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Commonwealth v. Wolfgang

Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania

August 7, 2014

Commonwealth of Pennsylvania
v.
Steven J. Wolfgang, Appellant

Submitted April 17, 2014.

Appealed from No. 2321-2010. Common Pleas Court of the County of Franklin. Judge Meyers, J.

Steven J. Wolfgang, appellant, Pro se.

Ricky W. Lewis, Chambersburg, appellee.

BEFORE: HONORABLE RENÉ E COHN JUBELIRER, Judge, HONORABLE MARY HANNAH LEAVITT, Judge, HONORABLE ROCHELLE S. FRIEDMAN, Senior Judge. OPINION BY JUDGE LEAVITT.

OPINION

Page 1275

MARY HANNAH LEAVITT, Judge

Steven J. Wolfgang, pro se, appeals an order of the Court of Common Pleas of the 39th Judicial District (Franklin County Branch) (trial court) granting the Commonwealth's petition for the forfeiture and destruction of firearms seized from Wolfgang's home, where he was arrested on several criminal charges. We vacate and remand.

State Police troopers went to Wolfgang's home on July 20, 2010, to investigate a tip that marijuana was being grown in a cornfield behind Wolfgang's house. One officer detected the odor of burnt marijuana on Wolfgang's person, and another officer observed marijuana plants growing in his back yard. Wolfgang consented to a search of the home and property. The officers seized marijuana, drug paraphernalia and 17 firearms from Wolfgang's home. Wolfgang was arrested and charged with several drug offenses: unlawful manufacturing of a controlled substance, unlawful possession of marijuana and unlawful possession of drug paraphernalia. Wolfgang was also charged with one count of illegal possession of a firearm. The latter charge was based upon his prior 2007 felony conviction, which conviction rendered him unable to possess a firearm. 18 Pa. C.S. § 6105.[1]

Wolfgang pled guilty to one count of manufacturing a controlled substance and one count of illegal possession of a firearm. At his sentencing hearing on August 10, 2011, the trial court judge advised Wolfgang that he could neither own nor possess a firearm. Notes of Testimony, August 10, 2011, at 6-7. Wolfgang inquired about transferring the firearms, which Wolfgang described as family heirlooms, to

Page 1276

a family member. The trial court advised Wolfgang that he could file a motion for return of property. Wolfgang did not file this motion.

On October 16, 2012, the Commonwealth filed the instant forfeiture petition. In his answer, Wolfgang raised procedural and substantive challenges to the Commonwealth's petition. Attached to his answer was a copy of a letter from his sister and brother-in-law indicating their willingness to assume ownership of the guns. At the forfeiture hearing, the Commonwealth asserted that the seized firearms were contraband and subject to forfeiture because Wolfgang had been convicted of illegal possession of firearms. The trial court granted the forfeiture petition, holding that Wolfgang was " well outside the sixty day time period to relinquish any firearms in his possession." Trial court op. at 3. Wolfgang appealed to this Court.

On appeal,[2] Wolfgang argues that the trial court erred by (1) refusing to permit Wolfgang to introduce signed statements from his sister and brother-in-law requesting that the seized firearms be transferred to them; (2) not allowing testimony from the State Police that they had allowed Wolfgang to retain the firearms after his prior felony conviction; and (3) allowing the Commonwealth to destroy several of the seized firearms without a valid court order.[3]

We begin with the applicable statute. Section 6105 of the Pennsylvania Uniform Firearms Act of 1995 (Firearms Act) prohibits a person convicted of certain crimes, including a felony, to possess or ...


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