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Commonwealth v. Caulk

Superior Court of Pennsylvania

October 9, 2019

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA Appellee
v.
RASHEEN AMEER CAULK Appellant

          Appeal from the Judgment of Sentence entered March 19, 2018 In the Court of Common Pleas of Delaware County Criminal Division at No: CP-23-CR-0003430-2016

          BEFORE: GANTMAN, P.J.E., STABILE, J. and STEVENS, P.J.E. [*]

          OPINION

          STABILE, J.

         Appellant, Rasheen Ameer Caulk, appeals from his judgment of sentence of 100-240 months' imprisonment for two counts of possession of a controlled substance (cocaine) with intent to deliver ("PWID").[1] We affirm.

         On March 21, 2016 and April 20, 2016, Pennsylvania State Troopers Bromberg and Garcia conducted controlled drug purchases from Appellant through a confidential informant, Anthony Reaves. Before the first controlled buy on March 21, 2016, Trooper Bromberg thoroughly searched Reaves and his vehicle to make sure there were no secret compartments in the vehicle where he could hide weapons, contraband or money. Trooper Bromberg gave Reaves $4, 800.00 in United States currency, which he instructed Reaves to use to purchase 125 grams of cocaine from Appellant. Trooper Garcia placed a recording device in Reaves' coat pocket. The controlled buy took place in the 7800 block of Lindbergh Boulevard in Philadelphia. A Jeep with Connecticut license plates pulled behind Reaves' car, and Trooper Bromberg, watching from nearby, recognized Appellant exiting the driver's side of the Jeep. Appellant entered the passenger's side of Reaves' vehicle and met with Reaves for about one minute before returning to the Jeep. Nobody else approached or was inside Reaves' vehicle. The recording device in Reaves' pocket recorded his conversation with Appellant, which the Commonwealth played for the jury. Reaves' and Appellant's voices could be heard on the recording. Following the transaction, Reaves drove to a pre-arranged location where he met with state troopers. He made no stops and had no contact with anyone else between the controlled drug buy and the post-buy meeting with the troopers. Troopers had Reaves under surveillance during the entire trip. At the pre-arranged location, troopers searched Reaves and found a large plastic bag containing cocaine that Reaves purchased with the $4, 800.00. The PSP crime lab determined that the bag contained 124.5 grams of cocaine.

         Before the second controlled buy on April 20, 2016, Trooper Bromberg searched Reaves and Reaves' vehicle to ensure that there were no drugs, contraband, weapons or money on Reaves' person or in his vehicle. Troopers gave Reaves $4, 800.00 in United States currency with pre-recorded, photographed serial numbers, and Trooper Garcia placed a recording device in Reaves' coat pocket. At the last minute, the location of the controlled drug buy changed from Lindbergh Boulevard in Philadelphia to Fifth and Welsh Street in Chester, Delaware County. The DEA performed aerial surveillance in addition to the troopers' ground surveillance. A videotape of this event depicted Appellant driving a white Mitsubishi and waiting at Fifth and Welsh Streets for Reaves. Reaves exited his vehicle and entered Appellant's vehicle, and they drove together to Edgmont and Fourth Streets and back to Fifth and Welsh Streets. Although the transaction was recorded and there was ambient noise, there was no conversation, no phone calls and no mention of cocaine distribution. At the conclusion of the meeting, Appellant drove away but was arrested by a Chester police officer. Reaves drove away in his vehicle directly to a meeting with troopers, who recovered a bag containing 124.64 grams of cocaine that Reaves had purchased with the pre-recorded currency. The troopers found no other money, drugs or contraband on Reaves' person or in his vehicle.

         Prior to trial, on July 13, 2017, the Commonwealth sought a continuance on the ground that an extension would enable it to replace Reaves' testimony with testimony from state troopers and videotape evidence filmed by drones. The trial court continued the proceedings from July 13, 2017 to October 2, 2017. On July 31, 2017, Reaves was shot to death in front of his southwest Philadelphia apartment complex. On September 26, 2017, Appellant filed a motion in limine to preclude any reference to Reaves' death. Attached to Appellant's motion were two newspaper articles suggesting that Reaves was murdered in retaliation for cooperating with authorities against Appellant and other drug dealers. On October 5, 2017, following oral argument, the trial court denied Appellant's motion.

         During Appellant's jury trial, Trooper Bromberg testified that Reaves could not testify because he was deceased. The Commonwealth did not present any evidence concerning the cause of Reaves' death. Appellant took the stand and denied selling drugs to Reaves, and defense counsel argued that the Commonwealth's case failed without Reaves' testimony.

         The jury found Appellant guilty of two counts of PWID. After sentencing, Appellant filed timely post-sentence motions, which the trial court denied. Appellant filed a timely notice of appeal, and both Appellant and the trial court complied with Pa.R.A.P. 1925.

         On April 2, 2019, this Court dismissed Appellant's appeal due to his failure to file a timely brief. Appellant filed an application for reinstatement of his appeal and attached a copy of his proposed brief as an exhibit. On April 22, 2019, this Court granted Appellant's application for reinstatement and directed the prothonotary to docket the brief that Appellant attached to his application.

         Appellant raises six issues in this appeal that we have re-ordered for the sake of convenience:

1. Whether the trial court erred in denying the Appellant's Motion in Limine where the Commonwealth sought to use the death of the informant at trial where its only purpose in doing so was to improperly prejudice the jury against the Appellant and deny him a fair trial, particularly where the Commonwealth sought to exclude the identity of the informant in pretrial motions, prior to trial, where the evidence was not probative of whether or not the Appellant possessed or delivered drugs on March 21, 2016 and April 20, 2016[?]
2. Whether the Court erred in allowing evidence of the informant's death at [Appellant's] drug trial as the evidence was completely irrelevant to the drug charges and not probative of any issue in the case, and to the extent that the Court made a finding that the death of the informant had some evidentiary value, the prejudicial effect of that evidence outweighed its probative value, thereby resulting in an abuse of discretion by the Court?
3. Whether the trial court erred in allowing the Commonwealth['s] Attorney to argue to the Jury that the informant was dead, in an attempt to taint the Jury, suggesting that the Appellant may have been responsible for the informant's death, arose to prosecutorial misconduct, warranting dismissal with prejudice pursuant to Commonwealth v. Jay Smith, [citation omitted] where there was no reason to mention the informant's status, under the circumstances, and after objection of defense counsel, refused to grant a mistrial?
4. Whether the Court erred in allowing the Commonwealth to introduce at trial, evidence of the Appellant's history in renting vehicles, as the evidence was wholly irrelevant and an abuse of the Court's discretion, as the only purpose of the evidence was to show that the Appellant owed money and failed to pay for a vehicle that he rented in the past or that the Jury could conclude that he was a bad person?
5. Whether the trial court erred in denying Appellant's motion for mistrial and allowing the Commonwealth witness, Trooper Garcia, to testify at trial as to the ultimate issues in the case and offer his opinion concerning facts which were within the province of the Jury, i.e., whether the Appellant was a drug dealer, whether drugs had been delivered by the Appellant to the informant in the case, Anthony ...

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