from the Order Entered November 13, 2017 In the Court of
Common Pleas of Bucks County Criminal Division at No(s):
BEFORE: GANTMAN, P.J., SHOGAN, J., and PLATT [*] , J.
the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, appeals from the order
entered in the Bucks County Court of Common Pleas, which
granted the petition for writ of habeas corpus filed
on behalf of Appellee, Sean J. Karner, and dismissed counts
two and three against him for failure to present a prima
facie case. We affirm.
trial court opinion sets forth the relevant facts of this
case as follows:
On June 16, 2017, [Appellee] was involved in a two vehicle
accident in which the Ford pickup truck that he was driving
impacted the rear end of a Honda sedan driven by Jacqueline
Grosso, as the vehicles traveled northbound on Route 202 near
New Hope, Bucks County, Pennsylvania. Upon impact, the Honda
automobile spun clockwise across a parking lot and hit a
nearby building. Jacqueline Grosso was severely injured and
Ralph Grosso, Jacqueline's husband who was occupying the
passenger's seat, was killed. [Appellee]'s truck also
crashed into the building.
As a result of that vehicle collision, [Appellee] was
subsequently arrested and charged on or about August 18,
2017, with one count each of Homicide by Vehicle While
Driving Under the Influence (DUI); Homicide by Vehicle;
Aggravated Assault by Vehicle While DUI; Aggravated Assault
by Vehicle; Simple Assault; Recklessly Endangering Another
Person; DUI: Controlled Substance-Impaired
Ability-2nd Offense; DUI: Controlled
Substance-Schedule 2 or 3-2nd Offense; DUI:
Controlled Substance- Metabolite-2nd Offense; and
the summary offenses of Reckless Driving; Following Too
Closely; and Driving at Safe Speed.
A preliminary hearing was held on September 18, 2017, and all
charges were bound over for trial in the Bucks County Court
of Common Pleas.
On October 5, 2017, [Appellee] filed a Petition for Writ of
Habeas Corpus seeking the dismissal of the non-DUI
counts for Homicide by Vehicle And Aggravated Assault by
Vehicle, claiming that the Commonwealth failed to establish a
prima facie case as to those charges. Specifically,
[Appellee] argued that the Commonwealth failed to establish
the element of recklessness or gross negligence necessary to
support those charges.
A hearing on [Appellee]'s Petition was held on October
27, 2017, after which the matter was taken under advisement.
On November 9, 2017, [the court] issued the Order, which was
docketed on November 13, 2017, granting [Appellee]'s
request and dismissing the non-DUI counts for Homicide by
Vehicle and Aggravated Assault by Vehicle.
On December 8, 2017, the Commonwealth filed a Notice of
Appeal to the Superior Court of Pennsylvania from the
November 9, 2017 Order. In compliance with [the court's]
Order of December 13, 2017, the Commonwealth filed on
December 22, 2017, its Concise Statement of [Errors]
Complained of on Appeal pursuant to Pa.R.A.P. 1925(b).
(Trial Court Opinion, February 6, 2018, at 1-3) (internal
Commonwealth raises the following issue on appeal:
DID THE TRIAL COURT ERR BY GRANTING APPELLEE'S PETITION
FOR WRIT OF HABEAS CORPUS AND DISMISSING THE COUNTS
OF HOMICIDE BY VEHICLE (NON-DUI) AND AGGRAVATED ASSAULT BY
VEHICLE (NON-DUI), RULING THAT THE COMMONWEALTH FAILED TO
ESTABLISH A PRIMA FACIE CASE IN CONNECTION TO SAME,
WHERE THE EVIDENCE PRESENTED WAS SUFFICIENT TO SUPPORT EACH
COUNT FOR SUBMISSION TO A JURY?
(Commonwealth's Brief at 4).
Commonwealth argues the evidence was sufficient to establish
a prima facie case as to the mens rea of
recklessness or gross negligence for the charges of homicide
by vehicle and aggravated assault by vehicle. The
Commonwealth asserts the record demonstrated that Appellee
was speeding and had also violated several provisions of the
motor vehicle code while under the influence of the drug,
Xanax, and had heroin metabolites in his blood. The
Commonwealth submits Appellee's several violations of the
motor vehicle code and the presence of drugs in his system
are sufficient to establish the mens rea of
recklessness or gross negligence. The Commonwealth also
contends that the trial court erred in taking the
substantially slower speed of the Victims' vehicle into
account in its decision. The Commonwealth complains any
reference to the speed of the Victims' vehicle
constitutes contributory negligence, which is not a suitable
consideration in the criminal context and constituted error.
The Commonwealth additionally contends the trial court acted
on an incomplete record because the court relied on evidence
only from the habeas corpus hearing. The
Commonwealth reasons the evidence at the preliminary hearing
supported a prima facie case because the magistrate
judge bound over the charges for the trial court.
response, Appellee argues motor vehicle code violations, even
if true, do not alone establish recklessness or gross
negligence. Specifically, Appellee maintains that the
presence of drugs in his system is irrelevant to the non-DUI
charges at issue, because the statutes for homicide by
vehicle and aggravated assault by vehicle expressly exempt
driving under the influence from the inquiry. Appellee also
submits that the Victims' slow rate of speed is relevant
and informative on whether he was reckless or grossly
further claims the Commonwealth's appeal is improper
under this Court's decision in Commonwealth v.
Wolgemuth, 737 A.2d 757 (Pa.Super. 1999), and the proper
procedure following the dismissal of charges for failing to
make a prima facie case is for the Commonwealth to
re-arrest and re-charge Appellee. Appellee similarly contends
that the Commonwealth's statement of questions presented
is deficient under Pa.R.A.P. 2116(a) for failing to include
every subsidiary argument raised on appeal, which means the
Commonwealth waived its issues, and this Court should deny
the appeal. Appellee also maintains the correct appellate
standard of review is an abuse of discretion, and absent a
manifestly unreasonable judgment, the trial court ruling
should be upheld.
Commonwealth replies that an appeal to this Court is the only
procedurally proper response to the trial court's order
granting habeas corpus relief in the form of
dismissal of the charges. The Commonwealth distinguishes
Wolgemuth, supra, because that case concerned the
dismissal of charges by the magisterial district court, not
the Court of Common Pleas. Because this appeal arises from a
dismissal of charges in the Court of Common Pleas, and not
the magistrate, the Commonwealth's only option for review
is to take a direct appeal to this Court. As to
Appellee's contention that the Commonwealth's Rule
1925(b) statement is deficient, the Commonwealth submits
Appellee is mistaken. Further, the Commonwealth observes that
its appellate brief materially conforms in all respects with
the applicable rules, and the omissions alleged are not
"substantial" or significantly impair appellate
review. Finally, the Commonwealth asserts the correct
standard of review on appeal in the present case is plenary,
rather than an abuse of ...