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Commonwealth v. Baldwin

Superior Court of Pennsylvania

April 10, 2017

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA
v.
DANIELLE BALDWIN Appellant

         Appeal from the Order August 3, 2015 in the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia Municipal Court - Traffic Division at No(s): MC-51-CR-0035622-2014

          BEFORE: SHOGAN, MOULTON, and FITZGERALD, [*] JJ.

          OPINION

          FITZGERALD, J.

         Appellant, Danielle Baldwin, appeals from the order of the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas reversing the judgment of acquittal entered in the Philadelphia Municipal Court and remanding the case to the Municipal Court for a new trial. Appellant contends that double jeopardy prohibits a new trial. We affirm.

         On the evening of October 16, 2014, Appellant allegedly pointed a gun at her neighbor, Jamia Williams. Williams contacted the police, who arrested Appellant, searched her residence and recovered a firearm. Williams was arrested and charged with possession of an instrument of crime, [1] prohibited offensive weapons, [2] simple assault, [3] reckless endangerment[4] and terroristic threats.[5]

         Appellant filed a motion in the Municipal Court to suppress the firearm. On February 11, 2015, following an evidentiary hearing, the Municipal Court granted the motion to suppress. The court determined that Appellant consented to the search of her residence following her arrest, but her consent was involuntary because the arresting officers failed to give her Miranda[6] warnings. N.T., 2/11/15, at 23.

         Trial commenced immediately after the suppression ruling. Before testimony began, the court stated: "Everyone understands the consent is illegal and the fruits are thrown out . . . . All witnesses are sequestered. If anyone needs to talk to their witnesses because [of] what just happened in the motion, I will suspend [the] sequestration order for a [minute] while any witness is spoken to." Id. at 24.

         Williams, the Commonwealth's first trial witness, testified that in the early evening of October 16, 2014, she was standing outside of her house on the street, while Appellant was standing in her house across the street in front of an open window. Id. at 25-27. Williams and Appellant were arguing about the recent arrest of Williams' baby's father. Id. at 25-26. During the argument, Appellant disappeared from her window but returned moments later and pointed a gun at Williams. Id. at 28.[7]

         Defense counsel objected to Williams' testimony about the gun and moved for a mistrial. Id. at 28-29. The court sustained defense counsel's objection and granted a mistrial. Id. at 29-30. Defense counsel then requested a "judgment of acquittal" based on "prosecutorial misconduct." Id. at 30. The court responded: "The motion is granted and a mistrial is granted. Jeopardy has attached, and so at this point . . . this case is done. The motion for judgment of acquittal is granted." Id. at 33.

         The Commonwealth appealed the judgment of acquittal to the Court of Common Pleas on March 13, 2015. On August 3, 2015, the Court of Common Pleas entered an order reversing the judgment of acquittal and remanding the case to the Municipal Court for trial. The Court of Common Pleas determined that Appellant's double jeopardy rights were not violated, because the Municipal Court's ruling "did not constitute an acquittal[, ] nor was there prosecutorial misconduct." Pa.R.A.P. 1925 Op., 3/9/16, at 5.

         Appellant timely appealed to this Court on September 2, 2015. Both Appellant and the Court of Common Pleas complied with Pa.R.A.P. 1925.

         Appellant raises four issues in this appeal:

1. Double jeopardy prohibits a new trial in this case; the [C]ommon [P]leas [C]ourt erred in allowing the [C]ommonwealth to appeal from a judgment of acquittal because the government is categorically prohibited from appealing judgments of acquittal, even if the lower trial court was egregiously wrong to enter the judgment of acquittal.
2. In the alternative event that there are any circumstances under which a government can so appeal, the judgment of acquittal here was entered by the trial judge and is unappealable.
3. In the alternative event that the appellate courts do not so hold, [the] [C]ommon [P]leas [Court] erred here (and [the M]unicipal [C]ourt ruled correctly, and retrial is prohibited no matter how the [M]unicipal [C]ourt judgment is described) because double jeopardy prohibits retrial after a mistrial caused by prosecutorial misconduct: following the suppression ruling, the ...

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