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Posted by on Sep 25, 2018 in Criminal, PCRA | 18 comments

Com v. Crispell: PCRA Petitions may be amended to add new claims, even if the new claims fall outside of the “one year” rule

In an otherwise mundane PCRA affirmance, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania ruled unanimously that a PCRA petitioner may move to amend his petition to add an additional claim, even if that claim could not be independently brought as a second petition where a second petition would be time barred.

PCRA petitions must normally be filed within one year of final adjudication. Crispell filed his petition timely, but then obtained information tending to implicate a Brady violation after his filing. While more than a year had passed, at that time, since his final adjudication, Crispell sought leave to amend his PCRA petition to include this new claim. The PCRA court believed it lacked jurisdiction to entertain this claim. Our Supreme Court reversed, with Justice Wecht writing for the Court. The claim was permitted as an amendment, as only petitions are time-barred after a year, not potential amendments to petitions.

Amendments should be considered under the Rules of Criminal Procedure. “PCRA courts are invested with discretion to permit the amendment of a pending, timely-filed post-conviction petition,” and amendments should be liberally allowed to aid the pursuit of “substantial justice.”

The case was remanded for consideration of whether the Brady claim should be allowed as a timely amendment to the case.


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Posted by on Sep 25, 2018 in Criminal, Fourth Amendment, Search | 21 comments

Com v. Wilmer: Community Caretaking exception to warrant requirement lasts until officer is done rendering assistance

A party at a sorority house led to a drunk college kid on the roof of the house, stumbling about, looking as though he were about to fall off the roof. While the “community caretaking” exception to the warrant requirement of the Fourth Amendment justified the police officer’s initial entry into the home in an attempt to keep the young man from falling off the roof, it did not justify the officer’s subsequent re-entry into the house to search the rooms of the home for drugs. The Troopers’ concerns were apparently not unfounded, as the young man ultimately fell off the roof during the time it took the Troopers to get upstairs in an attempt to safely bring him down.

In Com v. Wilmer, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania voted 6-1 that the officer had gone beyond the scope of the caretaking doctrine in his actions, and the search was suppressed.

Majority by Donohue: An officer must do no more than reasonably necessary to determine whether someone needs assistance and to provide that assistance

Citing to scholarly works on Search and Seizure as well as to high court decisions from a number of other jurisdictions, Justice Donohue explains that the community caretaking doctrine is “strictly circumscribed by the exigencies which justify its initiation.” The officer who enters a home must do “no more than is reasonably necessary to ascertain whether someone is in need of assistance and to provide that assistance.” (quoting Wayne LaFave, Search and Seizure). “In other words,” the majority explains, “the right of entry into the private dwelling by law enforcement officers terminates when either the necessary emergency assistance has been provided or it has been confirmed that no one inside needs emergency assistance.”

The Court goes further, explaining that the officers “were required to leave the premises immediately” once the young man had fallen off the roof. Their failure to actually vacate the premises, and the decision to re-enter the premises later, invalidated the subsequent search.

Dissent by Mundy: The requirement to leave is a new requirement

Justice Mundy dissents, arguing that the majority has “created a new requirement that the moment the emergency is abated, any police presence must independently satisfy a separate Fourth Amedment exception, or they must leave the premises.” Justice Mundy would have affirmed the Superior Court in finding that the re-entry was a continuation of the reason the police were there in the first place, and thus, was justified under the Fourth Amendment.

Conclusion: The Community Caretaking doctrine is narrowly limited

This is the second case in a year on the community caretaking doctrine, and the second time the Court has taken a step to limit its scope. The Court has made clear in both decisions that an individual’s statement that they do not need assistance should bring an end to the police encounter absent another justification for remaining on the scene. In this case, a young woman in one of the rooms “lifted her hand” as though to indicate stop to the Troopers, who nonetheless continued searching the rooms without justification. The Court has laid down two cases now to support defense counsel in limiting the scope of these searches.

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Posted by on Mar 2, 2018 in Civil, Statutory Interpretation, UTPCPL | 17 comments

Danganan v. Guardian Protective Services: UTPCPL violation need not be in Pennsylvania

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled unanimously in Danganan v. Guardian Protective Services that a violation of the Unfair Trade Practices Consumer Protection Law need not have occurred in Pennsylvania to be cognizable under the statute. This case was certified to SCOPA from the Third Circuit, meaning that the Third Circuit asked SCOPA to settle an unsettled question of Pennsylvania law so that the Federal Court could adjudicate the dispute. This case represents a relatively rare look into a unique aspect of our federalist judicial system.

Danganan hired Guardian Protective Services, which is a home security company based in Lancaster, Pennsylvania (home of relatively lax home defense) to monitor his house in Washington, D.C. (home of the world’s most secure house). The contract, which contained a choice of law clause for Pennsylvania, and which required an aggrieved party to file suit in the other party’s home jurisdiction, ended up going sour after Guardian refused to terminate it when Danganan moved to California in the middle of the contract. Danganan filed a putative class action against Guardian in Pennsylvania, and Guardian removed the case to federal court based on diversity jurisdiction. (More on this in the conclusion, below). The Third Circuit certified the question to SCOPA of whether the UTPCPL governs conduct outside of Pennsylvania.

Majority by CJ Saylor: The UTPCPL prohibits unfair trade practices wherever they occur

Writing for the unanimous Court, the Chief Justice rules that the UTPCPL (which desperately needs a better acronym) holds that there is “no geographic limitation or residency requirement” in the text of the UTPCPL. In addition, the UTPCPL is “remedial legislation”—that is, legislation addressed to a perceived problem which the legislature hopes to curb. The law’s purpose is “fraud prevention,” and “equalizing the bargaining power of the seller and consumer, ensuring the fairness of market transactions, and preventing deception and exploitation.” The majority finds nothing in the law to limit the geographic reach of the statute, nor requiring some “sufficient nexus” between the plaintiff and the Commonwealth. The Supreme Court rejects Guardian’s argument that this holding will result in suits anywhere in the world against them based on UTPCPL, finding that “other legal precepts” such as jurisdiction and choice of law rules will limit the holding sufficiently.

With this conclusion, the Court declines to reach the second certified question from the Third Circuit—the interpretation of the choice of law provision of the contract. The question is mooted, and the case is returned to the Third Circuit.

Conclusion: How is this case in Federal Court?

This case will have a tremendous impact on future litigation, as it is now clear that the UTPCPL may be alleged against a Defendant where Pennsylvania law governs a contract, regardless of where the suit is actually brought, and regardless of where the acts giving rise to the claim occurred. Indeed, major companies may wish to carefully consider the wisdom of choice of law provisions naming Pennsylvania in future contracts.

The case has a jurisdictional curiosity of another type, however: the introduction mentions that Guardian removed the case to federal court based on diversity jurisdiction after being sued in Pennsylvania, where it is “headquartered.” This doesn’t make any sense, as 28 U.S.C. § 1441(b)(2) disallows removal based on diversity where any defendant is sued in its home state. Perhaps this will be explained in the ultimate holding of the Third Circuit or District Court in this matter—but it is not clear as to how any Federal Court has Subject Matter Jurisdiction over this case.

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Posted by on Feb 26, 2018 in Appellate, Criminal, Fourth Amendment, Harmless Error, Search | 17 comments

Com v. Fulton: Warrantless Cell Phone searches violate both Constitutions

In a relatively-unsurprising re-affirmation of recent SCOTUS caselaw, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania ruled 6-0 in Commonwealth v. Fulton that a warrantless search of a cell phone is unconstitutional and must be suppressed. SCOPA also ruled that the search violates Article I, section 8 of the Pennsylvania Constitution, which places this ruling out of the reach of any changes in Federal search jurisprudence in the future.

The Philadelphia Police (who once arrested one of the world’s first serial killers), after arresting I. Dean Fulton on gun charges, kept his cell phone separate from the other evidence and, without obtaining a warrant, monitored incoming calls to the phone, and answered them. After meeting with Heather Warrington, who called the phone looking to buy heroin, homicide detectives were able to discover a wealth of physical evidence which, along with Warrington’s testimony, led to Fulton’s conviction for a recent murder.

Majority by Donohue: Riley v. California already decided this, and we agree

In a unanimous opinion, Justice Donohue rules for the 6-0 majority that SCOTUS’s decision in Riley v. California controls the search of any cell phone, and that the officer’s actions in this case violated that ruling. The Court further rules that such a search is clearly unreasonable, and should be seen as a violation of the Commonwealth’s Constitution as well. Rejecting the Superior Court’s ruling that the “specific intrusion complained of” in the search in this case was “minimal,” the Court noted that Riley established a per se rule against cell phone searches without a warrant.

The more interesting analysis is that of harmless error. The Court notes that a witness’s testimony is not suppressed as often as physical evidence because a witness may choose to come forward on his own, and may not need to be discovered via a warrantless search. To put it differently, it is more likely that a witness may come forward and therefore be attenuated from the illegal search than discovered documents or hard evidence. A major factor to consider, then, is whether the witness would likely have come forward voluntarily or not.

In this case, the witness was a heroin addict, and unlikely to be cooperative with police or to come forward voluntarily. The police only discovered her existence by monitoring incoming calls to the cell phone, and were unlikely to discover her otherwise. Therefore, the witness’s testimony is suppressed, along with all the hard evidence discovered as a result of the search.

Conclusion: Could have been a summary reversal

The Court’s opinion is well-reasoned, and a minor victory for privacy advocates. This case was not difficult; SCOTUS caselaw was clear on the point, and the Commonwealth’s argument that a warrantless search that led to all of the evidence in the case was “harmless” was untenable. The Court probably could have issued a summary reversal for proceedings consistent with Riley, but perhaps wanted to flesh out the nature of “harmless error” in the context of a witness’s testimony.

Finally, worth noting, in footnote 19, the Court notes that Fulton did not litigate whether harmless error can be found by a court sua sponte, and leave the question “unsettled.” This invitation for a challenge to the Superior Court’s consideration of harmless error sua sponte should be noted by the appellate bar for future challenges.

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Posted by on Feb 26, 2018 in Round-ups | 18 comments

Federal Block to Gerrymandering Roundup 2-26-18

The fight over SCOPA’s gerrymandering decision continues. SCOTUS denied cert from the first decision, but now the issuance of the map is being challenged. Lyle Denniston of SCOTUSblog fame discusses the status of the challenge in the middle district. In response to the calls for impeachment of SCOPA justices, Constitution Daily offers this helpful piece on the efforts to impeach state judges throughout history. The Mercury (of Montgomery County) offers its views on the GOP’s long-term worries about the Court.

As always, feel free to send any articles or op-eds you’ve seen on the Court to

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