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Commonwealth v. Johnson

Superior Court of Pennsylvania

August 20, 2014


Submitted June 30, 2014

Appeal from the Judgment of Sentence of the Court of Common Pleas, Philadelphia County, Criminal Division, No(s): CP-51-CR-0004422-2012. Before FOGLIETTA, J.

Karl Baker, Public Defender, Philadelphia, for appellant.

Hugh J. Burns, Jr., Assistant District Attorney, Philadelphia, for Commonwealth, appellee.




Sincerity Johnson appeals from her September 18, 2012 judgment of concurrent sentences of one year of probation, which were imposed after she was convicted of hindering apprehension or prosecution and obstructing administration of law. She challenges the sufficiency of the evidence

Page 208

supporting her convictions. We reverse in part and affirm in part.

We summarize the facts giving rise to Appellant's convictions.[1] On September 15, 2011, at approximately 12:00 noon, twenty FBI agents and United States Marshals went to an apartment located in a building at 633 West Rittenhouse Street, Philadelphia, to execute an arrest warrant for Rodney Thompson. Appellant shared the apartment with her mother. The law enforcement officers knocked, announced that they were police officers, and stated that they had a warrant. Initially, there was no response. After knocking a second time, Appellant inquired who they were. Upon being informed again that they were police officers with a warrant, Appellant told them to wait while she dressed. After five minutes, the officers heard someone running within the apartment, and they attempted to force open the door, but stopped when Appellant did so. When questioned, Appellant denied that there was anyone else in the apartment; after being shown a photograph of Thompson, she denied knowing him.

The law enforcement officers noticed that a window was open and that the subject of the warrant was running on the second floor roof of the apartment. Thompson was apprehended behind the apartment building. Appellant was taken into custody and charged with hindering apprehension, a third-degree felony, and obstructing administration of law, a misdemeanor.

The felony hindering apprehension charge subsequently was reduced to a misdemeanor, and the case was transferred to Municipal Court for disposition. Appellant was found guilty by the court and sentenced to six months supervised probation. Appellant appealed to the court of common pleas for a de novo trial. The Commonwealth filed a criminal information charging that Appellant " hindered apprehension or prosecution of another for crime or violation of the terms of probation, parole, intermediate punishment" by harboring and concealing the other as prohibited under § 5105(a)(1). Criminal Information at 1.[2]

Appellant waived her right to a jury trial and proceeded non-jury. She testified that the police were at her door for " maybe two minutes" before she unlocked the door. N.T., 9/18/12, at 28. She maintained that the officers did not tell her that they had an arrest warrant or identify the subject of the document. Appellant denied that she was attempting to delay police so that Thompson could escape, and portrayed him as an uninvited guest. She ultimately conceded, however, that she and Thompson had dated intermittently but denied that she was pregnant with his child at the time. The court convicted Appellant of both offenses and sentenced her to twelve months reporting probation on the obstruction charge and a concurrent term of twelve months reporting probation on the hindering apprehension charge.

On September 27, 2012, Appellant filed a post-sentence motion for judgment of acquittal and/or a new trial. She challenged, inter alia, the legal sufficiency of her convictions. The motion was denied by operation of law on January 28, 2013, and Appellant timely filed the within appeal.

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Appellant complied with the court's order to file a Pa.R.A.P. 1925(b) concise statement of errors complained of on appeal.

The trial court issued its Rule 1925(a) opinion in which it described Appellant's testimony as " incredulous," " contradictory," and calculated " to protect herself in these criminal proceedings" and " in . . . her relationship with her fiancé, who was present in court." Trial Court Opinion, 11/26/13, at 12-13. The court credited Detective McCusker's testimony that Appellant's delay of five to six minutes in opening the door was intentionally calculated to hinder the apprehension of the fugitive who was concealed in Appellant's apartment. Appellant was found guilty, not only based on her false statements to police, but because, under the totality of the circumstances, she employed " intentional tactics" " in order to delay the entry of law enforcement into her apartment, thereby providing time for the person for whom the arrest warrant was issued to escape from the apartment[.]" Id. at 2. For purposes of the obstruction charge, the locked door was " a physical obstacle" " intended to obstruct and impair law enforcement's efforts to execute the arrest warrant." Id. at 16.

Appellant presents two issues for our review:

1. Was not the evidence insufficient to sustain the conviction of hindering apprehension or prosecution in that the Commonwealth failed to present evidence relating to the alleged warrant, and therefore it did not prove an element of the offense because it failed to demonstrate that the person they were seeking was wanted for a crime or violation of probation or parole, as required by statute 18 Pa.C.S. § 5105?
2. Was not the evidence insufficient to sustain the conviction of obstructing administration of law in that the defendant's momentary need to get dressed before opening the door for police and then providing false answers in response to questions by law enforcement officers was not force, violence, or physical interference or obstacle, as required by statute 18 Pa.C.S. § 5101?

Appellant's brief at 3.

In reviewing a challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence, we apply ...

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