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Commonwealth v. Muhammed

Superior Court of Pennsylvania

September 30, 2019

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANI
v.
YAHYA ASAAD MUHAMMED Appellant

          Appeal from the Judgment of Sentence March 6, 2018 In the Court of Common Pleas of Montgomery County Criminal Division at No(s): CP-46-CR-0004632-2017

          BEFORE: SHOGAN, J., NICHOLS, J., and STRASSBURGER, J. [*]

          OPINION

          NICHOLS, J.

         Appellant Yahya Asaad Muhammed appeals from the judgment of sentence entered after he pled guilty to criminal trespass.[1] On appeal, Appellant challenges the trial court's restitution award. For the reasons that follow, we vacate and remand for resentencing.

         The relevant facts giving rise to this appeal are well known to the parties, and we need not restate them here. Briefly, the trial court summarized the procedural history of this matter as follows:

On March 5, 2018, . . . Appellant[, who was represented by counsel, ] entered into a negotiated guilty plea to criminal trespass, a felony of the third degree, and the Commonwealth nolle prossed the remaining charges.
In accordance with the plea agreement, the [trial court] sentenced Appellant to 11½ to 23 months in the county correctional facility, to pay court costs, and to pay the restitution amount ordered by the [trial c]ourt joint and several with his co-defendant, Lorna Fretwell.[2] The [trial court] did not impose a restitution amount at that time.
* * *
On March 12, 2018, the [trial c]ourt held a restitution hearing.[3]Following the restitution hearing, the [trial c]ourt ordered Appellant to pay restitution joint and several with co-defendant, Lorna Fretwell (criminal docket 4631-2017), to the victim in monthly installments as directed by the Montgomery County Adult Probation and Parole Department totaling $8, 825.98.

Trial Ct. Op., 6/12/18 at 2-3.

         On March 20, 2018, the trial court docketed Appellant's pro se motion seeking arrest of judgment and withdrawal of his guilty plea. On April 10, 2018, the trial court docketed Appellant's pro se notice of appeal, in which he included a statement of errors complained of on appeal.[4] The trial court denied Appellant's post-sentence motion on May 22, 2018.[5] Thereafter, the trial court issued a Pa.R.A.P. 1925(a) opinion asserting that Appellant's claims were meritless. On August 20, 2018, this Court issued an order directing Appellant's trial counsel, Vanessa L. Bellino, Esq., to enter her appearance on Appellant's behalf.

         Appellant raises one issue on appeal: "Did the [t]rial [c]ourt err by awarding restitution that is speculative, unsupported by the record, and does not even relate to the crime for which [Appellant] pleaded guilty?" Appellant's Brief at 2. Appellant first argues that "the bulk of the items contained within the restitution order were not lost or damaged as a direct result of the crime for which [Appellant] pleaded guilty." Id. at 15. Second, Appellant asserts that "the restitution order awarded the victim more than the cash equivalent of the property lost due to the crime." Id. at 19. Third, Appellant contends that the order was "speculative and unsupported by the record." Id. at 26.

         Our review of Appellant's claims depends on the nature of the issue being raised. It is well settled that a challenge to the legality of a sentence raises a question of law. Commonwealth v. Smith, 956 A.2d 1029, 1033 (Pa. Super. 2008) (en banc). In reviewing this type of claim, our standard of review is de novo and our scope of review is plenary. Commonwealth v. Childs, 63 A.3d 323, 325 (Pa. Super. 2013). "An illegal sentence must be vacated[.]" Commonwealth v. Ramos, 197 A.3d 766, 769 (Pa. Super. 2018) (citation and quotation marks omitted). Further, we have explained that "a criminal defendant cannot agree to an illegal sentence, so the fact that the illegality was a term of his plea bargain is of no legal significance." Commonwealth v. Rivera, 154 A.3d 370, 381 (Pa. Super. 2017) (en banc) (citation and quotation marks omitted), appeal denied, 169 A.3d 1072 (Pa. 2017). Moreover, "a challenge to the legality of the sentence can never be waived and may be raised by this Court sua sponte." Commonwealth v. Wolfe, 106 A.3d 800, 801 (Pa. Super. 2014) (citation omitted).

         In contrast, a defendant does not have an absolute right to pursue a challenge to the discretionary aspects of a sentence. See Commonwealth v. Lamonda, 52 A.3d 365, 371 (Pa. Super. 2012) (en banc). Rather, before reaching the merits of such claims, we must determine whether (1) the appeal is timely; (2) the defendant preserved his issues; (3) the defendant included a concise statement of reasons for the discretionary sentence claim in his brief; and (4) the sentence is inappropriate under the sentencing code. See Commonwealth v. Corley, 31 A.3d 293, 296 (Pa. Super. 2011) (citation omitted). If a defendant invokes this Court's jurisdiction to review the discretionary aspects of a sentence, we review a sentence for an abuse of discretion. Commonwealth v. Smith, 206 A.3d 551, 567 (Pa. Super. 2019). Section 1106 of the Crimes Code governs the imposition of restitution as part of a sentence and provides, in relevant part:

         § 1106. Restitution for injuries to person or property

(a) General rule.-Upon conviction for any crime wherein:
(1) property has been stolen, converted or otherwise unlawfully obtained, or its value substantially decreased as a direct result of the crime; or
(2) the victim suffered personal injury directly resulting from the crime,
the offender shall be sentenced to make restitution in addition to the punishment prescribed therefor.
* * *
(c) Mandatory restitution.-(1) The court shall order full restitution:
(i) Regardless of the current financial resources of the defendant, so as to provide the victim with the fullest ...

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