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Commonwealth v. Pennix

Superior Court of Pennsylvania

December 12, 2017

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA
v.
MALAYSHA RAYNE PENNIX Appellant

         Appeal from the Judgment of Sentence Dated October 6, 2016 In the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County Criminal Division at No(s): CP-02-CR-0003128-2016

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

          OPINION

          SOLANO, J.

         Appellant, Mayasha Pennix, appeals from the judgment of sentence imposed after the trial court convicted her of possessing a weapon in a court facility and disorderly conduct.[1] We reverse Appellant's convictions and vacate her judgment of sentence.

         Appellant agrees with the trial court's recitation of the facts. Appellant's Brief at 7. The trial court stated:

Briefly, the evidence presented by the Commonwealth (through stipulation to the Sheriff's Report and Affidavit of Probable Cause) indicated that on October 28, 2015, [Appellant] attempted to enter the Family Court building on Ross Street, but was detained at the metal detector when a scan of her book bag revealed the presence of a knife and razor blades. [Appellant] was asked to remove the items from her bag, but she had difficulty locating them and became argumentative with the deputy. [Appellant] continued to get more and more agitated, and was heard screaming "Fuck you I ain't got time for this, " "Fuck you police" and "I don't got time for you fucking police." (Allegheny County Sheriff's Incident Report, 10/28/15, p. 1). She was subsequently instructed to leave the building, but she refused and continued to scream and be disruptive until she was escorted from the building by Sheriff's deputies.

Trial Court Opinion, 3/3/17, at 1-2.

         Appellant adds that she "was not merely escorted from the building . . . [but] was in fact arrested, [and] charged with the two crimes referred to and taken into custody." Appellant's Brief at 7. Appellant appeared for a bench trial on October 6, 2016. The trial court rendered its verdicts the same day, and sentenced Appellant to six months of probation. Appellant filed a post-sentence motion on October 7, 2016. The trial court denied the motion on October 12, 2016. Appellant filed this timely appeal on November 10, 2016.

         Appellant presents the following issues for our review:

1. Was the evidence presented at Appellant's trial insufficient to support her conviction for Possession of a Dangerous Weapon in a Court Facility, 18 Pa.C.S. § 913(a)(1), since the evidence did not establish (A) that the objects found in her backpack were "dangerous weapons" under Crimes Code § 913(f); (B) that she possessed those objects inside a "court facility, " as that phrase is defined by § 913(f); (C) that either the signage required by Crimes Code § 913(d) was posted as required on the date of her arrest or that her actual knowledge obviated the need for such signage; and (D) that she realized that a knife and razor blades were inside her backpack on the date of her arrest?
2. Should this Court disregard the trial court's declaration, contained in its Pa.R.App.P. 1925 advisory opinion, that it took sua sponte judicial notice of the layout of the Allegheny County Family Division Courthouse and of the signage on that building, given that (A) the trial court's failure to declare, during the course of Appellant's trial, that it was taking such notice means that it did not in fact take judicial notice at trial, and post-verdict judicial notice is not permitted; (B) taking judicial notice at trial would have been improper since the subject matter was not one for which judicial notice could be taken (the rule being that judicial notice cannot be based on a judge's personal knowledge and cannot be taken unless a matter is either known to the community as a whole or else is found in identified and unimpeachable sources); and (C) taking judicial notice would in any event have been improper since the failure to inform the parties that such notice was being taken precluded a response, and since the precise basis for the taking of judicial notice was never indicated?
3. Was the evidence presented at Appellant's trial inadequate to support her conviction for Disorderly Conduct via Obscene Utterances or Gestures, 18 Pa.C.S. § 5503(a)(3), given the absence of sufficient evidence establishing that she either uttered obscene words (as opposed to mere profane language) or made an obscene gesture?

Appellant's Brief at 3-5.

         Appellant argues that her convictions should be vacated because the Commonwealth failed to present sufficient evidence to establish her guilt beyond a reasonable doubt under the applicable statutes. When reviewing a claim that the trial court erred in determining the evidence was sufficient to prove an offense, an appellate court must assess the evidence and all reasonable inferences from that evidence most favorably to the verdict winner. Commonwealth v. Whitacre, 878 A.2d 96, 99 (Pa. Super.), appeal denied, 892 A.2d 823 (Pa. 2005). As long as the evidence and inferences provide sufficient information to establish proof beyond a reasonable doubt, the evidence is sufficient. Id. Further, the Commonwealth can meet its burden of reasonable doubt "by means of wholly circumstantial evidence." Id.

         The statute making it a crime to possess a dangerous weapon in a court facility states:

A person commits an offense if he:
(1) knowingly possesses a firearm or other dangerous weapon in a court facility or knowingly causes a firearm or other dangerous weapon ...

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