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Commonwealth v. Lawrence

Superior Court of Pennsylvania

August 27, 2014

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, Appellee
v.
BYSHERE LAWRENCE, Appellant

Submitted June 16, 2014

Appeal from the Judgment of Sentence of the Court of Common Pleas, Philadelphia County, Criminal Division, No(s): CP-51-CR-0010239-2011. Before BRONSON, J.

James A. Lammendola, Philadelphia, for appellant.

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

BEFORE: BOWES, J., DONOHUE, J., and MUNDY, J.

OPINION

Page 117

MUNDY, J.

Appellant, Byshere Lawrence, appeals from the May 24, 2013 aggregate judgment of sentence[1] of 45 years to life imprisonment after he was found guilty of first-degree murder, firearms not to be carried without a license, and possession of an instrument of a crime (PIC).[2] After careful review, we affirm.

We summarize the relevant facts and procedural history of this case as follows. On September 26, 2011, the Commonwealth filed an information charging Appellant with the above-mentioned offenses as well as one count each of criminal conspiracy, possession of a firearm by a minor, carrying firearms in public in Philadelphia, and recklessly endangering another person (REAP).[3] On July 31, 2012, Appellant proceeded to a jury trial at the conclusion of which, the jury found

Page 118

Appellant guilty of first-degree murder, firearms not to be carried without a license, and PIC. The jury acquitted Appellant of criminal conspiracy. The Commonwealth nolle prossed the possession of a firearm by a minor, carrying firearms in public in Philadelphia, and REAP charges. On May 24, 2013, the trial court imposed an aggregate sentence of 45 years to life imprisonment.[4] On June 3, 2013, Appellant filed a timely post-sentence motion. Relevant to this appeal, Appellant's only constitutional issue in his post-sentence motion argued that the application of 18 Pa.C.S.A. § 1102.1(a)(1) to his case violated the Cruel and Unusual Punishment Clause of the Eighth Amendment to the Federal Constitution. See Appellant's Post-Sentence Motion, 6/3/13, at ¶ ¶ 7-10. On September 18, 2013, the trial court entered an order denying Appellant's post-sentence motion. On September 24, 2013, Appellant filed a timely notice of appeal.[5]

On appeal, Appellant raises three issues for our review.

A. Is 18 Pa.C.S. § 1102.1 unconstitutional under the United States Constitution because it violates its Cruel and Unusual Punishment Clause?
B. Is 18 Pa.C.S. § 1102.1 unconstitutional under the United States Constitution because it violates the Equal Protection Clause in that it treats juveniles convicted of first or second degree murder after its passage differently than juveniles convicted of the identical crimes prior to its passage?
C. Was the sentence imposed on Appellant under 18 Pa.C.S. § 1102.1 unconstitutional under the United States and Pennsylvania Constitutions because it violates their Ex Post Facto Clauses?

Appellant's Brief at 2.

In this case, all three of Appellant's issues challenge the constitutionality of Section 1102.1. " We note that duly enacted legislation carries with it a strong presumption of constitutionality." Commonwealth v. Turner, 80 A.3d 754, 759 (Pa. 2013) (citation omitted). " A presumption exists '[t]hat the General Assembly does not intend to violate the Constitution of the United States or of this Commonwealth' when promulgating legislation." Commonwealth v. Baker, 78 A.3d 1044, 1050 (Pa. 2013), quoting 1 Pa.C.S.A. § 1922(3).

In conducting our review, we are guided by the principle that acts passed by the General Assembly are strongly presumed to be constitutional, including the manner in which they were passed. Thus, a statute will not be found unconstitutional unless it clearly, palpably, and plainly violates the Constitution. If there is any doubt as to whether a challenger has met this high burden, then we will resolve that doubt in favor of the statute's constitutionality.

Commonwealth v. Neiman, 84 A.3d 603, 611 (Pa. 2013) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). As the constitutionality of a statute presents a pure question of law, our standard of review is de ...


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