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[U] Commonwealth v. Marsh

Superior Court of Pennsylvania

February 18, 2014



Appeal from the Judgment of Sentence Entered January 14, 2013, In the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County, Criminal Division, at No. CP-51-CR-0006625-2012.




Appellant, Ronald Marsh, appeals from the judgment of sentence entered following his conviction of unauthorized use of a motor vehicle, receiving stolen property, and criminal mischief. We affirm.

The trial court summarized the factual history of this case as follows:
The evidence established that Commonwealth witness, James Peifer, was the owner of a Toyota Corolla. On the morning of May 10, 2012, Mr. Peifer parked his car at 48th and Market Streets in Philadelphia to go to work. When Mr. Peifer returned to his car later that day, he noticed that it was missing and reported the car stolen to the Philadelphia Police. Neither Appellant nor anyone else had permission to drive Mr. Peifer's car.
Eight days later, on May 18, 2012, Philadelphia Police Officer Angelo Sanchez observed a blue sedan disregard a red light at the intersection of 57th Street and Thompson Street. Officer Sanchez activated his lights and sirens to signal the car to pull over; however the car fled the area. Officer Sanchez lost sight of the vehicle for approximately 35-40 seconds. As the officer was surveying the area, he was flagged down by civilians who directed the officers to a blue sedan that was involved in a motor vehicle accident at 53rd and Media Streets. The blue sedan was the same car that [] Officer Sanchez had given pursuit to. When Officer Sanchez arrived at the accident scene, Sanchez noticed that Appellant, Ronald Marsh was seated in the front driver's seat with the door open. Another male was standing outside the car asking [Appellant] if he was okay. When Officer Sanchez got out of the police car and began to approach the blue sedan, [Appellant] jumped out of the car and began to run. Officer Rivera proceeded to chase Appellant on foot. Officer Sanchez returned to the patrol car and was notified that [Appellant] was in custody. Sanchez identified [Appellant] as the same male that he had observed in the car.
Officer Rapone testified that on the evening of May 18, 2012 he received information of a police chase and an accident. When Officer Rapone arrived on location, he observed Appellant running out of an alleyway and apprehended Marsh in the 5400 block of Lansdowne Avenue. When Officer Rapone returned to the accident scene, he observed heavy front end damage to the car. He also observed keys in the ignition. Officer Rapone did not see any damage to the vehicle door or the steering column.

Trial Court Opinion, 6/27/13, at 2-3.

On November 6, 2012, at the conclusion of a non-jury trial, Appellant was convicted of the crimes stated above. On January 14, 2013, the trial court sentenced Appellant to a term of incarceration of one to two years, to be followed by three years of probation on the receiving stolen property conviction. The trial court determined that the conviction of unauthorized use of a motor vehicle merged with the conviction of receiving stolen property. On the criminal mischief conviction, the trial court imposed no further penalty. This appeal followed.

Appellant presents the following issues for our review:

A. Was not the evidence insufficient to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the appellant possessed the requisite mens rea for theft by receiving stolen property as he was driving the vehicle with a key, and there were no physical indicia that the vehicle had been stolen?
B. Was the evidence sufficient to convict appellant of criminal mischief under 18 Pa.C.S. § 3304(a)(5) as the evidence did not show that appellant crashed the car with the specific intent to damage it?

Appellant's Brief at 3.

Appellant's issues each challenge the sufficiency of the evidence to support his convictions. When reviewing challenges to the sufficiency of the evidence, we evaluate the record in the light most favorable to the Commonwealth as verdict winner, giving the prosecution the benefit of all reasonable inferences to be drawn from the evidence. Commonwealth v. Duncan, 932 A.2d 226, 231 (Pa.Super. 2007) (citation omitted). "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." Id. (quoting Commonwealth v. Brewer, 876 A.2d 1029, 1032 (Pa.Super. 2005)). However, the Commonwealth need not establish guilt to a mathematical certainty, and it may sustain its burden by means of wholly circumstantial evidence. Id. Moreover, this Court may not substitute its judgment for that of the factfinder, and where the record contains support for the convictions, they may not be disturbed. Id. Lastly, we note that the finder of fact is free to believe some, all, or none of the evidence presented. Commonwealth v. Hartle, 894 A.2d 800, 804 (Pa.Super. 2006).

Appellant first argues that there was insufficient evidence to support his conviction of receiving stolen property. Specifically, Appellant contends that the Commonwealth failed to present evidence that Appellant knew that the property in question, the vehicle that Appellant was driving, was stolen or believed that the vehicle had been stolen.

The crime of receiving stolen property is defined as follows:
(a) A person is guilty of theft if he intentionally receives, retains, or disposes of movable property of another knowing that it has been stolen, or believing that it has probably been stolen, unless the property is received, retained, or disposed with intent to restore it to the owner.

18 Pa.C.S.A. § 3925(a).

In order to convict a defendant for receiving stolen property, the Commonwealth must prove: "(1) the property was stolen; (2) the defendant was in possession of the property; and (3) the defendant knew or had reason to believe the property was stolen." Commonwealth v. Foreman, 797 A.2d 1005, 1011 (Pa.Super. 2002).

[A] permissible inference of guilty knowledge may be drawn from the unexplained possession of recently stolen goods without infringing upon an accused's right of due process or his right against self-incrimination, as well as other circumstances, such as the accused's conduct at the time of arrest. Nonetheless, the mere possession of stolen property is insufficient to prove guilty knowledge, and the Commonwealth must introduce other evidence, which can be either circumstantial or direct, that demonstrates that the defendant knew or had reason to believe that the property was stolen. This additional evidence can include the nature of the goods, the quantity of the goods involved, the lapse of time between possession and theft, and the ease with which the goods can be assimilated into trade channels. Further, whether the property has alterations indicative of being stolen can be used to establish guilty knowledge. Finally, even if the accused offers an explanation for his possession of stolen property, the trier of fact may consider the possession as unexplained if it deems the explanation unsatisfactory.

Foreman, 797 A.2d at 1012-1013 (citations omitted). In addition, "[w]e have previously held that possession of a vehicle twelve days after it had been stolen allowed for an inference of guilty knowledge." Commonwealth v. Marrero, 914 A.2d 870, 873 (Pa.Super. 2006) (citing Commonwealth v. Williams, 362 A.2d 244, 250 (Pa. 1976)).

Here, Appellant does not challenge whether the vehicle at issue was stolen or whether he was in possession of the vehicle. Rather, Appellant challenges whether the evidence proved that he knew or had reason to know that the vehicle was stolen. Thus, we will limit our review to whether the Commonwealth established this element of the crime.

In addressing this issue, the trial court offered the following analysis:
In this case the Appellant was in possession of the stolen property and there was evidence, that Appellant fled from the police. First, there was the flight in the car. Second, there was the flight on foot after the accident. Flight or concealment is a circumstance tending to prove the person is conscious of guilt, and the trial court may consider this as evidence, along with other proof, from which guilt may be inferred. Commonwealth vs. Hargrave, 745 A.2d 20 (Pa.Super. 2000). Additionally, there was evidence adduced at trial, that at the time of his arrest, Appellant had tin foil wrapped around an electronic ankle bracelet he was wearing in an attempt to abscond from his house and hide his whereabouts from the probation department, which further evidences the Appellant's character of deceitfulness and goes to his credibility and integrity as a person.
The Court can find that [Appellant's] intent is inferred by examining the facts and circumstances surrounding the case. Appellant's intent is inferred based on the court's findings that:
(1) There was close proximity in time between the date that the car was reported stolen and the date that it was recovered;
(2)Appellant did not have permission to operate Mr. Peifer's car; [(3)] Appellant was in physical possession of the stolen car; (4) Appellant ran not once, but twice from the police.

Trial Court Opinion, 6/27/13, at 6-7.

Likewise, our review of the record reflects that Mr. James Peifer, the owner of the vehicle, testified at Appellant's trial regarding the Toyota Corolla which Appellant was driving. N.T., 11/6/12, at 7-17. Mr. Peifer testified that he had last seen his car on May 10, 2012, at approximately 10:00 a.m., while he was at work. Id. at 9-10. Mr. Peifer explained that he did not know Appellant and that he never gave Appellant permission to use his vehicle. Id. at 11. He stated that when he saw the car on May 10, prior to reporting it stolen, there was no damage to the vehicle. Id. at 13-14. Mr. Peifer also testified that, when he next observed the car, it was "totaled." Id. at 12-14. He explained that the front of the car was "off, " both airbags had been deployed, and there were "fluids leaking everywhere." Id. at 13. Mr. Peifer indicated that, in light of the condition of the car, he could not believe that anyone walked away from the accident. Id. at 13.

In addition, police officers testified at trial regarding the facts surrounding the police chase that occurred after they witnessed Appellant speeding through a red light on May 18, 2012. At trial, Officer Angelo Sanchez offered detailed testimony concerning the police response to Appellant's disregard of a red light at a high rate of speed and the subsequent search for Appellant as he tried to elude capture by police. N.T., 11/6/12, at 18-23. Officer Sanchez indicated that Appellant made various turns to avoid the police in their marked cruiser, with lights and sirens activated. Id. at 19. He explained that the chase ultimately stopped because Appellant was involved in a car accident in the middle of an intersection. Id. at 20-21. Officer Sanchez testified that, as the officer approached, Appellant jumped out of the vehicle and fled on foot. Id. at 21. Also, Officer Joseph Rapone testified to the details concerning the chase of Appellant by police. Id. at 28-30. Officer Rapone stated that he and his partner ultimately apprehended Appellant, who had been running away after the accident. Id. at 29-30.

Upon review of the record in the light most favorable to the Commonwealth, we are convinced that the trial judge, sitting as the finder of fact, could infer that Appellant possessed the requisite guilty knowledge beyond a reasonable doubt. Therefore, this evidence permits the finder of fact to believe that Appellant either knew or had reason to believe that the vehicle was stolen. Thus, we conclude that Appellant's challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence with regard to the conviction of receiving stolen property lacks merit.

Appellant last argues that the Commonwealth failed to present sufficient evidence to support his conviction of criminal mischief. Essentially, Appellant asserts that the Commonwealth was required to prove that Appellant intentionally damaged the vehicle he was driving.

Again, in addressing this issue, we are mindful of our appropriate standard of review, which we reiterate as follows:

The standard we apply in reviewing the sufficiency of the evidence is whether viewing all the evidence admitted at trial in the light most favorable to the verdict winner, there is sufficient evidence to enable the fact-finder to find every element of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. In applying the above test, we may not weigh the evidence and substitute our judgment for the fact-finder. In addition, we note that the facts and circumstances established by the Commonwealth need not preclude every possibility of innocence. Any doubts regarding a defendant's guilt may be resolved by the fact-finder unless the evidence is so weak and inconclusive that as a matter of law no probability of fact may be drawn from the combined circumstances. The Commonwealth may sustain its burden of proving every element of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt by means of wholly circumstantial evidence. Moreover, in applying the above test, the entire record must be evaluated and all evidence actually received must be considered.
If the record contains support for the verdict, it may not be disturbed. Finally, the trier of fact while passing upon the credibility of witnesses and the weight of the evidence produced, is free to believe all, part or none of the evidence.

Commonwealth v. Adams, 882 A.2d 496, 498-499 (Pa.Super. 2005) (citations and quotation marks omitted).

Criminal mischief is defined, in relevant part, as follows:

§ 3304. Criminal Mischief
(a) Offense Defined. -- A person is guilty of criminal mischief if he:
(5) intentionally damages real or personal property of another … 18 Pa.C.S.A. § 3304(a)(5).

Here, the trial court offered the following analysis with regard to Appellant's challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence to support the conviction of criminal mischief:

Given the set of facts in this case, the Court found the evidence to be sufficient to convict the Appellant of criminal mischief because Appellant intentionally fled police and in the course of fleeing the police Appellant was involved in the accident which damaged the victim's car. The accident would not have occurred if Appellant had pulled over when he was signaled to do so.

Trial Court Opinion, 6/27/13, at 7.

Likewise, our review of the record reflects that the evidence presented at trial was sufficient to prove that Appellant, by fleeing the police in a stolen vehicle when signaled by the authorities to stop and instead, crashing the car, intentionally damaged the personal property of another. Indeed, the trial judge, sitting as the finder of fact, was free to believe all, part, or none of the evidence presented. Hence, we affirm the conviction of criminal mischief.

Judgment of sentence affirmed.

Judgment Entered.

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