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Commonwealth v. Plowden

Superior Court of Pennsylvania

March 8, 2017


         Appeal from the Order January 6, 2015 In the Court of Common Pleas of Cambria County Criminal Division at No(s): CP-11-CR-0002528-2013



          OTT, J.

         The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania appeals from the order[1] entered January 6, 2015, in the Court of Common Pleas of Cambria County, that granted the motion filed by Tyshawn Plowden pursuant to Pennsylvania Rule of Criminal Procedure 600 and dismissed the charges against Plowden with prejudice. The Commonwealth contends the trial court abused its discretion in granting the motion because the Commonwealth exercised due diligence in prosecuting Plowden who was incarcerated in another state outside the control of the Commonwealth. For the reasons below, we reverse and remand for further proceedings.

         The trial court summarized the relevant procedural history, as follows:

The parties have stipulated, in accordance with the record, that the Rule 600 time limits expired on December 27, 2014. A review of the record reveals that on June 9, 2014, [Plowden] filed a Petition for Nominal Bail Pursuant to Rule 600, and therein alleged that the 180-day time period for bringing him to trial expired on June 9, 2014. On June 19, 2014, the Honorable Gerard Long of this [c]ourt granted [Plowden's] Petition and set bond at $1.00. On July 11, 2014, [Plowden] was released from the Cambria County Prison and was extradited to the State of New York, following an extradition hearing on July 3, 2014.
At the January 5, 2015 hearing [on the Rule 600 motion], the Commonwealth offered a written log and oral testimony from Detective Lia DeMarco relative to the Commonwealth's efforts to secure [Plowden] from the State of New York from July 2014 to present. See 1/5/15 Com. Exhibit A. At [the] hearing, Detective DeMarco testified, in response to questioning by the Court, that when the Cambria County Prison, in July 2014, inquired with the Commonwealth as to whether [Plowden] could be extradited to the State of New York, the Commonwealth did not object to the extradition. N.T. 1/5/15 at p. 24. The Detective also admitted that prior to his release from the Cambria County Prison, no one scrutinized the charges … pending in Cambria County.[2] N.T. 1/5/15 at p. 24. However, she further testified that since this case, the Commonwealth's protocol has changed. N.T. 1/5/15 at pp. 24-25. Additionally, counsel for the Commonwealth freely admitted that the Commonwealth should have known that there were charges pending against [Plowden], should have more closely taken action prior to his release to the State of New York, and are now attempting to rectify the errors. N.T. 1/5/15 at pp. 29-30.
Testimony was also presented at the January 5, 2015 hearing that the Commonwealth started proceeding pursuant to the Interstate Agreement on Detainers ("IAD") on September 24, 2014. N.T. 1/5/15 at p. 40. However, formal written demand was not filed until October 9, 2014. Id. Thereafter, on December 12, 2014, as a "backup" plan, the Commonwealth also began proceedings pursuant to the Uniform Extradition Act, as Detective DeMarco learned from the State of New York that she needed to obtain a governor's warrant from Harrisburg. N.T. 1/5/15 at pp. 41-42.
On December 4, 2014, the last scheduled Jury Selection date prior to the Rule 600 run date of December 27, 2014, the [c]ourt specially set another Jury Selection date of December 16, 2014 to accommodate the Rule 600 time frame. However, [Plowden] was not present on either December 4th or December 16th, given that he was incarcerated in New York. In fact, as of the January 5, 2015 hearing date, [Plowden] had still not been returned to Cambria County, but his trial date was set for January 8, 2015, and the Cambria County Sheriff's Office had made arrangements to transport [Plowden] from upstate New York to Cambria County on January 7, 2015.

Trial Court Opinion, 3/9/2015, at 3-4.

         Based upon these facts, the trial court granted Plowden's Rule 600 motion and dismissed the criminal charges pending against him with prejudice. The trial court also denied as moot Plowden's objection to the court conducting the January 5, 2015 hearing in his absence. Trial Court Order, 1/6/2015, at 2 (unnumbered).

         A divided panel of this Court affirmed the order of the trial court. Thereafter, the Commonwealth sought en banc review, which this Court granted. The matter is now ready for our review.

         In evaluating a Rule 600 issue:

[O]ur standard of review of a trial court's decision is whether the trial court abused its discretion. Judicial discretion requires action in conformity with law, upon facts and circumstances judicially before the court, after hearing and due consideration. An abuse of discretion is not merely an error of judgment, but if in reaching a conclusion the law is overridden or misapplied or the judgment exercised is manifestly unreasonable, or the result of partiality, prejudice, bias, or ill will, as shown by the evidence or the record, discretion is abused.
The proper scope of review is limited to the evidence on the record of the Rule [600] evidentiary hearing, and the findings of the [trial] court. An appellate court must view the facts in the light most favorable to the prevailing party.
Additionally, when considering the trial court's ruling, this Court is not permitted to ignore the dual purpose behind Rule [600]. Rule [600] serves two equally important functions: (1) the protection of the accused's speedy trial rights, and (2) the protection of society. In determining whether an accused's right to a speedy trial has been violated, consideration must be given to society's right to effective prosecution of criminal cases, both to restrain those guilty of crime and to deter those contemplating it. However, the administrative mandate of Rule [600] was not designed to insulate the criminally accused from good faith prosecution delayed through no fault of the Commonwealth.
So long as there has been no misconduct on the part of the Commonwealth in an effort to evade the fundamental speedy trial rights of an accused, Rule [600] must be construed in a manner consistent with society's right to punish and deter crime. In considering [these] matters . . . courts must carefully factor into the ultimate equation not only the prerogatives of the individual accused, but the collective right of the community to vigorous law enforcement as well.

Commonwealth v. Watson, 140 A.3d 696, 697-698 (Pa. Super. 2016) (citation omitted), appeal denied, ___ A.3d___ [2016 Pa. LEXIS 2924] (Pa. Dec. 28, 2016).

          Rule 600, as amended July 1, 2013, [3] provides, in pertinent part, that "[t]rial in a court case in which a written complaint is filed against the defendant shall commence within 365 days from the date on which the complaint is filed." Pa.R.Crim.P. 600(A)(2)(a). For purposes of computing when trial must commence, "periods of delay at any stage of the proceedings caused by the Commonwealth when the Commonwealth has failed to exercise due diligence shall be included.... Any other periods of delay shall be excluded from the computation." Pa.R.Crim.P. 600(C)(1). "When a defendant has not been brought to trial within the time periods set forth in paragraph (A), at any time before trial, the defendant's attorney, or the defendant ...

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