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In re Private Criminal Complaint Miles

Superior Court of Pennsylvania

August 28, 2017

IN RE: PRIVATE CRIMINAL COMPLAINT DONALD MILES APPEAL OF: DONALD MILES

         Appeal from the Order Entered February 22, 2017 In the Court of Common Pleas of Lackawanna County Civil Division at No(s): 2016 -CV-6308

          BEFORE: GANTMAN, P.J., LAZARUS, J., and MUSMANNO, J.

          OPINION

          GANTMAN, P.J.

         Appellant, Donald Miles, appeals pro se from the order entered in the Lackawanna County Court of Common Pleas, which denied and dismissed his petition for approval of his private criminal complaint. We affirm.

         The trial court opinion sets forth the relevant facts and procedural history of this case as follows:

         BACKGROUND

1. [Appellant] has attempted to file a private criminal complaint against Vincent Butkiewicz, John Munley, Thomas Davis, Harold Zech, all alleged to be Detectives with the Lackawanna County District Attorney's Office. He has also in the same pleading attempted to file a criminal complaint against Attorneys James R. Elliot and Corey Kolcharno and "…others to be charged from the DA's Office magistrates & judge. Unlimited John Doe, unlimited Jane Doe."
2. [Appellant] has also attempted to file a criminal complaint against Assistant District Attorney Cathy Ann Tully, District Attorney James Henry Scanlon IV, Andrew Jarbola (Judge, Lackawanna County Court of Common Pleas), John Pesota (Magisterial District Judge) and Alyce Farrell (Magisterial District Judge), Vito P. Geroulo (Judge, Lackawanna County Court of Common Pleas). … For the reasons that follow, the relief sought by [Appellant] is denied and dismissed.
3. All of the above are alleged to have criminally wronged [Appellant] relative to a criminal matter filed to OTN number L924393 at Magisterial District Judge Alyce Farrell's Office 45-1-02. The location of the alleged crime is at 521 Arthur Avenue, Scranton, PA 18510. The date of the offense is in dispute but approximately February 17, 2016.
4. [Appellant] attempted to file a private criminal complaint with the issuing authority against the District Attorney and members of his staff on or about September 9, 2016. The matter had to be referred by the issuing authority to the District Attorney for approval to proceed with the case per Pa.R.Crim.P. 506(A).
5. On or about October 13, 2016, a letter from the first Assistant District Attorney Gene P. Riccardo directed to [Appellant] acknowledged the private [criminal] complaint attempted to be filed by [Appellant] against Attorney Cathy Tully. At that time, recognizing the conflict of interest, the Lackawanna County District Attorney's Office referred the putative criminal complaints to the Office of the Attorney General of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. …
6. This referral was acknowledged as received by the Office of the Attorney General of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania on December 28, 2016. …
7. [Appellant] erroneously filed a Petition for Review of the District [Attorney's] "…disapproval of his Private Criminal Complaint." The Petition for Review…is in error because at that point on November 8, 2016, the District Attorney's Office had not disapproved his private criminal complaint but had referred it, due to conflicts, to the Office of the Attorney General. …
8. On February 6, 2017 at 3:09 p.m., this [c]ourt received an email from an attorney with the Office of the Attorney General with two attachments. … The attachments indicate the Office of Attorney General for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania refuses to approve [Appellant's] private criminal complaint…per Pa.R.Crim.P. 506(2). The reason for the disapproval as articulated in…Request to Close the Case dated January 26, 2017 is[:] "In his lengthy PCC [Appellant] completely failed, however, to articulate or produce any evidence of criminal conduct by anybody. … It is clear he is merely trying to confuse and delay his criminal trial with this PCC."
9. Due to the response by the Office of the Attorney General, closing the case of [Appellant's] [private criminal complaint], [Appellant's] untimely and inaccurate [p]etition for review had now become ripe for decision. This is so because now the erroneous alleged rejection of the [p]rivate [c]riminal [c]omplaint by the Office of the District Attorney has in fact occurred by the Office of the Attorney General. Accordingly, the November 8, 2016 Petition for Review filed by [Appellant] will now be entertained on its merits by this [c]ourt.
10. [T]he January 26, 2017 letter from the Office of the Attorney General to [Appellant] and…the request to Close Case also dated January 26, 2017 were submitted to this [c]ourt by email dated February 6, 2017.
11. The context of both [documents] indicate[s] the conclusion of the Office of the Attorney General that the proposed private [criminal] complaints of [Appellant] are lacking substantive merit. The letter…states, "[Y]our private criminal complaint fails to articulate or produce any evidence of criminal conduct by any person. Moreover, the events you describe therein are the same incidents for which you are currently awaiting trial." (Docket No. CP 35-482-2015).
12. The Request to Close Case…states, "To conclude, [Appellant] neither alleged nor substantiated at all any facts to support any criminal charge against any person. I do not find this PCC to be in good faith."

(Trial Court Opinion, filed February 22, 2017, at 1-4).

         Procedurally, by order and opinion filed February 22, 2017, the trial court denied and dismissed Appellant's petition for approval of his private criminal complaint. Appellant timely filed a pro se notice of appeal on March 7, 2017. The trial court did not order Appellant to file a concise statement of errors complained of on appeal per Pa.R.A.P. 1925(b), and Appellant did not voluntarily file a Rule 1925(b) statement.

         Appellant raises one issue for our review:

WHETHER THE TRIAL COURT COMMITTED AN ABUSE OF DISCRETION OR AN ERROR OF LAW WHERE THE TRIAL COURT DEPRIVED APPELLANT HIS DUE PROCESS OF LAW UNDER OUR UNITED STATES CONSTITUTION WHEN THE TRIAL COURT DID NOT ALLOW APPELLANT A FAIR OPPORTUNITY TO FILE A PROPER AND TIMELY PETITION FOR REVIEW PURSUANT TO PENNSYLVANIA RULE[] OF CRIMINAL PROCEDURE…506(B)(2) IN THE COURT OF COMMON PLEAS OF LACKAWANNA COUNTY FOR SENIOR DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL BERNARD A. ANDERSON'S DISAPPROVAL OF APPELLANT'S PRIVATE CRIMINAL COMPLAINT?

(Appellant's Brief at 4).

         Appellant argues he was deprived of his due process rights. Particularly, Appellant questions the referral of his private criminal complaint to the Attorney General's Office. Appellant does not understand why the District Attorney's Office of Lackawanna County refused to rule on the private criminal complaint. Appellant maintains he did not receive timely notification of approval or disapproval of his private criminal complaint as well. Appellant asserts his concern about "deadlines" prompted him to file a premature petition for review on November 8, 2016. Appellant contends the Attorney General unreasonably delayed his decision to disapprove Appellant's private criminal complaint.

         Appellant further asserts the trial court deprived Appellant of his due process rights by directly reviewing the disapproval of the Attorney General's Office. Appellant contends he was denied the opportunity to file a proper petition for review per Pa.R.Crim.P. 506(B)(2) to defend or challenge the Attorney General's disapproval. Appellant concludes he is the victim of a conspiracy to divest him of his constitutional due process rights, and this Court should reverse the trial court's order denying approval of Appellant's private criminal complaint. We disagree.

         Appellate examination of a trial court's review of the District Attorney's decision to disapprove a private criminal complaint implicates the following:

[W]hen the district attorney disapproves a private criminal complaint solely on the basis of legal conclusions, the trial court undertakes de novo review of the matter. Thereafter, the appellate court will review the trial court's decision for an error of law. As with all questions of law, the appellate standard of review is de novo and the appellate scope of review is plenary.
[W]hen the district attorney disapproves a private criminal complaint on wholly policy considerations, or on a hybrid of legal and policy considerations, the trial court's standard of review of the district attorney's decision is abuse of discretion. This deferential standard recognizes the limitations on judicial power to interfere with the district attorney's discretion in these kinds of decisions.

In re Ullman, 995 A.2d 1207, 1213 (Pa.Super. 2010), appeal denied, 610 Pa. 600, 20 A.3d 489 (2011) (quoting In re Private Criminal Complaint of Wilson, 879 A.2d 199, 214-15 (Pa.Super. 2005) (en banc) (internal citations omitted)).

         A private criminal complaint must at the outset set forth a prima facie case of criminal conduct. In re Ullman, supra at 1213. Nevertheless, even "a well-crafted private criminal complaint cannot be the end of the inquiry for the prosecutor." Id. (quoting In re Private Complaint of Adams, 764 A.2d 577, 580 (Pa.Super. 2000). The district attorney must investigate the allegations of the complaint to permit a proper decision on whether to approve or disapprove the complaint. In re Ullman, supra at 1213. "[S]uch investigation is not necessary where the allegations of criminal conduct in the complaint are unsupported by factual averments." Id. (quoting Commonwealth v. Muroski, 506 A.2d 1312, 1317 (Pa.Super. 1986) (en banc). Both the district attorney and the trial court have a responsibility to prevent the misuse of judicial and prosecutorial resources in the pursuit of pointless prosecutions. In re Ullman, supra at 1213.

         Moreover,

[E]ven if the facts recited in the complaint make out a prima facie case, the district attorney cannot blindly bring charges, particularly where an investigation may cause him to question their validity. Forcing the prosecutor to bring charges in every instance where a complaint sets out a prima facie case would compel the district attorney to bring cases he suspects, or has concluded via investigation, are meritless. The public prosecutor is duty bound to bring only those cases that are appropriate for prosecution. This duty continues throughout a criminal proceeding and obligates the district attorney to withdraw charges when he concludes, after investigation, that the prosecution lacks a legal basis.

Id. at 1214 (quoting In re Private Criminal Complaint of Wilson, supra at 212).

The district attorney is permitted to exercise sound discretion to refrain from proceeding in a criminal case whenever he, in good faith, thinks that the prosecution would not serve the best interests of the state. This decision not to prosecute may be implemented by the district ...

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