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Commonwealth v. Williams

Superior Court of Pennsylvania

June 30, 2017

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA
v.
ADDIE WILLIAMS Appellant

         Appeal from the Judgment of Sentence January 7, 2016 in the Court of Common Pleas of Montgomery County Criminal Division at No(s): CP-46-CR-0002246-2014

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

          OPINION

          FITZGERALD, J.

         Appellant, Addie Williams, appeals from her judgment of sentence of guilt without further penalty on her conviction for harassment.[1] We conclude that the Commonwealth's violation of Appellant's rights under Pa.R.Crim.P. 544 and 564 requires us to reverse her conviction and direct the trial court to dismiss the harassment charge with prejudice.

         In the early morning hours of February 5, 2014, Appellant was arrested after her daughter called the police and alleged that Appellant locked her and her brothers out of their house. Appellant's daughter informed a police officer at the scene that Appellant had hit her in the mouth at some point one day earlier. Appellant was charged with multiple counts of endangering the welfare of children, one count of simple assault and one count of harassment.

         On February 18, 2014, Appellant posted bail and was released from jail. On March 24, 2014, all charges except for simple assault were dismissed at Appellant's preliminary hearing. The Commonwealth thereupon filed an information charging her only with simple assault.[2]

         On January 7, 2016, the matter proceeded to trial. At the beginning of trial, the Commonwealth orally moved to amend the information to include the previously dismissed charge of harassment. The Commonwealth claimed that this amendment was proper on the ground that harassment is a lesser included offense of simple assault. N.T., 1/7/16, at 9-10. Defense counsel responded:

I am going to object to [the] bill of information being amended in any way at this point. I think there is a process that has to be gone through by the District Attorney in order to do that. That hasn't been done in this case. I think a petition has to be filed. In any event, I am looking at [Rule 564] right now. [The information] can be amended if there is a defect in form, the description of the offenses, description of any person or property, date charged, as long as they will not charge different offense[s]. We have gotten no notice that the bill of information was going to be amended. There is nothing in writing. I think there is a process that the District

Attorney is trying to circumvent here. Id. at 10-11.

         The trial court suggested that Appellant had received notice of the harassment charge because the Commonwealth had offered to permit her to plead guilty to harassment without further penalty. Id. at 11. The court also observed, however, that "generally there has to be a defect in form, which, by the way, I didn't hear any defect in form, description of the offenses, description of any person or property." Id. at 12. The court concluded that defense counsel raised an "interesting argument, " and that the court would "figure it out." Id. at 13.

         At the close of evidence, defense counsel, in the words of the trial court, "tailored [his] closing argument to the simple assault charge." Trial Ct. Op., 5/16/16, at 13. Defense counsel argued that Appellant slapped her daughter during a quarrel, and that Appellant's daughter lied to the police that the slap caused a cut on the side of her mouth. N.T., 1/7/16, at 114. Counsel contended that slight cuts or bruises were insufficient to establish simple assault.[3] Id. The Commonwealth countered that Appellant was guilty of simple assault or, in the alternative, harassment. The court found Appellant not guilty of simple assault, but it granted the Commonwealth's motion to add harassment to the information and subsequently found Appellant guilty of harassment.

         Appellant filed timely post-sentence motions, which the court denied, and a timely notice of appeal. Both Appellant and the trial court complied with Pa.R.A.P. 1925.

         Appellant raises two issues in this appeal:

I. Whether the charge of harassment should be dismissed due to a variance between the indictment and the crime of conviction failing to meet the requirements of Rule of [C]riminal [P]rocedure 564 and because the trial court committed a procedural error in rendering the verdict where summary harassment was dismissed at the preliminary ...

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