ARGUED: November 2, 2016
from the Order of the Superior Court entered 1/21/16 at No.
1711 WDA 2014, affirming the order of the Court of Common
Pleas of Allegheny County entered 10/7/14 at Nos.
CP-02-CR-0003271-2014 and CP-02-CR-0004050-2014
SAYLOR, C.J., BAER, TODD, DONOHUE, DOUGHERTY, WECHT, MUNDY,
matter concerns a statutory risk reduction incentive program,
eligibility for which requires that the offender lack a
"history of present or past violent behavior." The
question presented on appeal concerns whether a single
conviction for burglary - which the parties agree is a crime
demonstrating violent behavior - constitutes such a history.
2009, the General Assembly codified the Recidivism Risk
Reduction Incentive Act (the "RRRI Act" or the
"Act"), as Chapter 45 of the Prisons and Parole
Code. The Act is intended to encourage eligible
offenders to complete Department of Corrections programs that
are designed to reduce recidivism. See 61 Pa.C.S.
§§4502, 4504(b). Eligible offenders may also be
able to take advantage of a reduced sentence. See
id. §4505(c). As noted, eligibility is conditioned,
in relevant part, upon the absence of a "history of
present or past violent behavior, " id.
§4503 (defining, inter alia, "eligible
offender"), although the Act does not define that
phrase. See generally Commonwealth v. Chester, 627
Pa. 429, 432-34, 101 A.3d 56, 57-58 (2014).
Commonwealth filed a number of informations against
Appellant, each charging him with burglary, conspiracy, and
theft-related offenses. Appellant pled guilty to several
counts of criminal conspiracy to commit first-degree felony
burglary and one count of first-degree felony burglary.
See 18 Pa.C.S. §§903(c), 3502. Appellant
asked the common pleas court to sentence him under the RRRI
Act. The court found Appellant ineligible for the RRRI
program and sentenced him to three-to-six years'
imprisonment on the burglary conviction, followed by an
aggregate fifteen-year term of probation on the conspiracy
post-sentence motion, Appellant asked the court to reconsider
his eligibility for the program. In response, the court noted
that, in Chester, this Court held that burglary is a
crime of violence. The court then denied the motion for
reconsideration, referencing Appellant's "prior
first degree burglary conviction, " Commonwealth v.
Cullen-Doyle, Nos. CP-02-CR-0000261-2014, et
al., Order at 1 (C.P. Allegheny Oct. 7, 2014), although
it was unclear whether the court was referring to the present
offense or another, earlier offense.
appeal, Appellant maintained he was never convicted of
burglary on a prior occasion, and the Commonwealth admitted
it could not find any indication of such a prior conviction.
Therefore, the parties filed a joint motion to remand the
matter to the common pleas court to determine whether that
court's ruling was based on inaccurate information
concerning Appellant's criminal record. The Superior
Court acknowledged the confusion on this point and the lack
of clarity in the county court's order denying
reconsideration. See Commonwealth v. Cullen-Doyle,
133 A.3d 14, 16 n.4 (Pa. Super. 2016). However, the
intermediate court found the uncertainty immaterial and
denied the motion, see id., concluding that
Appellant was ineligible for the RRRI program based solely on
his present conviction for a crime of violence. See
id. at 22.
granted further review on this latter question. See
Commonwealth v. Cullen-Doyle, ___ Pa. ___, 138 A.3d 609
(2016) (per curiam). As the issue entails statutory
interpretation, our review is de novo and plenary.
See In re Estate of Wilner, ___ Pa. ___, ___, 142
A.3d 796, 801 (2016).
argues it is unlikely that the statutory text excluding from
eligibility those with a history of violent behavior was
intended to encompass a first-time, single-count offender
since, if that had been the General Assembly's design, it
could have said so more clearly by using inclusive language
phrased in terms of "all convictions involving violent
behavior." Brief for Appellant at 11. He notes, in this
regard, that the RRRI Act's express intent is to
encourage inmates who are capable of reform to participate in
programs that tend to reduce recidivism. See id. at
10 (citing 61 Pa.C.S. §4502 (relating to Chapter
45's purpose)). He offers that:
If these offenders volunteer to participate and successfully
complete the program, they are rewarded with a reduced prison
sentence. A reduced prison sentence has the benefit of
relieving the taxpayers of some of the expense of warehousing
offenders and it offers the offender an incentive and a
second chance to become a law abiding citizen upon release.
part, the Commonwealth acknowledges that the concept of a
"present history" is unusual, but it urges this
Court to endorse the Superior Court's interpretation
because the overall phrase, "present or past violent
behavior, " is extremely broad and suggests that a
single violent crime can alone be disqualifying. See
Brief for Appellee at 22-23. In the alternative, the
Commonwealth states that, if this Court agrees with Appellant
on the statutory construction ...