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Commonwealth v. Hilliard

Superior Court of Pennsylvania

August 31, 2017

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA Appellant
v.
GIANTE HILLIARD

         Appeal from the Order May 27, 2016 In the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County Criminal Division at No.: CP-02-CR-0013040-2015

          BEFORE: DUBOW, J., SOLANO, J., and FITZGERALD J.[*]

          OPINION

          DUBOW, J.

         The Commonwealth appeals from the trial court's May 27, 2016 Order[1]entered by the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas dismissing all charges against Appellee, Giante Hilliard. After careful review, we reverse the trial court's May 27, 2016 Order and remand for further proceedings.

         On August 22, 2015, a vehicle pulled up beside Anthony Baltimore as he was walking to work near a fire station in Pittsburgh. Someone in the vehicle wearing a hoodie shot at Baltimore, hitting him nine times.[2] An ambulance responded and transported Baltimore to the hospital.

         Pittsburg Police Homicide Detective Edward Fallert, after learning of the shooting, entered the triage unit in the emergency room. He observed Baltimore on a gurney with his clothing removed, hooked up to several different machines, with nine hospital staff members discussing Baltimore's gunshot wounds to his trunk. Detective Fallert learned that Baltimore was losing a lot of blood internally, and the hospital staff members were preparing Baltimore for emergency surgery and about to rush him into the operating room. Detective Fallert stated that he believed Baltimore "wasn't going to make it." N.T., 10/20/15, at 18.

         Detective Fallert followed Baltimore as he was being rushed from the triage unit to the operating room and asked Baltimore who had shot him. Baltimore stated that Giante Hilliard ("Appellee") had shot him. The hospital staff members then rushed Baltimore into emergency surgery in the operating room. Baltimore survived.

         That same day, Detective Fallert learned that Appellee was in the same hospital with a gunshot wound to his hand. Detective Fallert entered Appellee's room and observed the wound. After verbally giving Appellee Miranda[3] warnings, Detective Fallert asked Appellee to describe how and where he had been shot. Appellee told Detective Fallert that he was "a passenger in a vehicle when an unknown person fired a gun from outside the vehicle and struck him in the hand." N.T., 10/20/15, at 22. Appellee then was dropped off at the hospital for treatment. Id.

         The Commonwealth arrested Appellee and charged him with one count of Criminal Attempt (Homicide), one count of Aggravated Assault, and one count of Carrying a Firearm Without a License.[4]

         On October 20, 2015, at Appellee's Preliminary Hearing, the Commonwealth called Baltimore and Detective Fallert to testify. Baltimore testified about the shooting, the extent of his injuries, and his continued medical treatment. Baltimore did not identify Appellee as the shooter, and claimed that he "really couldn't see who was in the vehicle" or who had shot him. Baltimore twice stated that "[t]here was a hoodie over his [the shooter's] head." N.T., 10/20/15, at 5, 7. Baltimore testified that he remembered speaking to officers at the hospital, but he did not recall what he told them about who had shot him.

         Over Appellee's hearsay objections, Detective Fallert testified about Baltimore's statement and the surrounding circumstances, as well as his interaction with Appellee in the hospital. The court ultimately admitted Detective Fallert's testimony regarding Baltimore's statement identifying Appellee as the shooter as an excited utterance, but did not opine on the Commonwealth's argument that the statement constituted a dying declaration.[5]

         At the end of the Preliminary Hearing, Appellee argued that the Commonwealth did not establish a prima facie case against him because it relied solely on hearsay evidence to prove his identity as the shooter. He claimed that the admission of the statement violated his confrontation rights because Baltimore did not remember making the statement to Detective Fallert. Appellee further argued this evidence was unreliable because it conflicted with Baltimore's testimony. The Honorable Hugh F. McGough held the case for trial, concluding that the Commonwealth had met its burden and had established the prima facie case.[6]

         On March 3, 2016, Appellee filed a written Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus based solely on the issue of Baltimore's statements arguing that the Commonwealth failed to establish a prima facie case because the victim testified at the Preliminary Hearing that he did not see who shot him. On March 23, 2016, the Honorable Randal B. Todd conducted a hearing on Appellee's Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus. At the hearing, Appellee also argued that (1) Baltimore's statement to Detective Fallert identifying the shooter did not qualify as admissible evidence under the excited utterance exception or the dying declaration exception to the hearsay rule, and (2) this evidence was testimonial hearsay, which violated the Confrontation Clause. Appellee argued that the trial court should essentially reassess and overturn this evidentiary ruling, conclude that the Commonwealth failed to establish a prima facie case, and dismiss all charges as a result. N.T., 3/23/16, at 5-7. The trial court took the matter under advisement and the parties submitted briefs.

         On May 27, 2016, Judge Todd granted Appellee's Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus and dismissed all charges.

         On June 21, 2016, the Commonwealth filed a Notice of Appeal. Both the Commonwealth and the trial court complied with Pa.R.A.P. 1925.[7]

         The Commonwealth presents one issue for our review:

Whether the trial court erred in granting the Petition for Writ of ...

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