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Commonwealth v. Fields

Supreme Court of Pennsylvania

December 31, 2014


Argued March 11, 2014

Appeal from the Judgment of Superior Court entered April 28, 2011 (reargument denied on 7/6/2011) at No. 3075 EDA 2009 vacating/remanding the Judgment of Sentence entered on August 5, 2005 in the Court of Common Pleas, Criminal Division of Philadelphia County at Nos. CP-51-CR-1102011-2003 and CP-51-CR-1102031-2003. Appeal allowed March 28, 2013 at 472 EAL 2011. Trial Court Judge: Steven R. Geroff, Judge. Intermediate Court Judges: Kate Ford Elliott, President Judge; John L. Musmanno, Judge; Stephen J. McEwen Jr., President Judge Emeritus.

For Defender Association of Philadelphia, AMICUS CURIAE: Peter Rosalsky, Esq., Defender Association of Philadelphia.

For Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, APPELLANT: Hugh J. Burns Jr., Esq., Priya M. Travassos, Esq., Philadelphia District Attorney's Office.

For Rudolph Fields, APPELLEE: Lee Mandell, Esq., Lee Mandell, P.C.

MR. JUSTICE SAYLOR. CASTILLE, C.J., SAYLOR, EAKIN, BAER, TODD, MCCAFFERY, STEVENS, JJ. Former Justice McCaffery did not participate in the decision of this case. Mr. Chief Justice Castille, Mr. Justice Eakin, Madame Justice Todd and Mr. Justice Stevens join the opinion. Mr. Justice Baer files a dissenting opinion.


Page 739


In this appeal by allowance, we consider whether sentences for multiple crimes of violence committed in the same criminal episode are each subject to statutory enhancement, where the sentences are governed by the second-strike provision of Pennsylvania's recidivist sentencing statute.

In 1992, Appellee forced his way into a woman's home and sexually assaulted her. He pled guilty to rape and burglary and was sentenced to four to ten years' imprisonment. Within a month after his release from confinement in 2002, Appellee forced his way into another victim's residence, brutally attacked and raped her, and robbed her of her money and car. The Commonwealth arrested Appellee and charged him with rape, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse (" IDSI" ), robbery, burglary, and related offenses.

Appellee entered an open plea of guilty to all charges. A sentencing hearing was conducted on August 5, 2005. At the conclusion of the hearing, the court applied the second-strike offender portion of Pennsylvania's recidivism statute, see 42 Pa.C.S. § 9714 (relating to sentences for second and subsequent offenses), in view of Appellee's prior convictions for the 1992 offenses.[1] That provision states:

(1) Any person who is convicted in any court of this Commonwealth of a crime of violence shall, if at the time of the commission of the current offense the person had previously been convicted of a crime of violence, be sentenced to a minimum sentence of at least ten years of total confinement, notwithstanding any other provision of this title or other statute to the contrary. Upon a second conviction for a crime of violence, the court shall give the person oral and written notice of the penalties under this

Page 740

section for a third conviction for a crime of violence. Failure to provide such notice shall not render the offender ineligible to be sentenced under paragraph (2).

42 Pa.C.S. § 9714(a)(1). Because Section 9714(g) defines " crime of violence" to include rape, IDSI, robbery, and burglary, see 42 Pa.C.S. § 9714(g), the common pleas court sentenced Appellee to mandatory minimum sentences of 10 to 20 years for each of these four charges.[2]

In an unpublished decision, the Superior court vacated Appellee's judgment of sentence and remanded for resentencing using a single, second-strike ten-year minimum. The court based its decision on this Court's holding in Commonwealth v. McClintic, 589 Pa. 465, 909 A.2d 1241 (2006). In McClintic, a majority of this Court determined that only one of multiple crimes committed by a third-strike offender during a single criminal episode is eligible for the 25-year minimum sentence required by subsection (a)(2).[3] While recognizing that the present case involves a second-strike offender, the intermediate court nonetheless found McClintic controlling, expressing that McClintic's central tenet was that any repeat offender is subject to only a single sentence enhancement for each strike -- where multiple strikes are, by judicial interpretation, sequential and separated by an intervening opportunity for reform. See Commonwealth v. Fields, No. 3075 EDA 2009, slip op. at 11. See generally Commonwealth v. Dickerson, 533 Pa. 294, 299, 621 A.2d 990, 992 (1993) (" In cases of recidivism, we expect the following sequence of events: first offense, first conviction, first sentencing, second offense, second conviction, second sentencing." ); Shiffler, 583 Pa. at 494-95, 879 A.2d at 195.

We granted review to assess whether the mandatory minimum sentence set forth in Section 9714(a)(1) of the Sentencing Code, 42 Pa.C.S. § 9714(a)(1), only applies to one of multiple crimes of violence committed in a single criminal episode by a second-strike offender. See Commonwealth v. Fields, 619 Pa. 398, 64 A.3d 628 (2013) (per curiam). The parties agree that the charges of rape, IDSI, robbery, and burglary arose from a single criminal episode and that these offenses constitute crimes of violence for ...

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