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Commonwealth v. Raven

Superior Court of Pennsylvania

August 12, 2014


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Appeal from the Judgments of Sentence of June 10, 2013. In the Court of Common Pleas of Luzerne County, Criminal Division at Nos.: CP-40-CR-0003415-2012, CP-40-CR-0003629-2012. Before VOUGH, J.

Robert M. Buttner, Scranton, for appellant.

Gregory S. Skibitsky, Jr., Assistant District Attorney, Wilkes-Barre, for Commonwealth, appellee.



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Walter Raven appeals his June 10, 2013 judgments of sentence. We affirm.

On September 18, 2012, Raven was charged at CP-40-CR-0003415-2012 (" 3415-2012" ) with accidents involving death or personal injury (" AIDPI" ), AIDPI while not properly licensed, driving while operating privileges suspended or revoked-DUI related (" DWS-DUI related" ), habitual offenders, careless driving, tampering with or fabricating physical evidence, and several related summary offenses.[1] The sentencing court [2] aptly has summarized the factual history of 3415-2012 as follows:

On September 2, 2012, at approximately 12:19 a.m., law enforcement officers were dispatched to 304 State Route 315, Pittston Township, Luzerne County, Pennsylvania to investigate a motor vehicle accident. Two individuals, Donnie Pizano and Robin Walsh, were killed in the accident. They had been riding a motorcycle. The vehicle which struck the motorcycle fled the scene.
Further investigation revealed that [Raven] had been operating the vehicle which struck the motorcycle and fled the scene. Within twelve hours of the accident, [Raven] power washed his vehicle along with the assistance of another individual. After obtaining a search warrant, police officers seized [Raven's] vehicle and observed damage consistent with the accident. Witnesses were interviewed and identified [Raven] as the driver of the vehicle involved in the accident. At the time of the accident, [Raven] was operating his vehicle with a license that had been suspended due to driving under the influence of a controlled substance.

Sentencing Court Opinion (" S.C.O." ), 9/12/2013, at 1 (unnumbered).

At the time of this incident, Raven also had a pending criminal case at CP-40-0003629-2012 (" 3629-2012" ). That case arose from an incident that occurred on February 8, 2011. On that date, Sergeant Leonard Galli of the Exeter Borough Police Department contacted Raven through a confidential informant (" CI" ) and arranged for the purchase of prescription narcotics. Thereafter, Raven met with the CI and delivered eight morphine sulfate pills to him in exchange for $100. Sergeant Galli subsequently filed a criminal complaint charging Raven with possession of a controlled substance and delivery of a controlled substance.[3]

On May 3, 2012, Raven entered into negotiated plea agreements at both 3629-2012 and 3415-2012. At 3415-2012, Raven pleaded guilty to AUDI, AIDPI while not properly licensed, DWS-DUI related, habitual offenders, careless driving, and tampering with or fabricating evidence. At 3629-2012, Raven pleaded guilty to one count of delivery of a controlled substance.

On June 10, 2013, Raven was sentenced at both cases. At that hearing, the court

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sentenced Raven within the standard range of the sentencing guidelines for each offense.[4] Imposed consecutively, those sentences resulted in an aggregate term of seventy-eight to three hundred months' incarceration. On June 19, 2013, Raven timely filed a post-sentence motion seeking to modify his sentence. Therein, Raven argued, inter alia, that his AIDPI and AIDPI while not properly licensed convictions should have merged for the purposes of sentencing. Raven also argued that the sentencing court failed to consider the mitigating evidence that he presented at the June 10, 2013 sentencing hearing. On June 28, 2013, the sentencing court denied Raven's post-sentence motion without a hearing.

On July 16, 2013, Raven filed notices of appeal at both 3629-2012 and 3415-2012. On July 17, 2013, the sentencing court ordered Raven to file concise statements of errors complained of on appeal pursuant to Pa.R.A.P. 1925(b). Raven timely complied. On September 12, 2013, the sentencing court issued an opinion pursuant to Pa.R.A.P. 1925(a).[5]

Raven presents the following issues for our consideration:

1. Whether, based upon the elements of the crimes and the underlying facts, the consecutive sentence imposed relative to [AIDPI] while not properly licensed, [DWS-DUI related], and habitual offenders should have been merged?[6]
2. Did the [sentencing c]ourt impose a manifestly excessive and unreasonable sentence as a result of failing to consider the relevant sentencing criteria, including protection of the public, the gravity of the underlying offense[,] and the rehabilitative needs of [Raven,] and thereby fail[] to impose an individualized sentence when the [c]ourt sentenced [Raven] to the highest sentence allowable of the standard range of the sentencing guidelines and ran each and ever[y] sentence, under 3415-2012 [and] 3629-2012, consecutively] to one another?

Brief for Raven at 6 (citations omitted).

Whether Raven's convictions merge for the purposes of sentencing is a question implicating the legality of his sentence.[7] Consequently, our standard of review is de novo and the scope of our review is plenary. See Commonwealth v. Collins, 564 Pa. 144, 764 A.2d 1056, 1057 n.l (Pa. 2001).

The merger doctrine is a rule of statutory construction designed to determine

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whether the legislature intended for the punishment of one offense to encompass that of another offense. Commonwealth v. Davidson, 595 Pa. 1, 938 A.2d 198, 217 (Pa. 2007). The objective of the doctrine is to prevent a defendant from ...

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