Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Commonwealth v. Batty

Superior Court of Pennsylvania

August 16, 2017

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA Appellant
v.
JORDAN ANTHONY BATTY

         Appeal from the Order Entered January 10, 2017 In the Court of Common Pleas of York County Criminal Division at No(s): CP-67-CR-0002942-2015

          BEFORE: BOWES, OLSON, JJ., and STEVENS, P.J.E. [*]

          OPINION

          STEVENS, P.J.E.

         The Commonwealth appeals the January 10, 2017, order entered in the Court of Common Pleas of York County granting Appellee Jordan Anthony Batty's post-sentence motion and ordering a new trial.[1] Following a careful review, we reverse the order granting a new trial and reinstate Appellee's October 27, 2016, judgment of sentence.

         The relevant facts and procedural history are as follows: On September 11, 2015, a jury convicted Appellee, who was represented by counsel, of receiving stolen property, firearms not to be carried without a license, and possession of a firearm prohibited.[2] On October 29, 2015, at the sentencing hearing, the lower court indicated that it believed Appellee's trial counsel had been ineffective during his closing argument and/or the court erred in issuing its jury instructions. Accordingly, the lower court suggested Appellee should waive his direct appeal rights and make an oral motion for relief under the Post Conviction Relief Act ("PCRA"), 42 Pa.C.S.A. §§ 9541-9546.

         The lower court then sentenced Appellee to five to ten years in prison for possession of a firearm prohibited, a concurrent three and one-half to seven years in prison for possession of a firearm without a license, and a consecutive two and one-half to five years in prison for receiving stolen property. Immediately thereafter, despite the Commonwealth's objection, the lower court explained that an agreement had been reached whereby Appellee was waiving his direct appeal rights and making an oral motion for PCRA relief. The lower court indicated it was granting the oral PCRA motion and directing that a new trial be held.

         The Commonwealth filed a timely notice of appeal to this Court arguing that the lower court had erred in bypassing the proper procedures and rules for appellate and post-conviction review. In an unpublished memorandum filed on June 29, 2016, we agreed with the Commonwealth, thus vacating the lower court's order, vacating Appellee's judgment of sentence, and remanding for resentencing. See Commonwealth v. Batty, No. 1961 MDA 2015 (Pa.Super. filed 6/29/16) (unpublished memorandum).

         Upon remand, the lower court[3] appointed Appellee new counsel, and on October 27, 2016, Appellee proceeded to a sentencing hearing at which the lower court imposed the following sentence: three and one-half years to seven years in prison for receiving stolen property, a concurrent three and one-half years to seven years in prison for carrying a firearm without a license, and a consecutive five to ten years in prison for possession of a firearm prohibited. Thus, the lower court imposed an aggregate sentence of eight and one-half to seventeen years in prison. The lower court properly provided Appellee with his post-sentence and direct appeal rights.

         On November 1, 2016, counsel filed on behalf of Appellee a motion to permit counsel to file a post-sentence motion nunc pro tunc due to counsel's recent appointment, and on November 3, 2016, the lower court granted the petition, expressly giving Appellee until November 23, 2016, to file his post-sentence motion.[4]

         On November 23, 2016, Appellee filed a counseled post-sentence motion nunc pro tunc, to which the Commonwealth filed a motion to dismiss. By order and opinion filed on January 10, 2017, the lower court granted Appellee's request for a new trial. Specifically, the lower court agreed with Appellee that the court's jury instruction on the charge of possession of a firearm prohibited was erroneous and "usurped the function of the jury to determine a verdict in a criminal case[.]" Lower Court Opinion, filed 1/10/17, at 5. Specifically, the lower court held as follows:

The defense stipulated that [Appellee] was a person not to possess. [Appellee] was found in possession of the weapon. The only issue left for [the] defense to argue was the operability of the weapon. A long line of case law requires the Commonwealth to prove that the "firearm" was operable or that [Appellee] at least had the immediate means to make it so, in order to sustain a conviction under [ ] Section [6105]. Commonwealth v. Layton, 452 Pa. 495, 307 A.2d 843 (1973).
During its instructions, the court told the jury that the elements of the offense "...are proven beyond a reasonable doubt." Further, the trial court told the jurors that it did not matter whether the firearm was operable, which is contrary to the statute and case law[.] The effect of the court's instructions was to instruct the jury that two of the necessary elements of the offense are proven beyond a reasonable doubt and that the Commonwealth did not have to prove the third. While it is not disputed that a judge can render an opinion concerning the evidence in the case, and there is even case law permitting a judge to comment on guilt or innocence, the failure to give an accurate instruction concerning the law is reversible error. The combined effect of the court's instructions on this matter was to direct a verdict in favor of the Commonwealth, which usurped the jury's function, and deprived the defendant of his right to have this offense decided by a jury.

Id. at 4-6 (citations to record, internal citation, and footnote omitted).

         The Commonwealth filed this timely notice of appeal, and all Pa.R.A.P. 1925 requirements have been met.

         On appeal, the Commonwealth contends the lower court erred in granting Appellee's post-sentence motion and ordering a new trial. Specifically, the Commonwealth argues (1) the lower court erred in concluding the court's instruction was legally inaccurate on the basis the instruction failed to inform the jury as to a necessary element for the charge of possession of a firearm prohibited (i.e., that the Commonwealth was required to prove the firearm was operable in order for the jury to convict Appellee of this offense), and (2) the lower court erred in concluding the court's instructions usurped the role of the jury by directing the jury to render a guilty verdict with regard to the offense of possession of a firearm prohibited.

         Our standard of review in assessing a trial court's jury instruction is as follows:

When evaluating the propriety of jury instructions, this Court will look to the instructions as a whole, and not simply isolated portions, to determine if the instructions were improper. We further note that [ ] it is an unquestionable maxim of law in this Commonwealth that a trial court has broad discretion in phrasing its instructions, and may choose its own wording so long as the law is clearly, adequately, and accurately presented to the jury for its consideration. Only where there is an abuse of discretion or an inaccurate statement of the law is there reversible error.

Commonwealth v. Antidormi, 84 A.3d 736, 754 (Pa.Super. 2014).

         In charging the jury in the case sub judice, the trial court relevantly stated the following:

We start with the fundamental principle of our system of criminal law that [Appellee] is presumed to be innocent. The mere fact that he is arrested and accused of a crime is not evidence against him.
Furthermore, [Appellee] is presumed innocent throughout the trial and unless and until you conclude based upon careful and impartial consideration of the evidence that the Commonwealth has proved him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
I'll define reasonable doubt in just a moment. That means that it is not [Appellee's] burden to prove that he is not guilty. Instead, it is the Commonwealth that always has the burden of proving each and every element of the crime charged and that [Appellee] is guilty of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt.
A person accused of a crime is not required to present evidence or prove anything in his own defense. If the Commonwealth's evidence fails to meets its burden, then your verdict must be not guilty.
On the other hand if the Commonwealth's evidence does prove beyond a reasonable doubt that [Appellee] is guilty, then ...

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.