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Commonwealth v. Lineman

Superior Court of Pennsylvania

September 16, 2019


          Appeal from the Judgment of Sentence March 28, 2018 In the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County Criminal Division at No(s): CP-51-CR-0004774-2017

          BEFORE: PANELLA, P.J., GANTMAN, P.J.E., and PELLEGRINI [*] , J.


          PANELLA, P.J.

         Andrew Lineman appeals from the judgment of sentence entered following his conviction for Violation of the Uniform Firearms Act, 18 Pa.C.S.A. § 6105 ("VUFA"). Lineman contends his conviction was against the sufficiency and weight of the evidence presented at trial. We affirm.

         On November 27, 2017, Lineman appeared for a waiver trial on charges of illegally possessing a firearm. The trial court summarized the facts of this case as follows.

On May 17, 2017, Philadelphia Police Officer Brian Benz was on routine patrol when he received a radio call indicating that a male was screaming for assistance in the area of 6th and Cumberland Streets in Philadelphia. The officer proceeded to that location and observed [Lineman] and another male struggling on the ground. [Lineman] was lying on the ground and the other male was on top of him. Officer Benz ordered the male to get off of [Lineman]. As [Lineman] began to stand Officer Benz heard the sound of metal scraping the ground, drawing the officer's attention to [Lineman's] hand. In his hand, Officer Benz saw an Uzi handgun. The officer immediately pushed [Lineman] to the ground at which time another police officer kicked the gun from [Lineman's] hand.[1]Officer [Benz] testified that [Lineman] was holding the gun as if preparing to shoot someone.[2] [Lineman] said nothing, appeared to be under the influence, and had a strong chemical odor emanating from him.[3] In addition, [Lineman] was bleeding from his face and was taken for treatment by medical personnel. Calvin Bonaparte, the other male, did not talk to police and he appeared uninjured. Bonaparte left after it was determined that there was no reason to hold him. By way of a stipulation, the parties agreed that [Lineman] was not eligible to possess a firearm.
[Lineman] testified in his own defense, stating that on the day of the incident he and Bonaparte, a long-time acquaintance, planned to share a bottle of liquor when Bonaparte began acting strangely while driving in [Lineman's] vehicle. [Lineman] told Bonaparte that he decided to drive him home.
According to [Lineman], Bonaparte pulled out a gun. [Lineman] then asked Bonaparte what was up and Bonaparte hit him in the face with the gun, breaking his nose and cutting him. After Bonaparte struck him, [Lineman] attempted to wrestle the gun away from him. [Lineman] testified that he yelled for help and managed to get the better of Bonaparte. Once he did so, he opened the door to the car and both men tumbled out with Bonaparte landing on top. The police arrived while the two men were fighting.

Trial Court Opinion, filed 9/27/2018, at 2-3 (internal citations omitted).

         At the conclusion of the trial, the parties were permitted to file memoranda outlining their respective positions concerning the applicability of the defense of duress to a possessory offense. After receiving memoranda from both parties, the court noted that it believed the defense of duress was available to Lineman, but nonetheless found him guilty based on a credibility determination. Lineman filed a motion for extraordinary relief, which was denied by the trial court. He was then sentenced to three to seven years' incarceration. Lineman filed a post-sentence motion challenging the sufficiency and weight of the evidence, which was denied. This timely appeal followed.

         In his first issue on appeal, Lineman asserts the evidence was insufficient to convict him of VUFA as he testified to a belief he acted in self-defense.

         The trial court found the issue waived as it concluded Lineman did not present it at trial. On appeal, the Commonwealth continues to press for waiver. The Commonwealth asserts that Lineman only presented the defense of duress at trial and blurs the lines between of self-defense, justification and duress in his brief. However, Lineman included case law on self-defense and justification for possessory offenses in his letter brief to the trial court prior to sentencing, as well as in his motion for extraordinary relief. Thus, we will address the issue on its merits.

         Our standard of review for a challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence is to determine whether, when viewed in a light most favorable to the Commonwealth as verdict winner, the evidence at trial and all reasonable inferences therefrom are sufficient for the trier of fact to find that each element of the crimes charged is established beyond a reasonable doubt. See Commonwealth v. Dale, 836 A.2d 150, 152 (Pa. Super. 2003). "The Commonwealth may sustain its burden of proving every element of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt by means of wholly circumstantial evidence." Commonwealth v. Bruce, 916 A.2d 657, 661 (Pa. Super. 2007) (citation omitted).

         "The facts and circumstances established by the Commonwealth need not preclude every possibility of innocence." Id. (citation omitted). "As an appellate court, we do not assess credibility nor do we assign weight to any of the testimony of record." Commonwealth v. Kinney, 863 A.2d 581, 584 (Pa. Super. 2004). Therefore, we will not disturb the verdict "unless the evidence is so weak and inconclusive that as a matter of law no probability of fact may be drawn from the combined circumstances." Bruce, 916 A.2d at 661 (citation omitted). Furthermore, a mere conflict in the testimony of the witnesses does not render the evidence ...

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