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[U] Commonwealth v. Lawton

Superior Court of Pennsylvania

February 21, 2014

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA Appellee
v.
MATTHEW ALLEN LAWTON Appellant

NON-PRECEDENTIAL DECISION

Appeal from the Judgment of Sentence September 10, 2012 In the Court of Common Pleas of Potter County Criminal Division at No(s): CP-53-CR-0000187-2010

BEFORE: BENDER, P.J.E., LAZARUS, J., and MUNDY, J.

MEMORANDUM

LAZARUS, J.

Matthew Allen Lawton appeals from the judgment of sentence imposed by the Court of Common Pleas of Potter County after a jury convicted him of multiple counts of rape of a child, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, aggravated indecent assault of a child, indecent assault of a person less than 13 years of age, and corruption of minors.[1] We affirm.

This appeal stems from an incident that occurred over the July Fourth holiday in 2010. On July 3, the victim, then 10-years-old, and her family, visited the home of Lawton, who was 18-years-old, and his family. While the parents were on a motorcycle ride, Lawton sexually assaulted the victim. The victim's younger brother witnessed the assault and tried, unsuccessfully, to stop it. After the assault, the victim's family continued their stay with the Lawtons for two more days. On July 5, Lawton admitted to inappropriately touching the victim, and the victim's mother called the police, who arrested Lawton.

On January 31, 2011, at the Commonwealth's request, the trial court conducted an in camera hearing related to witnesses who were minors. On February 3, 2011, the court issued a memorandum opinion and order in which it held that some of the testimony and evidence from the in camera hearing would be admissible at trial and some would not. On February 8, 2011, the Commonwealth filed a notice of appeal to this Court, which on December 23, 2011, reversed the trial court's decision on the evidentiary issues.

On March 1, 2012, a jury trial commenced before the Honorable Stephen P.B. Minor. On April 2, 3012, the jury found Lawton guilty on all counts. On September 10, 2012, Judge Minor sentenced Lawton to an aggregate term of incarceration of 242 to 480 months. This timely appeal followed.

On appeal, Lawton raises the following issues for our review:
1. During a trial of an adult for involuntary deviate sexual intercourse with a minor, was a Children and Youth caseworker employed by the County Human Services department properly permitted to testify that after conducting an investigation, he found that sexual abuse had occurred?
2. During the investigation of an alleged rape of a 10-year-old girl, her mother produced from a laundry basket and gave to a police officer an undergarment that the victim allegedly wore during the event. Subsequent testing revealed a small amount of semen of insufficient volume for DNA testing. Given the garment's uncertain origin, the possibility of contamination, and the fact the semen could not be linked to [Lawton], did the trial court err by allowing evidence of it at trial?
3. Did the trial court err when it (1) announced to the jurors that a witness who briefly took the stand had, in a colloquy held in their absence, exercised his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and (2) refused to give the jury any curative or "neutralizing" instruction?

Brief of Appellant, at 5-6 (order of issues changed).

Lawton's first two issues on appeal concern the admissibility of evidence. The "[a]dmission of evidence is within the sound discretion of the trial court and will be reversed only upon a showing that the trial court clearly abused its discretion." Commonwealth v. Washington, 63 A.3d 797, 805 (Pa. Super. 2013) (citation omitted). "An abuse of discretion is not merely an error of judgment, but is rather the overriding or misapplication of the law, or the exercise of judgment that is manifestly unreasonable, or the result of bias, prejudice, ill-will or partiality, as shown by the evidence of record." Commonwealth v. Serrano, 61 A.3d 279, 290 (Pa. ...


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