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Commonwealth v. Perfetto

Superior Court of Pennsylvania

August 30, 2017


         Appeal from the Order July 13, 2015 in the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County Criminal Division at No(s): CP-51-CR-0013338-2014



          RANSOM, J.

         The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania appeals from the order entered July 13, 2015, granting Appellee Marc Perfetto's motion to dismiss, which asserted a violation of Pennsylvania's compulsory joinder rule. See 18 Pa.C.S. § 110. Subject to certain jurisdictional exceptions, which will be explained herein, we hold that the subsequent prosecution of an offense arising out of a criminal episode that had triggered the former prosecution of a different offense is barred where those multiple offenses occur in the same judicial district. However, because of jurisdictional exceptions applicable to Philadelphia, the holding of the trial court is reversed.

         We derive the following statement of facts and procedural background of this case from the trial court's opinion, which in turn is supported by the record. See Trial Ct. Op., 11/6/2015, at 1-2. In July 2014, Appellee was arrested in the City and County of Philadelphia[1] and charged with three counts of driving under the influence ("DUI") and the summary offense of driving without lights when required.[2] In September 2014, Appellee was found guilty of the summary traffic violation following a trial in absentia in the Philadelphia Municipal Court Traffic Division. Thereafter, the Commonwealth proceeded separately on the DUI charges in the Philadelphia Municipal Court General Division. Following a preliminary hearing, Appellee was held over for court and the matter was listed for trial in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas.

         In June 2015, Appellee filed a motion to dismiss, asserting that subsection (1)(ii) of 18 Pa.C.S. § 110, known as the compulsory joinder rule, barred his prosecution for DUI. See Motion to Dismiss, 6/4/2015, at 1 (asserting that he had already been tried for the offenses charged); see also Memorandum in Support, 6/4/2015, at 1-3 (suggesting dismissal was appropriate because the multiple charges filed against him arose from the same criminal episode, occurred within the same judicial district, and the Commonwealth was aware of the charges.).

         Following a hearing, the trial court granted Appellee's motion to dismiss. The court noted that (1) an earlier prosecution had resulted in a conviction for a summary traffic offense; (2) Appellee's DUI charges arose from the same criminal episode; (3) the Commonwealth was aware of the multiple charges; and (4) all charges occurred in the same judicial district. See Trial Ct. Op., 11/6/2015, at 3 (citing in support Commonwealth v. Reid, 77 A.3d 579, 582 (Pa. 2013)). The court also referenced the recent restructuring of Philadelphia Municipal Court, in which that court absorbed the former Traffic Court of Philadelphia. See Act 17-2013 (S.B. 334), P.L. 55 (2013).[3] According to the court, the merger brought charges within the jurisdiction of the same court, and the court reasoned that the policy aims of 18 Pa.C.S. § 110(1)(ii) dictated that the secondary prosecution be barred. Trial Ct. Op., 11/6/2015 at 4-5. After careful analysis, we disagree.

         In August 2015, the Commonwealth filed a notice of appeal and a Pa.R.A.P. 1925(b) statement. The trial court issued a responsive opinion. A panel of this Court sua sponte sought en banc certification of this matter to address the effect of amended language of the compulsory joinder rule on our Commonwealth, and certification was granted on August 30, 2016. Both parties submitted additional briefs, and this case was argued before the Court en banc on December 13, 2016.

         The issue presented is whether the trial court erred when it dismissed DUI charges pursuant to 18 Pa.C.S. § 110 based on the prior adjudication of Appellee's summary traffic offense. Commonwealth's Brief at 4. Whether the lower court misapplied the 2002 amendment raises a question of law, and thus our standard of review is de novo, and our scope of review is plenary. See Commonwealth v. Fithian, 961 A.2d 66, 72 (Pa. 2008). A statute's plain language generally offers the best indication of the General Assembly's intent. Martin v. Commonwealth, Dep't of Transp., Bureau of Driver Licensing, 905 A.2d 438, 443 (Pa. 2006). "When the words of a statute are clear and unambiguous, there is no need to look beyond the plain meaning of the statute 'under the pretext of pursuing its spirit.'" Fithian, 961 A.2d at 74 (citing 1 Pa.C.S. § 1921(b)); see also Commonwealth v. Veon, 150 A.3d 435, 445 (Pa. 2016).

         "Section 110 is a codification of the rule announced by our Supreme Court in Commonwealth v. Campana, 304 A.2d 432 (Pa. 1973), vacated and remanded, 94 S.Ct. 73 (1973), reinstated, 314 A.2d 854 (Pa. 1974), cert. denied, 94 S.Ct. 3172 (1974)." Commonwealth v. Gimbara, 835 A.2d 371, 374 (Pa. Super. 2003). In Campana, our "Supreme Court held that 'the Double Jeopardy Clause requires a prosecutor to bring, in a single proceeding, all known charges against a defendant arising from a single criminal episode.'" Id. at 374 (quoting Campana, 304 A.2d at 441).[4] The compulsory joinder rule serves two distinct policy considerations:

(1) to protect a person accused of crimes from governmental harassment of being forced to undergo successive trials for offenses stemming from the same criminal episode; and (2) as a matter of judicial administration and economy, to assure finality without unduly burdening the judicial process by repetitious litigation.

Commonwealth v. Hude, 458 A.2d 177, 180 (Pa. 1983). It is well- established that the "burden to protect a defendant from vexatious litigation and to conserve judicial resources rests squarely on the shoulders of the Commonwealth, and thus, it is the Commonwealth's burden, rather than the defendant's, to move for consolidated trials." Commonwealth v. Failor, 770 A.2d 310, 313-15 (Pa. 2001) (citing Commonwealth v. Stewart, 425 A.2d 346, 349-50 (1981)); Commonwealth v. Muffley, 425 A.2d 350, 352 (Pa. 1981); Commonwealth v. Holmes, 391 A.2d 1015, 1018 (Pa. 1978). The Court may only find waiver of the compulsory joinder rule when a defendant affirmatively acts to separate the prosecutions pending against him. Failor, 770 A.2d at 314-15 (citing Stewart, 425 A.2d at 349-50); see also Commonwealth v. Tarver, 357 A.2d 539 (Pa. 1976).[5]

         Prior to the 2002 amendment, Pennsylvania's compulsory joinder statute stated in relevant part:

§ 110. When prosecution barred by former prosecution for different offense

(1) The former prosecution resulted in an acquittal or in a conviction as defined in section 109 of this title (relating to when prosecution barred by former prosecution for the same offense) and the subsequent prosecution is for:

(ii) any offense based on the same conduct or arising from the same criminal episode, if such offense was known to the appropriate prosecuting officer at the time of the commencement of the first trial and was within the jurisdiction of a single court unless the court ordered a separate trial of the charge of such offense …

18 Pa.C.S. § 110 (1973) (amended 2002) (emphasis added).

         Our Supreme Court outlined a four-prong test utilized to determine when the compulsory joinder rule applied to subsequent prosecution. If each of the prongs in the following test was met, subsequent prosecution was barred:

Commonwealth v. Bracalielly, 658 A.2d 755, 760 (Pa. 1995).

         The phrase, "within the jurisdiction of a single court" was consistently interpreted by our Supreme Court to mean that Magisterial District Courts and Courts of Common Pleas were not a "single court." Barber, 940 A.2d at 378; see e.g. Commonwealth v. Beatty, 455 A.2d 1194 (Pa. 1983) (on jurisdictional grounds, reading Section 110 as excluding traffic violations under the Vehicle Code), Commonwealth v. Breitegan, 456 A.2d 1340 (Pa. 1983) (determining the compulsory joinder rule did not preclude the prosecution of misdemeanors after a defendant's guilty plea to three summary traffic offenses arising from the same episode), Commonwealth v. Taylor, 522 A.2d 37, 39 (Pa. 1987) ("since the harassment charge, as a summary offense, was in the jurisdiction of the district justice, conviction or a plea of guilty to that charge in a summary proceeding did not bar the subsequent trial of the [misdemeanor] weapons offense.").

         The Pennsylvania Supreme Court in Commonwealth v. Geyer, 687 A.2d 815, 818 (Pa. 1996) examined its holdings in Beatty, Breitegan, and Taylor, and clarified that summary offenses were also subject to a compulsory joinder analysis provided that there were multiple summary offenses at issue within a single court.[6] Geyer, 687 A.2d at 818, see also Failor, 770 A.2d at 313-14 (Appellant's prosecution for driving with a suspended license was barred following his guilty plea in court for a speeding citation when all four prongs of compulsory joinder test met.).

         However, on August 27, 2002, the General Assembly amended Section 110(1)(ii) to its current language ("2002 amendment"). Act 82-2002 (S.B. 1109), P.L. 481, § 1 (2002). Specifically, the legislature substituted the phrase "was within the jurisdiction of a single court" with "occurred within the same judicial district as the former prosecution." 18 Pa.C.S. § 110(1)(ii) (emphasis added). In recognition of the 2002 amendment, the fourth prong of the compulsory joinder test was updated to reflect the amended language, which now reads:

all charges [are] within the same judicial district as the former prosecution

Commonwealth v. Reid, 77 A.3d at 582 (citing Commonwealth v. Nolan, 855 A.2d 834, 839 (Pa. 2004) (superseded by statute on other grounds) (emphasis added)).

         In 2008, our Supreme Court examined the legislative intent behind the 2002 amendment:

Fithian, 961 A.2d at 75; see also 42 Pa.C.S. § 901 (defining the judicial districts of this Commonwealth).

         Despite the noted shift in the court's inquiry, from "same jurisdiction" to "same judicial district, " no case before the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania has addressed how this change in statutory language affected pre-amendment compulsory joinder practices. In our view, the amended language of Section 110 is clear and unambiguous, and it requires a court to consider not the jurisdiction of a court, but rather whether multiple offenses occurred within the same judicial district. If so, and provided the prosecutor is aware of the offenses, all charges shall be joined and prosecuted together. Thus, the addition of the "same judicial district" language requires that all charges occurring within the same judicial district, arising from the same criminal conduct or criminal episode, and known to a prosecutor, shall be joined at the time of commencement of the first prosecution. 18 Pa.C.S. § 110.

         The Commonwealth raises arguments challenging the trial court's application of the compulsory joinder rule.

         The Commonwealth's first claim asserts that the trial court ignores the longstanding precedent of this Commonwealth. Commonwealth's Substituted Brief at 10-13; Commonwealth's Substituted Reply Brief at 4-5, 10-12. In support of this argument, the Commonwealth cites cases which predate the 2002 amendment. See Beatty, 455 A.2d at 1198; Breitegan, 456 A.2d at 1341; Taylor, 522 A.2d at 39-40; Commonwealth v. Bergen, 4 A.2d 164, 168 (Pa. Super. 1939); Commonwealth v. Caufman, 662 A.2d 1050, 1051 (Pa. 1995); Commonwealth v. Masterson, 418 A.2d 664, 669 (Pa. Super. 1980); Bellezza, 603 A.2d at 1036.[7] Insofar as these cases premise their joinder analysis on the jurisdiction of a single court, they are of limited precedential value, and we reject the Commonwealth's assertion.

         Second, citing in support 18 Pa.C.S. § 112, the Commonwealth argues that joinder is not required where the initial prosecution proceeds before a court that lacks jurisdiction over offenses charged in a subsequent prosecution. Commonwealth's Substituted Reply Brief at 7-10. However, the Commonwealth misinterprets Section 112.

         Section 112 provides in relevant part:

§ 112. Former prosecution before court lacking jurisdiction or when fraudulently procured by the defendant
A prosecution is not a bar within the meaning of section 109 of this title (relating to when prosecution barred by former prosecution for same the offense) through section 111 of this title (relating to when prosecution barred by former prosecution in another jurisdiction) under any of the following circumstances:
(1) The former prosecution was before a court which lacked jurisdiction over the defendant or the offense.

18 Pa.C.S. § 112.

         This Court has previously interpreted Section 112. In Commonwealth v. Schmotzer, 831 A.2d 689 (Pa. Super. 2003), a defendant's federal case was dismissed for "want of jurisdiction." Schmotzer, 831 A.2d at 691. Thereafter, the Commonwealth pursued criminal charges for the same conduct in state court. Id. The defendant sought dismissal on double jeopardy grounds. Id. at 691-92. However, the trial court denied the motion to dismiss. Id. at 692. This Court affirmed, holding that Section 112 applied because the federal court had lacked jurisdiction and that a second prosecution was permitted. Id. at 696. Thus, where an initial prosecution proceeds before an improper court - a court without jurisdiction - a subsequent prosecution for the same offense in a proper court is not barred. Id.; 18 Pa.C.S. § 112(1). As such, we reject the Commonwealth's argument.

         Nevertheless, while jurisdiction is no longer an element of the compulsory joinder test, the jurisdiction of a court remains a consideration implicit to any compulsory joinder analysis, and it is particularly important in those judicial districts that, for various reasons, have distinct minor courts or magisterial district judges vested with exclusive jurisdiction over specific matters.[8]

         "The jurisdiction of the courts of common pleas under this section shall be exclusive except with respect to actions and proceedings concurrent jurisdiction of which is by statute or by general rule adopted pursuant to section 503[9] vested in another court of this Commonwealth or in the magisterial district judges." 42 Pa.C.S. § 931(b).

         One such example of where the exclusive jurisdiction of the court of common pleas is superseded by the exclusive jurisdiction of a minor court or magistrate district judge is found in 42 Pa.C.S. § 1302, which governs the jurisdiction and venue of traffic courts. In judicial districts with a designated and open traffic court such as Philadelphia, [10] 42 Pa.C.S. § 1302 expressly defines the jurisdiction of a traffic court and effectively carves out an exception to the normal operation of the compulsory joinder rule.

§ 1302. Jurisdiction and venue

(a) General rule.--Except as set forth in subsection (a.1) or as otherwise prescribed by any general rule adopted pursuant to section 503 (relating to reassignment of matters), each traffic court shall have jurisdiction of all prosecutions for summary offenses arising under:

(1)Title 75 (relating to vehicles).

(2)Any ordinance of any political subdivision enacted pursuant to Title 75.

(a.1) Traffic Court of Philadelphia.-

(1) Except as otherwise prescribed by any general rule adopted pursuant to section 503, each traffic court under Subchapter B1 (relating to Traffic Court of Philadelphia) shall, at the direction of the President Judge of the Philadelphia Municipal Court, have jurisdiction of all prosecutions for summary offenses arising under:

(i) Title 75.

* * *

(b) Concurrent and exclusive jurisdiction.--The jurisdiction of a traffic court under this section shall be exclusive of the courts of common pleas and magisterial district judges, except that such jurisdiction shall be concurrent with the magisterial district judges whenever the traffic court is closed.

42 Pa.C.S. § 1302(a.1), (b) (emphasis added).[11] This distinction requires that all summary traffic violations be adjudicated in the traffic court of a judicial district. Therefore, where a defendant is charged with a summary traffic violation, a misdemeanor, and a felony, in judicial districts with a traffic court, the Title 75 summary offense may be disposed of in a prior proceeding in the traffic ...

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