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Commonwealth v. Rodriguez

Superior Court of Pennsylvania

October 23, 2017

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA
v.
JAYSON RODRIGUEZ A/K/A DANIEL FRANCISCO GUERRERO A/K/A JAVIER GUERRERO Appellant

         Appeal from the Order September 2, 2016 In the Court of Common Pleas of Lehigh County Criminal Division at No(s): CP-39-CR-0001211-2015 CP-39-CR-0004903-2014

          BEFORE: OTT, STABILE, JJ., and STEVENS, P.J.E. [*]

          OPINION

          STEVENS, P.J.E.

         Appellant appeals, pro se, [1] from an order entered in the Court of Common Pleas of Lehigh County dismissing his motion for return of property.[2] After a careful review, we vacate the trial court's September 2, 2016, order and remand for further proceedings consistent with this decision.

         The relevant facts and procedural history are as follows: The Commonwealth filed a criminal complaint and Information against Appellant in the lower court at docket number 4903-2014 averring that, while operating a vehicle on February 15, 2014, Appellant hit another vehicle and then fled the scene. Upon the police stopping Appellant's vehicle in connection with the hit and run, they suspected Appellant was operating his vehicle while under the influence of alcohol. Accordingly, the police transported Appellant for a blood draw and searched his vehicle, which needed to be towed, pursuant to an inventory search. During the search, the police discovered a handgun under the passenger seat.

         Thereafter, at lower court docket number 4903-2014, Appellant was charged with firearms not to be carried without a license, possession of a firearm prohibited, false identification to law enforcement officers, driving while under the influence of alcohol, accident involving damage attended vehicle, and careless driving.[3]

         Subsequently, the Allentown Police Department received information related to Appellant's drug activities and, following an investigation, the police executed a search warrant at Appellant's residence on February 13, 2015. Pursuant thereto, the police seized heroin and drug paraphernalia.

         Thereafter, the Commonwealth filed a criminal complaint and Information against Appellant in the lower court at docket number 1211-2015 charging him with possession with the intent to deliver a controlled substance ("PWID"), possession of a controlled substance, and possession of drug paraphernalia.[4]

         Appellant's cases were consolidated in the lower court, and on October 30, 2015, with respect to docket number 4903-2014, Appellant, who was represented by counsel, entered a guilty plea to the sole charge of firearms not to be carried without a license. Additionally, with respect to docket number 1211-2015, Appellant entered a guilty plea to the sole charge of PWID. In exchange for Appellant's guilty plea, the Commonwealth withdrew the remaining charges at both docket numbers.

         On December 7, 2015, [5] at both docket numbers, Appellant filed a pro se motion entitled "Return of Seized Property[.]"[6] Therein, Appellant alleged that "[s]ubject to his arrest, [he] was subject to the illegal and impermissible forfeiture and seizure of his personal property[, ] including...bank account proceeds." Appellant's Motion, filed 12/14/15.

         Without ruling on Appellant's pro se motion, the trial court held a sentencing hearing on December 9, 2015, at which Appellant was still represented by counsel. For Appellant's firearm conviction at docket number 4903-2014, the trial court imposed a sentence of three years plus six months to seven years in prison, as well as directed Appellant to pay the costs of prosecution. For Appellant's PWID conviction at docket number 1211-2015, the trial court imposed a sentence of five years to ten years in prison, to run concurrently with the sentence imposed at docket number 4903-2014. Also, for docket number 1211-2015, the trial court directed Appellant to pay the costs of prosecution, including a $113.00 lab fee.

         On December 15, 2015, Appellant filed a post-sentence motion seeking a reduction in his sentence, and the trial court denied this motion by order entered on January 12, 2016.[7] On February 3, 2016, the trial court entered a "civil judgment" against Appellant.[8]

         On February 10, 2016, [9] with his original pro se motion for return of property still outstanding, Appellant filed a supplemental pro se motion seeking the return of his property.[10] Therein, Appellant clarified that, on "February 17, 2015, a seizre [sic] was placed on [Appellant's] bank account with Well[s] Fargo for the amount of [$]6, 534.83." Appellant's Motion, filed 2/18/16. Appellant argued that, since the money was not subject to forfeiture, and the Commonwealth otherwise had no basis to seize the money, the money ought to be returned to him.

         In support of his claim, Appellant attached to his pro se motion a Wells Fargo statement of his bank account. The statement included an entry indicating that, on February 17, 2015, $6, 534.83 was withdrawn by "Liens, Levies, and Garnishments Case #14781915." Appellant's Motion, filed 2/18/16, Exhibit A. Further, in an effort to demonstrate the source of the funds in his account, Appellant attached to his pro se motion correspondence from Travelers Insurance indicating that, from November 27, 2014, to February 10, ...


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