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Commonwealth v. Johnson

Superior Court of Pennsylvania

October 16, 2019

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA
v.
DEWITT JOHNSON, Appellant.

          Appeal from the Order, April 3, 2017, in the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County, Criminal Division at No(s): CP-51-CR-0008678-2015.

          BEFORE: BOWES, J., KUNSELMAN, J., and FORD ELLIOTT, P.J.E.

          OPINION

          KUNSELMAN, J.

         Defendant Dewitt Johnson appeals from the pre-trial order refusing to dismiss the Commonwealth's charges of possession with intent to deliver heroin[1] and knowing/intentional possession of heroin[2] under the compulsory-joinder rules.[3] For the reasons that follow, we partially affirm and partially reverse the order.

         On June 23, 2015, police stopped Johnson for careless driving and discovered that he had been driving with a suspended license. They patted him down and found clear baggies containing unknown amounts of heroin. The police charged Johnson with the previously mentioned drug-related charges. He also received a citation for driving with a suspended license. Before bringing the drug charges in the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia, the Commonwealth tried and convicted Johnson of the summary offense in the Philadelphia Municipal Court (Traffic Division).

         Because the Philadelphia Municipal Court and the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia are both in the First Judicial District of Pennsylvania, Johnson moved to dismiss the drug charges on the grounds that, under the General Assembly's statutes, the Commonwealth needed to try all of his offenses simultaneously. Johnson asserted the Commonwealth's failure to do so violated 18 Pa.C.S.A. § 110 and, as a result, put him in double jeopardy.[4]

         Applying this Court's decision in Commonwealth v. Perfetto, 169 A.3d 1114 (Pa. Super. 2017) (en banc), the trial court refused to dismiss either of the drug charges. Perfetto was procedurally similar to this case. There, police pulled over Perfetto for driving without headlights at night, issued him a citation, and arrested him for drunk driving. The Commonwealth tried and convicted Perfetto in the Traffic Division of the Philadelphia Municipal Court on the summary offense. The Commonwealth then attempted to try him for DUI in the trial court. Perfetto filed a dismissal motion based upon the compulsory-joinder statute.

         The trial court dismissed Perfetto's DUI charge under 18 Pa.C.S.A. §110, which bars a subsequent prosecution if:

(1) The former prosecution resulted in an acquittal or in a conviction . . . and the subsequent prosecution is for:
* * * * *
(ii) any offense based on the same conduct or arising from the same criminal episode, if such offense was known to the appropriate prosecuting officer at the time of the commencement of the first trial and occurred within the same judicial district as the former prosecution unless the court ordered a separate trial of the charge of such offense . . . .

18 Pa.C.S.A. § 110 (emphasis added).

         The Commonwealth appealed, and this Court reversed the dismissal of the DUI charge. We held that, despite the plain language of 18 Pa.C.S.A. § 110 compelling joinder within the same judicial district, "the jurisdiction of a court remains a consideration implicit to any compulsory joinder analysis, and it is particularly important in those judicial districts that, for various reasons, have distinct minor courts or magisterial district judges vested with exclusive jurisdiction over specific matters." Perfetto, 169 A.3d 1121.

         Based upon that holding, the trial court here denied Johnson's motion to dismiss. It opined that because "Philadelphia has a traffic court separate from the court of common pleas, the traffic offense may be disposed of at a prior proceeding without violating double jeopardy and barring subsequent prosecution for additional charges." Trial Court Opinion, 9/18/18, at 4. The trial court's analysis was entirely correct at the time. However, on April 26, 2019, while this appeal was pending, the Supreme Court of ...


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