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Commonwealth v. Chester

Supreme Court of Pennsylvania

September 24, 2014

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, Appellee
v.
MATTHEW ALLEN CHESTER, Appellant

Argued May 6, 2014

Appeal from the Order of the Superior Court at No. 1872 MDA 2011 dated July 9, 2012 affirming the judgment of sentence of the Lancaster County Court of Common Pleas, Criminal Division, at No. CP-36-CR-0002180-2010 dated October 14, 2011. Trial Court Judge: Margaret C. Miller, Judge. Intermediate Ct. Judges: Christine Donohue, Judge, David N. Wecht, Judge, William Platt, Judge.

For Matthew Allen Chester, Appellant: Janice L, Martino Longer, Esq.

For Allegheny County Public Defender's Office, Appellant Amicus Curiae: Elliot C. Howsie, Esq., Scott Bruce Rudolf, Esq., Allegheny County Public Defender's Office.

For Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Appellee: Susan E. Moyer, Esq., Craig William Stedman, Esq, Lancaster County District Attorney's Office.

MADAME JUSTICE TODD. Mr. Chief Justice Castille and Messrs. Justice Saylor, Eakin, Baer, McCaffery and Stevens join the opinion.

OPINION

Page 57

MADAME TODD, JUSTICE

In this appeal by allowance, we consider whether first-degree burglary constitutes " violent behavior" pursuant to the Recidivism Risk Reduction Incentive Act (" RRRI Act" ), 61 Pa.C.S.A. § § 4501 et seq. For the reasons set forth below, we hold that first-degree burglary, which we have consistently viewed as a violent crime in this Commonwealth, is " violent behavior" as contemplated by the RRRI Act. Thus, we affirm the decision of the Superior Court upholding Appellant's judgment of sentence.

By way of background, the RRRI Act " seeks to create a program that ensures appropriate punishment for persons who commit crimes, encourages inmate participation in evidence-based programs that reduce the risks of future crime and ensures the openness and accountability of the criminal justice process while ensuring fairness to crime victims." 61 Pa.C.S.A. § 4502. As part of achieving that aim, the RRRI Act requires the trial court to determine at the time of sentencing whether the defendant is an " eligible offender." 61 Pa.C.S.A. § 4505(a). If the court finds the defendant to be an eligible offender, or if the prosecuting attorney waives the eligibility requirements under Section 4505(b), the trial court must calculate minimum and maximum sentences, and then impose the RRRI minimum sentence, which " shall be equal to three-fourths of the minimum sentence imposed when the minimum sentence is three years or less," or " shall be equal to five-sixths of the minimum sentence if the minimum sentence is greater than three years." Id. § 4505(c). Furthermore, if an eligible offender " successfully completes the program plan, maintains a good conduct record and continues to remain an eligible offender," he or she may " be paroled on the RRRI minimum sentence date unless the Board determines that parole would present an unreasonable risk to public safety or that other specified conditions have not been satisfied." 37 Pa. Code § 96.1(b).

Importantly, in order to be eligible for an RRRI minimum sentence, the RRRI Act provides that a defendant must satisfy each of the following requirements, the first of which is presently at issue in the case at bar. Specifically, a defendant must establish that he:

(1) Does not demonstrate a history of present or past violent behavior.
(2) Has not been subject to a sentence the calculation of which includes an enhancement for the use of a deadly weapon as defined under law or the sentencing guidelines promulgated by the Pennsylvania Commission on Sentencing or the attorney for the Commonwealth has not demonstrated that the defendant has been found guilty of or was convicted of an offense involving a deadly

Page 58

weapon or offense under 18 Pa.C.S. Ch. 61 (relating to firearms and other dangerous articles) or the equivalent offense under the laws of the United States or one of its territories or possessions, another state, the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico or a foreign nation.
(3) Has not been found guilty of or previously convicted of or adjudicated delinquent for or an attempt or conspiracy to commit a personal injury crime as defined under section 103 of the act of November 24, 1998 (P. L. 882, No. 111), [18 P.S. § 11.103] known as the Crime Victims Act, except for an offense under 18 Pa.C.S. § 2701 (relating to simple assault) when the offense is a misdemeanor of the third degree, or an equivalent offense under the laws of the United States or one of its territories or possessions, another state, the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico or a foreign nation.
(4) Has not been found guilty or previously convicted or adjudicated delinquent for violating any of the following provisions or an equivalent offense under the laws of the United States or one of its territories or possessions, another state, the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico or a foreign nation:
18 Pa.C.S. § 4302(a) (relating to incest).
18 Pa.C.S. ยง 5901 (relating to open ...

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