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Commonwealth v. Mauk

Superior Court of Pennsylvania

April 26, 2018


          Appeal from the Order entered February 20, 2017, in the Court of Common Pleas of Cambria County, Criminal Division, at No(s): CP-11-CR-0001033-2009, CP-11-CR-0001034-2009, CP-11-CR-0001035-2009, CP-11-CR-0001036-2009, CP-11-CR-0001037-2009, CP-11-CR-0001038-2009, CP-11-CR-0001039-2009, CP-11-CR-0001040-2009, CP-11-CR-0001041-2009, CP-11-CR-0001042-2009, CP-11-CR-0001043-2009, CP-11-CR-0001044-2009 & CP-11-CR-0001045-2009.

          BEFORE: BOWES, J., OLSON, J., and KUNSELMAN, J.


          KUNSELMAN, J.

         Gregory Mauk argues that the trial court violated his constitutional rights by sentencing him to two weeks in prison for indirect criminal contempt. The Commonwealth claims that this appeal is moot, because the trial court freed Mr. Mauk eleven days later. In the alternative, it argues Mr. Mauk committed civil contempt; thus, the Commonwealth sees no constitutional flaws. Mr. Mauk responds that this appeal is properly before us, because (1) the trial court's violations might otherwise evade appellate review, and (2) an ongoing restitution order leaves him susceptible to future, unconstitutional imprisonment. We find all of Mr. Mauk's arguments persuasive; therefore, we vacate the trial court's February 20, 2017 Order.

         Mr. Mauk has been under an order to pay restitution, court costs, and fines since September of 2010, when he pleaded guilty to various theft-related offenses. Mr. Mauk missed several of his court payments in 2016, so the Commonwealth summoned him before the trial judge who presides over costs-and-fines hearings in Cambria County. The trial judge treated Mr. Mauk the same as she does all alleged contemnors.

         On December 21, 2016, before calling Mr. Mauk's case, the trial judge had the deputy read the names of everyone present who had failed to make timely payments after being previously held in contempt. Thirty-five people were brought to the bar, and the judge ruled "all of you who are in front of me now, failed to purge the conditions of your contempt." N.T., 12/21/16, at 8. The judge then remanded them into the sheriff's custody until she determined their sentences, based on the amount of payments they had made, if any.

         Next, the judge called those with no prior contempt findings, including Mr. Mauk, to ask why they had failed to make timely payments. When she reached Mr. Mauk's case, the trial judge found him in contempt and sentenced him to two weeks in the Cambria County Prison. The judge suspended his sentence, however, contingent on Mr. Mauk timely "paying January and February's payments of $150 per month." N.T., 12/21/16, at 11.

         Mr. Mauk missed both deadlines and, therefore, had to reappear before the court on February 20, 2017. That day, prior to entering the courtroom, Mr. Mauk made both overdue payments and an advanced payment for March. Once in court, the trial judge again conducted a group sentencing, and Mr. Mauk found himself convicted en masse, alongside 53 other alleged contemnors. The judge told them:

Because you failed to purge your contempt, you are incarcerated to two weeks in prison. Ms. Clark of the Public Defender's Office will - you'll be held in a holding cell downstairs. If anybody has a disagreement that their payments were not made, in other words - well, a couple of months ago we had an individual where there was an error where he had made his payments on time and they had not been credited correctly.
So Ms. Clark will have an opportunity to speak with you only if you feel there was an error as to payment. Other than that, you all failed to purge the condition of your contempt and you're remanded to jail for two weeks, and so the sheriff's deputies are going to collectively escort you all to the holding cell.
You'll have an opportunity to speak to your counsel downstairs. You cannot address the court at this time. Everybody who is in front of me addressed the court at the time of the contempt hearing. Sheriff's deputies?

N.T., 2/20/17, at 8-9.

          The deputies jailed them all, and the judge memorialized Mr. Mauk's sentence in the February 20, 2017 Order. Ten days later, with the assistance of counsel, Mr. Mauk filed a notice of appeal to this Court, and, simultaneously, filed a "Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus and/or Motion for a Bond Hearing" in the trial court. The judge granted the writ on March 3, 2017 and set him free.

         On appeal, Mr. Mauk challenges the constitutionality of the February 20, 2017 proceeding. The Commonwealth raises a question of mootness due to the trial court's March 3, 2017 grant of habeas corpus relief. These are both questions of law. Therefore, our scope of review is plenary; our standard is de novo. Snead v. ...

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