February 21, 2014
COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, Appellee
ADRIAN L. COLLINS, Appellant
Appeal from the Judgment of Sentence April 5, 2013 In the Court of Common Pleas of Dauphin County Criminal Division No(s).: CP-22-CR-0002052-2012
BEFORE: MUNDY, WECHT, and FITZGERALD, [*] JJ.
Appellant, Adrian L. Collins, appeals from the judgment of sentence entered in the Dauphin County Court of Common Pleas following a jury trial and his convictions for first-degree murder, second-degree murder, robbery, and carrying a firearm without a license. Appellant contends the trial court erred by admitting evidence of a prior robbery because it was more prejudicial than probative and established his bad character. We affirm.
We adopt the facts and procedural history set forth by the trial court's opinion. Trial Ct. Op., 7/1/13, at 1-2. Appellant timely appealed and timely filed a court-ordered Pa.R.A.P. 1925(b) statement. Appellant raises the following issue on appeal:
Did the trial court abuse its discretion in denying Appellant's motion in limine seeking to preclude the Commonwealth from introducing evidence of other crimes at Appellant's homicide trial?
Appellant's Brief at 3.
Appellant suggests the trial court abused its discretion by denying his motion in limine to preclude evidence regarding the EZ Discount robbery. He insists the prejudicial value of that evidence greatly outweighed any probative value. Appellant complains that although the Commonwealth wanted to introduce the evidence to establish his access to the murder weapon, the Commonwealth nonetheless introduced testimony by four witnesses about the robbery. He also faults the trial court for permitting the jury to view photos and video of the robbery. We hold Appellant is not entitled to relief.
The standard of review follows:
The admission 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. Further, an erroneous ruling by a trial court on an evidentiary issue does not require us to grant relief where the error is harmless.
An error will be deemed harmless where the appellate court concludes beyond a reasonable doubt that the error could not have contributed to the verdict. If there is a reasonable possibility that the error may have contributed to the verdict, it is not harmless. In reaching that conclusion, the reviewing court will find an error harmless where the uncontradicted evidence of guilt is overwhelming, so that by comparison the error is insignificant.
Commonwealth v. Northrip, 945 A.2d 198, 203 (Pa. Super. 2008) (citations and formatting omitted). We state the following with respect to evidence of other crimes:
Typically, all relevant evidence, i.e., evidence which tends to make the existence or non-existence of a material fact more or less probable, is admissible, subject to the prejudice/probative value weighing which attends all decisions upon admissibility.
A long-accepted exception to this general rule of admissibility, which is reflected in Rule 404(b)(1) of the Pennsylvania Rules of Evidence, states that "[e]vidence of other crimes, wrongs, or acts is not admissible to prove the character of a person in order to show action in conformity therewith." Character evidence (whether good or bad) is, of course, relevant in criminal prosecutions; that is why an accused has the right to introduce evidence of good character for relevant character traits. Evidence of separate or unrelated "crimes, wrongs, or acts," however, has long been deemed inadmissible as character evidence against a criminal defendant in this Commonwealth as a matter not of relevance, but of policy, i.e., because of a fear that such evidence is so powerful that the jury might misuse the evidence and convict based solely upon criminal propensity. Because the fear against which this exception to the general rule of relevance/admissibility is aimed concerns use of prior crimes to show bad character/propensity, a series of "exceptions to the exception" (to the rule of relevance) have been recognized. Thus, as Rule 404(b)(2) reflects, evidence of "other crimes, wrongs, or acts" may be admitted when relevant for a purpose other than criminal character/propensity, including: proof of motive, opportunity, intent, preparation, plan, knowledge, identity, or absence of mistake. This list is not exhaustive. For instance, this Court has recognized a res gestae exception to Rule 404(b) which allows admission of other crimes evidence when relevant to furnish the context or complete story of the events surrounding a crime.
Commonwealth v. Williams, 936 A.2d 12, 30-31 (Pa. 2007) (citations omitted) (holding that evidence of other crimes was relevant to establish intent).
After careful review of the record, the parties' briefs, and the decision of the Honorable Andrew H. Dowling, we affirm on the basis of the trial court's decision. See Trial Ct. Op. at 2-4 (stating that court, pursuant to Pa.R.E. 404(b)(2), properly admitted evidence that Appellant had access to .38 or .357 caliber pistol one day before murder victim was shot with a similar caliber bullet). We discern no abuse of discretion in the trial court's decision to admit evidence that on the day before the murder victim was shot with a .38 or .357 caliber bullet, Appellant was identified carrying a silver revolver of either a .38 or .357 caliber. We cannot conclude that the probative value of such evidence was so outweighed by any prejudicial value as to grant relief to Appellant. Accordingly, having discerned no abuse of discretion, we affirm the judgment of sentence. See Northrip, 945 A.2d at 203.
Judgment of sentence affirmed.