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Commonwealth v. Monarch

Superior Court of Pennsylvania

June 6, 2017


         Appeal from the Judgment of Sentence March 24, 2016 In the Court of Common Pleas of Venango County Criminal Division at No(s): CP-61-CR-0000433-2015

          BEFORE: PANELLA, J., STABILE, J., and STEVENS, P.J.E.[*]


          PANELLA, J.

         About an hour before noon on a Saturday morning, Donna Peltier, the mother of Appellant, Samuel Monarch, contacted the Franklin County 911 Emergency Services Center. She informed them that her son was intoxicated and had just driven away from her residence with his eight-year-old daughter. Officers caught up with Monarch inside his residence shortly thereafter and observed that Monarch's speech was slurred, he reeked of alcohol, and he was unstable while standing. Monarch refused to take sobriety tests and refused breath and blood tests.

         At trial, Peltier testified that she did not believe Monarch to have been intoxicated when he drove away from her home. The Commonwealth impeached this testimony with a prior recorded interview of Peltier. The jury convicted Monarch of one count of driving under the influence/general impairment ("DUI") and one count of endangering the welfare of his daughter. The trial court increased the grading of the DUI conviction pursuant to 75 Pa.C.S.A. § 3803(b)(4), which imposes enhanced penalties for defendants convicted of DUI if they refuse a breath or blood test.

         In this appeal from his judgment of sentence, Monarch raises four issues for our review. First, that the trial court erred in admitting the recorded interview of Peltier. Second, that the trial court erred in allowing Peltier's lay opinion on intoxication to be presented to the jury over Monarch's objection. Third, that the evidence presented by the Commonwealth at trial was insufficient to support his conviction. Finally, that pursuant to Birchfield v. North Dakota, 136 S.Ct. 2160 (2016), the imposition of an enhanced penalty based upon his refusal of blood tests was unconstitutional. After careful review, we affirm.

         In his first two issues on appeal, Monarch challenges evidentiary rulings made by the court during trial.

A trial court has broad discretion to determine whether evidence is admissible, and a trial court's ruling regarding the admission of evidence will not be disturbed on appeal unless that ruling reflects manifest unreasonableness, or partiality, prejudice, bias, or ill-will, or such lack of support to be clearly erroneous. If the evidentiary question is purely one of law, our review is plenary.

Commonwealth v. Belani, 101 A.3d 1156, 1160 (Pa. Super. 2014) (citations and quotation marks omitted). "The court may exclude relevant evidence if its probative value is outweighed by a danger of … unfair prejudice…." Pa.R.E. 403. "'Unfair prejudice' means a tendency to suggest decision on an improper basis or to divert the jury's attention away from its duty of weighing the evidence impartially." Id., Comment.

         Monarch first argues that the trial court abused its discretion in allowing the Commonwealth to present a recorded interview of Peltier to the jury. At trial, Peltier testified that Monarch had driven away from her home at approximately 8:30 a.m. on the morning in question. See N.T., Jury Trial, 2/12/16, at 134. She furthermore testified that Monarch did not exhibit any symptoms of being drunk, nor did she believe that Monarch was intoxicated when he drove away with his daughter in tow. See id., at 133-134.

         Obviously nonplussed by Peltier's testimony, the Commonwealth sought to impeach Peltier with a recording of Peltier's interview with police investigators on the morning of Monarch's arrest.[1] Monarch asserts that recorded interview "was of limited probative value, " and therefore should not have been admitted. Appellant's Brief, at 12. However, we note that the recording is not a part of the certified or reproduced records on appeal. Nor is there a certified transcription of the video in the record. We therefore have no ability to assess Monarch's assertion.

         It is an appellant's responsibility to ensure that the certified record contains all the items necessary to review his claims. See, e.g., Commonwealth v. Tucker, 143 A.3d 955, 963 (Pa. Super. 2016); Commonwealth v. B.D.G., 959 A.2d 362, 372 (Pa. Super. 2008). "When a claim is dependent on materials not provided in the certified record, that claim is considered waived." Commonwealth v. Petroll, 696 A.2d 817, 836 (Pa. Super. 1997) (citation omitted). As we are unable to review the contents of the recorded interview, Monarch has failed to preserve this issue for our review. Monarch's first issue on appeal is therefore waived.

         Even if we were to address this issue by focusing on the limited, select portions of the video that were the subject of questioning after the video was played, we would find that Monarch is not entitled to relief.[2] Monarch contends that Peltier's statements in the recording were equivocal. While the statements highlighted by Monarch can be fairly construed as equivocations, it is important to remember that the recording was presented solely as impeachment evidence. The jury was free to evaluate whether the recorded statements were inconsistent with Peltier's testimony at trial-and weigh Peltier's testimony accordingly. The trial court did not abuse its discretion in admitting the recording.

          Next, Monarch argues that the trial court erred in allowing the Commonwealth to present Peltier's hearsay, lay opinion that Monarch was intoxicated on the morning in question. Officer Steven Barnes testified at trial that Peltier had told him that Monarch was ...

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