule 311(d), indicating that the trial court's orders prohibiting the introduction of evidence substantially handicap the prosecution of the case. Notice of Appeal, 1/2/13. Therefore, pursuant to Pa.R.A.P. 311(d), this Court has jurisdiction to hear this appeal from the trial court's interlocutory orders, even though the orders did not terminate the prosecution. Accordingly, we deny the motion to quash and now turn to the issues raised on appeal.

The Commonwealth presents the following issues for our review:

I. Whether the trial court erred by denying the Commonwealth's Motion to Admit Crimen Falsi Convictions.
II. Whether the trial court erred by denying the Commonwealth's Motion to Admit Transcripts.

Commonwealth's Brief at 8.

The Commonwealth first argues that the trial court erred in denying its motion in limine seeking to admit crimen falsi convictions of Appellee. The Commonwealth contends that the trial court improperly concluded that the assistant district attorney's statement, when asked by the trial judge whether she agreed that Appellee's prior criminal convictions were not admissible, "At this point[, ] your Honor, " amounted to a stipulation which was binding upon the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth asserts that the assistant district attorney was making an equivocal statement that protected the Commonwealth's interests.

A motion in limine is a procedure for obtaining a ruling on the admissibility of evidence prior to or during trial, but before the evidence has been offered. Commonwealth v. Freidl, 834 A.2d 638, 641 (Pa.Super. 2003). The basic requisite for the admissibility of any evidence in a case is that it be competent and relevant. Id. Though relevance has not been precisely or universally defined, the courts of this Commonwealth have repeatedly stated that evidence is admissible if, and only if, it logically or reasonably tends to prove or disprove a material fact in issue, tends to make such a fact more or less probable, or affords the basis for or supports a reasonable inference or presumption regarding the existence of a material fact. Id.

Furthermore, it is well settled that "[t]he admission of evidence is within the sound discretion of the trial court, and will be reversed on appeal only upon a showing that the trial court clearly abused its discretion." Commonwealth v. Miles, 846 A.2d 132, 136 (Pa.Super. 2004) (en banc) (citing Commonwealth v. Lilliock, 740 A.2d 237 (Pa.Super. 1999)). Abuse of discretion requires a finding of misapplication of the law, a failure to apply the law, or judgment by the trial court that exhibits bias, ill-will, prejudice, partiality, or was manifestly unreasonable, as reflected by the record. Commonwealth v. Montalvo, 986 A.2d 84, 94 (Pa. 2009).

In [Commonwealth v.] Randall, [528 A.2d 1326 (Pa. 1987)], th[e] [Supreme] Court held that 'evidence of prior convictions can be introduced for the purpose of impeaching the credibility of a witness if the conviction was for an offense involving dishonesty or false statement, and the date of conviction or the last date of confinement is within ten years of the trial date.' Id., 528 A.2d at 1329.
This rule of law is embodied in Pa.R.E. 609[.]

Commonwealth v. Rivera, 983 A.2d 1211, 1226 (Pa. 2009) (footnote and ...

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