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Commonwealth v. Jones

Superior Court of Pennsylvania

October 20, 2017

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA
v.
TRAVIS H. JONES, Appellant

         Appeal from the Judgment of Sentence May 31, 2016 In the Court of Common Pleas of Luzerne County Criminal Division at No(s): CP-40-CR-0002461-2014

          BEFORE: DUBOW, J., RANSOM, J., and STRASSBURGER, J. [*]

          OPINION

          DUBOW, J.

         Appellant, Travis H. Jones, appeals from the Judgment of Sentence of 16 to 30 years' incarceration entered in the Luzerne County Court of Common Pleas following his conviction of two counts of Possession of a Firearm Prohibited and one count of Possession of a Firearm with an Altered Serial Number.[1] Finding that the Commonwealth presented sufficient evidence to sustain Appellant's convictions, we affirm.

         The relevant facts and procedural history, as gleaned from the certified record, are as follows. On June 16, 2014, at 6:02 AM, Kingston police responded to a 911 call of a domestic disturbance in Appellant's home at 105 Penn Street. When the police arrived, only Appellant, who was cleaning blood from the walls and the floor, was present in the home. Appellant later confessed to police that he had accidentally shot the victim, Raheem Clark, in his daughter's bedroom. Police recovered a .44 Magnum revolver with an obliterated serial number and a shotgun from Appellant's home. A ballistics expert confirmed that a bullet jacket removed from the victim by surgeons from Geisinger Wyoming Valley Hospital came from the revolver found in Appellant's home.[2]

         Kingston police charged Appellant with the above crimes, as well as one count each of Aggravated Assault, Aggravated Assault with a Deadly Weapon, Tampering with Evidence, and four counts of Recklessly Endangering Another Person ("REAP").[3]

         At Appellant's request, the court severed the Possession of a Firearm Prohibited charges from the Possession of a Firearm with an Altered Serial Number and Tampering with Evidence charges for purposes of trial. On January 29, 2016, the court held a bench trial on the Possession of a Firearm Prohibited charges, at which the Commonwealth presented the testimony of Kurtis Bennett, a witness, Kingston Police Detective Edward Palka, Detective Stephen Gibson, Pennsylvania State Police Sergeant Floyd Bowman, and Mary Dumas, Appellant's mother. The Commonwealth elicited testimony from Detective Gibson and Sergeant Floyd that demonstrated to the court that Appellant had a prior Manslaughter conviction, thus rendering him a person prohibited from possessing a firearm. Accordingly, at the conclusion of the bench trial the court convicted Appellant of two counts of Possession of a Firearm Prohibited.

         On April 18, 2016, the court commenced a jury trial on the altered serial number and Tampering with Evidence charges. The Commonwealth presented the testimony of Kingston Police Officer John Bevilaqua, Detective Edward Polka, [4] Detective Stephen Gibson, and Pennsylvania State Police Corporal Elwood Spencer.

         Relevant to the instant appeal, Officer Bevilaqua testified that he was the first police officer to arrive at 105 Penn Street. N.T. at 53. Officer Belvilaqua secured the scene and departed for the hospital, where surgeons gave him the bullet jacket recovered from the victim. Id. at 58-59.

         Detective Polka testified that he and Detective Gibson advised Appellant of his Miranda[5] rights, and interviewed him. N.T. at 67.[6] Detective Gibson testified that, in addition to interviewing Appellant with Detective Polka, he also executed a search warrant on 105 Penn Street. Id. at 83-84. Detective Gibson also testified that he recovered a .44 Magnum revolver from the back of a closet, underneath garbage bags full of clothing. Id. at 90. Detective Gibson indicated that a visual inspection of the inside of the gun's cylinder revealed that a round had been fired from the gun. Id. at 91.

         Corporal Spencer, the Commonwealth's firearm and tool mark expert, testified that he examined the gun found in Appellant's residence. Id. at 107. He concluded that the bullet jacket removed from the victim had come from that gun. Id. at 133. Corporal Spencer also explained how one would fire this particular weapon, highlighting its safety features. Id. at 110-12. Corporal Spencer testified that he checked this gun for a serial number, but it had been obliterated. Id. at 116, 118. Corporal Spencer indicated that he found the obliterated serial number "just above the trigger part on the right-hand side" of the gun.[7] Id. at 116.

         Corporal Spencer noted that someone had obliterated the serial number to such a degree that the police could not read it and he could not restore it to a legible condition. Id. at 122-23.

         At the close of the Commonwealth's case, Appellant made an oral Motion for Judgment of Acquittal, arguing, inter alia, that the Commonwealth had failed to present evidence that Appellant understood he was handling a gun without a serial number. N.T., 4/19/16 at 144. The Commonwealth argued that proving that Appellant was in possession of a gun without a serial number in his own home was sufficient to meet its burden of proof on the Possession of a Firearm with an Altered Serial Number charge. Id. at 144-47. The court denied Appellant's Motion, and, on April 20, 2016, the jury convicted Appellant of Possession of a Firearm with an Altered Serial Number. The jury acquitted Appellant of the Tampering with Evidence charge.

         On May 31, 2016, the court sentenced Appellant to three consecutive terms of 5 to 10 years' incarceration, to run consecutive to a 1-year sentence imposed when the court earlier held Appellant in contempt of court, for an aggregate term of 16 to 30 years' incarceration.

         On June 7, 2016, Appellant filed a Post-Sentence Motion, which the court denied on June 21, 2016. Appellant's timely appeal followed. Both Appellant and the trial court complied with Pa.R.A.P. 1925.

         Appellant raises the following two issues on appeal:

1. Did the trial court err in finding Appellant guilty despite the lack of sufficient evidence to prove the elements of the offense with which he was charged?
2. Did the trial court err in overruling Appellant's request for a demurr[er] at the close of the Commonwealth's case despite the fact that the Commonwealth failed to provide any evidence regarding [Appellant's] mental state as required in the jury instructions?

Appellant's Brief at 6.

         In his first issue, Appellant challenges the sufficiency of the Commonwealth's evidence of Appellant's identity as a person prohibited from possessing a firearm. Id. at 13. Appellant claims that the evidence of Appellant's prior Manslaughter conviction was insufficient to prove definitively that Appellant was the person convicted for that crime. Appellant asserts that, in the absence of witness testimony connecting Appellant ...


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