Judges Opinions, — September 28, 2022 11:04 — 0 Comments

Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Christopher Coleman

Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Christopher Coleman

 

Criminal Action-Law-Driving Under the Influence-Sentencing-Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition-Summary Offenses-Doctrine of Merger-Exgungement

 

Christopher Coleman (“Defendant”) was accepted by the Court into the Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (“ARD”) program with regard to Driving Under the Influence charges with a condition that the charged summary offenses merged for sentencing purposes.  Defendant successfully completed the ARD program, after which the charges were dismissed.  Following the lodging of a Petition for Expungement, while the DUI offenses were expunged from Defendant’s record, the summary offenses remained upon Defendant’s record.  Defendant filed a second Motion for Expungement of the summary offenses, which the Commonwealth opposed, asserting that Defendant is not entitled automatically to expungement of the companion summary offenses to which he pled guilty when admitted into the ARD program.

 

  1. While the Commonwealth chooses whether to offer ARD placement to a criminal suspect, the court determines the conditions of that placement.

 

  1. The court determines whether and to what extent charges merge with one another.

 

  1. The doctrine of merger applies to summary offenses.

 

  1. Where crimes merge for sentencing purposes, the court may sentence a defendant only upon the higher graded offense.

 

  1. The court may not impose additional sentences for crimes that are lesser included offenses of the more serious offense.

 

  1. Since Defendant’s DUI offenses were expunged, the summary convictions also must be expunged because the sentencing Court indicated that those convictions merged for purposes of sentencing.

 

L.C.C.C.P. No. CP-38-CR-0001275-2010, Opinion by Bradford H. Charles, Judge, December 7, 2021.

 

 

 

IN THE COURT OF COMMON PLEAS LEBANON COUNTY

PENNSYLVANIA

 

CRIMINAL DIVISION

 

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA:    

                                                                                    :

  1.                                                          :      No.           CP-38-CR-1275-2010                                                                                                :          

CHRISTOPHER COLEMAN                                :          

                                                                                    :

AND NOW, this XX day of November 2021, in accordance with the attached Opinion, the Defendant’s Petition for Expungement is GRANTED.

 

BY THE COURT:

 

                                                J.

BRADFORD H. CHARLES

BHC/oeh

 

cc:        Court Administration (Order only)

District Attorney’s Office

Melissa Higbee, Esq.// 1504 Brookhollow Dr., Ste. 112 Santa Ana, CA 92705

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

IN THE COURT OF COMMON PLEAS LEBANON COUNTY

PENNSYLVANIA

 

CRIMINAL DIVISION

 

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA:    

                                                                                    :

  1.                                                          :      No.           CP-38-CR-1275-2020                                                                                                :          

CHRISTOPHER COLEMAN                                :          

                                                                                    :

 

APPEARANCES

Steven Gorman, Esquire                              For Plaintiff

DISTRICT ATTORNEY’S OFFICE       

 

Melissa Higbee, Esquire                               For Defendant

HIGBEE & ASSOCIATES

 

OPINION BY CHARLES, J., November XX, 2021

The Defendant in this case wishes to confirm the expungement of Summary Offenses that were deemed to merge with other charges for which he successfully completed ARD.  The Commonwealth opposes the expungement because it does not believe that ARD placement should be deemed to expunge accompanying Summary Offenses.  This Court concludes that the doctrine of merger – and not the effect of ARD – controls our decision.  Because of this, we will grant the Defendant’s Motion to Expunge.

 

  1. FACTS

On July 25, 2010, a green Toyota Camry nearly struck a patrol vehicle belonging to Patrolman Bradley Hain (hereafter “Ptlm. Hain”) of North Cornwall Township Police Department. Ptlm. Hain conducted a traffic stop on the Camry, and the sole occupant was identified as Christopher Coleman, (hereafter “Defendant”) then Eighteen years old. Upon approaching Defendant, Ptlm. Hain observed the strong odor of an alcoholic beverage. Defendant later admitted to Ptlm. Hain that he had consumed beer in the vehicle.

Defendant was placed under arrest under suspicion of Driving Under the Influence (DUI) and was transported to Good Samaritan Hospital. He consented to having his blood drawn and the results indicated that his blood alcohol content was 0.191%. Defendant was charged with two counts of DUI[1] and the summary offenses of Minor Prohibited/Operating W/Alcohol[2] and Purch Etc Alcoh Bev By A Minor[3].

Defendant applied and was accepted into the Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD) program on October 6, 2010 before The Honorable John C. Tylwalk, P.J.. Upon granting the motion for ARD, a condition was imposed that the summary offenses would merge for sentencing purposes. The Commonwealth did not object to the merger decision.

Defendant successfully completed the ARD program, and on January 11, 2012, The Honorable John C. Tylwalk, P.J. dismissed the charges pursuant to Pa.R.Crim.P. 319. Thereafter, Defendant filed a petition for expungement on December 12, 2014. The Commonwealth filed a response on January 15, 2015, wherein it did not object to the expungement of both DUI offenses, but objected to the expungement of the two summary offenses. The DUI charges were subsequently expunged from Defendant’s record, but both of the summary offenses remained.

This matter was reopened on June 11, 2021 when Defendant filed another motion for expungement of the summary offenses. The District Attorney opposed the expungement of the summary offenses, stating Defendant is not automatically entitled to expungement because he pled guilty to the summary offenses at the time he was admitted into the ARD program. This Court directed the parties to file briefs on the circumstances in which summary offenses can or must be expunged in the context of a related DUI offense. Those briefs have now been received. We issue this Opinion in support of our conclusion that the summary offenses in question must be expunged because they merged with the DUI offenses upon Defendant’s completion of ARD.

 

  1. DISCUSSION

While the Commonwealth chooses whether or not to offer ARD placement to a criminal suspect, it is the Court that determines the conditions of the program itself.  Commonwealth v. Lebo, 713 A.2d 1158 (Pa.Super. 1998).  As with criminal sentencing, trial courts determine whether or to what extent charges should be deemed to merge with one another.  See, e.g. Commonwealth v. Jenkins, 96 A.3d 1055, 1059 (Pa.Super. 2014). In this case, the Honorable John C. Tylwalk, P.J. of this Court determined that certain Summary Offenses should be deemed to merge with the Defendant’s misdemeanor DUI offenses.  When Judge Tylwalk announced his decision in open Court, the Commonwealth did not object, nor did the Commonwealth file an appeal from the merger decision within thirty (30) days after it was rendered.  We consider this Court’s decision regarding merger to be within this Court’s discretion and final.

Finding that the conditions imposed on Defendant were lawful, we turn to the expungement petition before us. We find that the doctrine of merger applies to the summary offenses. Indeed, “Where crimes merge for sentencing purposes, the court may sentence the defendant only on the higher graded offense.” 42 Pa.C.S.A. § 9765. Moreover, this Commonwealth has long held that the trial court may not impose additional sentences for crimes that are lesser-included offenses of the more serious offense. Commonwealth ex rel. Shaddock v. Ashe, 17 A.2d 190 (Pa. 1941); see further, Commonwealth v. McCusker, 70 A.2d 273 (Pa. 1950); Commonwealth ex rel. Russo v. Ashe, 142 A. 317 (Pa. 1928); Commonwealth v. Phillips, 257 A.2d 81 (Pa. 1969)(The principle of merger prevents double punishment for a lesser offense.).

In Shaddock, supra, the defendant entered a guilty plea and was sentenced for three separate charges. The defendant in Shaddock argued that his sentence was unlawful because all three crimes arose from the same transaction, and thus only one sentence should have been imposed. Id. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that an additional sentence could not be imposed on the defendant, stating, “It follows that [the defendant], having been sentenced for the most serious crime charged in the indictment, could not also be sentenced for the lesser crimes which were only constituents of the major felony.” Id. Thus, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that an additional sentence cannot be imposed for a lesser-offense when it was merely a “constituent of the major felony”.

Here, Defendant petitioned for expungement on December 12, 2014. The District Attorney did not oppose the expungement of the DUI offenses, and those offenses were subsequently expunged. Since the DUI offenses were expunged, and because the summary offenses were ordered to merge for sentencing purposes, the summary offenses must also be expunged. Defendant’s sentence was effective at the time in which he completed the ARD program, and the related summary offenses were merely constituents of the DUI misdemeanors. To deny Defendant’s petition would not only contradict the lawful condition imposed on Defendant, but it would also overturn precedent established by our appellate courts for over eighty years. We will therefore grant Defendant’s petition.

 

 

 

[1] 75 Pa.C.S.A. § 3802A1; 75 Pa.C.S.A. § 3802E.

[2] 75 Pa.C.S.A. § 3718A

[3] 18 Pa.C.S.A. § 6308A

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