Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Commonwealth v. Sipps

Superior Court of Pennsylvania

December 31, 2019

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA
v.
MATTHEW JEFFREY SIPPS Appellant

          Appeal from the Judgment of Sentence Entered January 18, 2018 In the Court of Common Pleas of Delaware County Criminal Division at No(s): CP-23-CR-0002590-2017

          BEFORE: GANTMAN, P.J.E., MURRAY, J., and STRASSBURGER, J.[*]

          OPINION

          MURRAY, J.

         Matthew Jeffrey Sipps (Appellant) appeals from the judgment of sentence imposed after a jury convicted him of concealment of the whereabouts of a child, corruption of minors, and patronizing a victim of sexual servitude.[1] After careful review, we affirm.

         On appeal, Appellant presents two issues for our review:

1. Whether the evidence at trial was insufficient to support [Appellant's] conviction of Count 3, Patronizing a victim of sexual servitude [18 Pa.C.S. § 3013], where the government failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that [Appellant] engaged in a sex act or performance with another individual knowing that the act or performance is the result of the person being a victim of human trafficking?
2. Whether the evidence at trial was insufficient to support [Appellant's] conviction of Count 1, Concealment of whereabouts of a child, 18 Pa.C.S. § 2909(a), where the government failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that [Appellant] removed a child from her known place of residence with the intent to conceal the child's whereabouts from her parent or guardian, caused the child to be removed from her known place of residence, prevented the child from returning or being returned to her known place of residence, or failed to return a child to her known place of residence when the child's parent or guardian had a reasonable expectation that [Appellant] would return the child?

Appellant's Brief at 6.[2]

         Preliminarily, we address the trial court's contention that Appellant's sufficiency issues "should be deemed waived" because Appellant "has not cogently identified the mandated elements of the crimes." Trial Court Opinion, 12/26/18, at 7. Referencing both case law and Appellant's "wholesale lack of specificity," the court stated that it "must guess" at Appellant's "generalized sufficiency claims." Id. at 8. However, despite its consternation with Appellant's Rule 1925(b) concise statement, the trial court authored a comprehensive, articulate and impressive opinion, which we reference infra.

         In response to the trial court's assertion of waiver, Appellant also notes that the trial court "addressed the merits of the question[s] at length." Appellant's Brief at 17. For its part, the Commonwealth does not address waiver, but argues against the merits of Appellant's sufficiency claims. See generally, Commonwealth Brief at 4-17.

         This Court has held that we may find waiver where a concise statement is too vague. See Commonwealth v. Hansley, 24 A.3d 410, 415 (Pa. Super. 2011). "When a court has to guess what issues an appellant is appealing, that is not enough for meaningful review." Commonwealth v. Dowling, 778 A.2d 683, 686 (Pa. Super. 2001) (citation omitted). "A Concise Statement which is too vague to allow the court to identify the issues raised on appeal is the functional equivalent of no Concise Statement." Id. at 686-87. We have stated:

If Appellant wants to preserve a claim that the evidence was insufficient, then the 1925(b) statement needs to specify the element or elements upon which the evidence was insufficient. This Court can then analyze the element or elements on appeal. [Where a] 1925(b) statement [ ] does not specify the allegedly unproven elements[, ] ... the sufficiency issue is waived [on appeal].

Commonwealth v. Williams, 959 A.2d 1252, 1257 (Pa. Super. 2008).

         Here, although the trial court has advocated waiver, we find that the two sufficiency issues Appellant raises on appeal were not so vaguely stated in the Rule 1925(b) statement so as to compel waiver. For example, in his first issue, Appellant's assertion reflects his first question on appeal:

The evidence at trial was insufficient to support [Appellant's] conviction of Count 3, Patronizing a victim of sexual servitude [18 Pa.C.S. § 3013], where the government failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that [Appellant] engaged in a sex act or performance with another individual knowing that the act or performance is the result of the person being a victim of human trafficking?

Appellant's Rule 1925(b) Statement, 7/20/18, at 1.

         While Appellant's Rule 1925(b) statement may be flawed, the trial court - after discussing waiver - has provided a thoughtful analysis rejecting the sufficiency claims on the merits. On this record, we, like the trial court, proceed to review the merits of Appellant's sufficiency claims.

         It is well-settled that:

The standard we apply in reviewing the sufficiency of the evidence is whether viewing all the evidence admitted at trial in the light most favorable to the verdict winner, there is sufficient evidence to enable the fact-finder to find every element of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. In applying the above test, we may not weigh the evidence and substitute our judgment for the fact-finder. In addition, we note that the facts and circumstances established by the Commonwealth need not preclude every possibility of innocence. Any doubts regarding a defendant's guilt may be resolved by the fact-finder 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. The Commonwealth may sustain its burden of proving every element of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt by means of wholly circumstantial evidence. Moreover, in applying the above test, the entire record must ...

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.