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Commonwealth v. Vergilio

Superior Court of Pennsylvania

November 6, 2014

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, Appellant
v.
FRANK VERGILIO, Appellee

Submitted August 20, 2014

Appeal from the Order of the Court of Common Pleas, Montgomery County, Criminal Division, No.: CP-46-CR-0001821-2012. Before CARLUCCIO, J.

Robert M. Falin, Assistant District Attorney, Norristown, for Commonwealth, appellant.

Michael A. John, Norristown, for Vergilio, appellee.

BEFORE: GANTMAN, P.J., BENDER, P.J.E., and PLATT, J.[*]

OPINION

Page 832

PLATT, J.

The Commonwealth appeals from the trial court's order granting the petition of Appellee, Frank Vergilio, to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction. Specifically, the court dismissed the charges of terroristic threats[1] based on its finding that it lacked jurisdiction because the alleged threats from Appellee originated from a telephone in New Jersey and were directly received by the victim in Pennsylvania. We reverse.

As observed by the trial court:

[T]here is no dispute that the telephone calls at issue were made from New Jersey. [Appellee] and the victim had two communications between December 3, 2011 and December 4, 2011. On December 3, 2011, the victim called his mother in New Jersey to express his concern over mother's boyfriend, [Appellee]. During the conversation, [Appellee] grabbed the phone from mother and proceeded to engage in a verbal altercation with victim, culminating in the alleged terroristic threats. Hence, the first alleged threat was made by [Appellee] to the victim, while [Appellee] was in New Jersey. Approximately fifteen minutes later, while still in New Jersey, [Appellee] called the victim back and allegedly made additional threats. Again, [Appellee] made this phone call from New Jersey.

( Trial Court Opinion, 1/31/14, at 4 (record citations omitted)).

On April 10, 2012, the Commonwealth charged Appellee with two counts of terroristic threats and one count of harassment. On May 10, 2013, Appellee filed a petition to dismiss the terroristic threats counts for lack of jurisdiction. The court held argument on Appellee's motion on September 4, 2013. On September 9, 2013, the court granted Appellee's petition and dismissed the charges of terroristic threats. The Commonwealth timely appealed.[2]

The Commonwealth raises one question for our review: " Whether the [trial] court erred by concluding that it did not have jurisdiction over terroristic threats charges, where [Appellee] in New Jersey communicated the threats over the phone to the victim in Pennsylvania?" (Commonwealth's Brief, at 4).[3]

The Commonwealth argues that the trial court improperly found that it did not have jurisdiction[4] where " [Appellee]

Page 833

communicated the threats to the victim [who was in] Pennsylvania[, and thus] the communication . . . occurred within the Commonwealth." (Commonwealth's Brief, at 13). After a thorough review of the law on this issue, we agree.

We begin by noting that, while we agree with Appellee that " [t]he object of all interpretation and construction of a statute is to ascertain and effectuate the intent of the General Assembly[,]" (Appellee's Brief, at 14 (citations omitted)), we are not legally persuaded by his argument that the General Assembly intended, by not specifically identifying where a communication occurs for the purpose of the terroristic threats statute, that the communication must be considered made only in the place in which it is uttered. (See id. at 14-15).[5]

To establish the crime of terroristic threats pursuant to section 2706(a)(1) of the Crimes Code, the Commonwealth must prove that the defendant " communicate[d], either directly or indirectly, a threat to . . . commit any crime of violence with intent to terrorize another[.]" 18 Pa.C.S.A. § 2706(a)(1); see also Commonwealth v. Tizer, 454 Pa.Super. 1, 684 A.2d 597, 600 (Pa. Super. 1996) (same). " [T]he elements [necessary to establish a violation of the terroristic threats statute] are: (1) a threat to commit a crime of violence; and (2) that the threat was communicated with the intent to terrorize or with reckless disregard of the risk of causing such terror." Commonwealth v. Ferrer, 283 Pa.Super. 21, 423 A.2d 423, 424 (Pa. Super. 1980) (footnote omitted). Section ...


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