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Commonwealth v. Chambers

Superior Court of Pennsylvania

March 7, 2017

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA Appellee
v.
RICHARD A. CHAMBERS Appellant

         Appeal from the Judgment of Sentence dated June 4, 2015 In the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County Criminal Division at No(s): CP-51-CR-0006404-2014

          BEFORE: DUBOW, J., SOLANO, J., and PLATT, J. [*]

          OPINION

          SOLANO, J.

         Appellant, Richard A. Chambers, appeals from the judgment of sentence imposed by the trial court after it convicted him at a bench trial of aggravated assault, conspiracy, possession of an instrument of crime (PIC), terroristic threats, simple assault, and recklessly endangering another person.[1] Appellant challenges the sufficiency of the evidence supporting his convictions, and specifically contends that the trial court erred in its characterization of mace as a deadly weapon. Upon review, we affirm.

         Appellant's convictions arose from a physical altercation with Mr. Calvin Wilson that occurred on the evening of May 15, 2014, at North 15th Street in Philadelphia. Mr. Wilson was in his car, returning to his apartment with his girlfriend and her two grandchildren, when he observed a white Jeep blocking the driveway. Mr. Wilson saw Appellant standing by the driver's door of the Jeep. He explained:

As I approached the driveway, I blew my horn and I wanted to turn into the driveway. But you couldn't turn in because the white jeep was sitting there. So I rolled my window down and I asked [Appellant] can he - why are you blocking the driveway? Can you move from the driveway?

N.T., 3/23/15, at 13. Appellant and the white Jeep did not move, so Mr. Wilson attempted to drive around them.

         Mr. Wilson then exited his car and exchanged words with Appellant. He noticed two women inside the Jeep. Then Mr. Wilson saw Appellant "raise his arm" and "throw the first punch, " which resulted in "fists flying" between the two men. N.T., 3/23/15, at 18, 34, 39. Next, an individual or individuals, including one or more of the women, pulled off Mr. Wilson's eyeglasses and sprayed him with mace. Id. at 19, 39 ("people were around macing"), 43 ("a girl with floral shoes sprayed me with mace"). As a result of being sprayed with mace, Mr. Wilson no longer could see clearly, but Appellant, who had pushed him flat onto the street and knelt on him, kept punching and kicking Mr. Wilson while someone "kept spraying" him. Id. at 43. Mr. Wilson described "feeling everything" and being punched and kicked until police arrived. Id. at 20-22, 58-59, 62-63. Appellant kept shouting that he was "going to kill" Mr. Wilson. Id. at 59.

         Afterwards, Mr. Wilson was transported to the hospital, where he was treated for three hairline rib fractures, a concussion, a laceration requiring stitches, and "a burnt retina in my eye from mace." N.T., 3/23/15, at 23. He stated that his eye "drooled" as a result of being sprayed with mace. Id. at 24. At trial, the Commonwealth introduced into evidence three photographs of Mr. Wilson after the altercation, as well as Mr. Wilson's medical records. Id. at 71.

         Mr. Wilson's girlfriend, Carol Mitchell, confirmed that the altercation began when "words started flying" and Mr. Wilson and Appellant "got to fighting, " although "it wasn't just [Appellant]." N.T., 3/23/15, at 47. Ms. Mitchell said that "everybody jumped in" including "one male and a bunch of thick women." Id. at 48-49. She saw someone spray mace, but she did not know who it was because she just saw the person's hand. Id. at 49-50. She described Mr. Wilson afterwards as bleeding, and recalled him spending a day or two in the hospital.

         Philadelphia Police Officer Henry Schoch[2] was called to the scene of the altercation. He observed "a pile of people on top" of Mr. Wilson, and "a number of females out there." N.T., 3/23/15, at 60-61. He stopped the altercation, and "was left with [Appellant] on top of [Mr. Wilson]." Id. at 61. He arranged for Mr. Wilson to be transported to the hospital. Id. at 67.

         One of the neighborhood residents, Jeffrey Jones, witnessed the encounter from his apartment window and saw Appellant talking with his girlfriend in the white Jeep. He noticed that Appellant's attention was diverted "towards the driveway." N.T., 3/23/15, at 75-76. A "yelling conversation" ensued, and he saw Appellant "go down" and both men "fall into the street." Id. at 76. Mr. Jones went outside and saw "everybody in the middle of the street." Id. at 77. He also saw "[Appellant's] girlfriend and whoever, she was - they seen - they had spray. Trying to pepper spray this guy because he's a pretty big guy." Id.

         Following the testimony presented at trial and the trial court's verdicts, Appellant was sentenced to 1½ to 3 years of incarceration, followed by 3 years of reporting probation.[3] Appellant filed a post-sentence motion that the trial court denied. He then filed this timely appeal.

         Appellant states his three issues for review as follows:

[1.] Was not the evidence insufficient to convict appellant of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon in that 1) appellant, who was involved in a fist-fight with the complainant, was not criminally liable as an accomplice for another person's conduct of spraying the complainant with mace; and 2) mace was not proven to constitute a deadly weapon?
[2.] Was not the evidence insufficient to convict appellant of conspiracy to commit aggravated assault with a deadly weapon where the Commonwealth failed to prove that: 1) mace was a deadly weapon; 2) appellant had a shared intent to commit an assault with a deadly weapon; or 3) appellant was a party to a prior agreement to commit such an assault?
[3.] Was not appellant erroneously convicted of possessing an instrument of crime where the bill of information specified a knife, and the trial court explicitly found the evidence insufficient to prove the crime as charged, but nevertheless convicted him of possessing an uncharged instrument of crime, a can of mace?

Appellant's Brief at 3.

         Each of these issues challenges the sufficiency of the evidence supporting Appellant's aggravated assault, conspiracy, and PIC convictions.

A claim challenging the sufficiency of the evidence is a question of law. Evidence will be deemed sufficient to support the verdict when it establishes each material element of the crime charged and the commission thereof by the accused, beyond a reasonable doubt. . . . When reviewing a sufficiency claim the court is required to view the evidence in the light most favorable to the verdict winner giving the prosecution the benefit of all reasonable inferences to be drawn from the evidence.

Commonwealth v. Sullivan, 820 A.2d 795, 805 (Pa. Super. 2003) (citation omitted), appeal denied, 833 A.2d 143 (Pa. 2003). As a reviewing court, we many not weigh the evidence or substitute our judgment for that of the fact-finder, who is free to believe all, part, or none of the evidence. Commonwealth v. Haughwout, 837 A.2d 480, 484 (Pa. Super. 2003).

         In his first two issues, Appellant claims that the Commonwealth failed to prove the elements of aggravated assault and conspiracy to commit aggravated assault. The relevant assault statute states:

§ 2702. Aggravated assault
(a) Offense defined.-A person is guilty of aggravated assault if he:
(1) attempts to cause serious bodily injury to another, or causes such injury intentionally, knowingly or recklessly under circumstances manifesting extreme indifference to the value of human life . . . .
(4) attempts to cause or intentionally or knowingly causes bodily injury to another with a deadly weapon;

18 Pa.C.S. § 2702.

         Criminal conspiracy is governed by Section 903 of the Crimes Code:

(a) Definition of conspiracy.--A person is guilty of conspiracy with another person or persons to commit a crime if with the intent of promoting or ...

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