Com. v. Bullock

CourtSuperior Court of Pennsylvania
Writing for the CourtBENDER, PANELLA and MONTEMURO JJ.
Citation868 A.2d 516
PartiesCOMMONWEALTH of Pennsylvania, Appellee, v. Matthew BULLOCK, Appellant.
Decision Date14 January 2005

868 A.2d 516

COMMONWEALTH of Pennsylvania, Appellee,
v.
Matthew BULLOCK, Appellant

Superior Court of Pennsylvania.

Submitted December 8, 2004.

Filed January 14, 2005.

Reargument Denied March 18, 2005.


868 A.2d 520
Albert J. Flora, Jr., Wilkes-Barre, for appellant

David W. Lupas, Asst. Dist. Atty., Wilkes-Barre, for Com., appellee.

BEFORE: BENDER, PANELLA and MONTEMURO1 JJ.

OPINION BY MONTEMURO, J.:

¶ 1 This case presents an issue of first impression challenging the constitutionality of Pennsylvania's fetal homicide statute, the Crimes Against the Unborn Child Act, 18 Pa.C.S.A. § 2601 et seq. For the reasons set forth below, we affirm.

¶ 2 On January 6, 2003, Appellant Matthew Bullock, accompanied by his father, arrived at the Wilkes-Barre City Police Department and informed the officer at the front window that he had strangled his girlfriend, Lisa Hargrave, at his apartment, and gave police a key to the residence. Officers discovered the decomposed body of Ms. Hargrave in a bedroom closet. Her hands, feet, and mouth were bound with 2" wide masking tape. At the time of her death, Ms. Hargrave was 22 to 23 weeks pregnant. Following an autopsy, the coroner determined Ms. Hargrave's cause of death to be strangulation by history,2 and the male fetus' cause of death to be "[a]sphyxia due to the death of the mother by homicide." (N.T., 10/20/03, at 148). In both cases, the coroner listed the manner of death as homicide.

¶ 3 While the search of his apartment was being conducted, Appellant gave an oral and written statement to police detailing the circumstances surrounding the

868 A.2d 521
death of Ms. Hargrave. He told them that he and Ms. Hargrave consumed alcohol and cocaine at a party on New Year's Eve, and then returned to the apartment, where they argued about Ms. Hargrave's excessive drug use. Appellant maintained that at some point he blacked out, and then awoke to find himself on top of Ms. Hargrave strangling her to a point where she almost lost consciousness. Because he was fearful that she might call the police, Appellant wrapped her hands and feet with masking tape, and left the room. When he could still hear her yelling and struggling to break free, he returned, taped her mouth shut, and then left the room again. Appellant stated that he could still hear her breathing heavily and struggling to break free. Therefore, he returned to the bedroom once more, and strangled her until she stopped breathing. When Ms. Hargrave began to turn cold, he panicked and dragged her body into the closet

¶ 4 Appellant was subsequently charged with the murders of both Ms. Hargrave and her unborn child.3 Appellant filed two pretrial motions, one challenging the constitutionality of the Crimes Against the Unborn Child Act, and the other seeking suppression of his statements to police. On September 4, 2003, less than three weeks before trial was scheduled to begin, Appellant also filed a Notice of Claim of Mental Infirmity, which the Commonwealth sought to strike as untimely. Following a hearing, the trial court denied Appellant's pretrial motions and the Commonwealth's motion to strike. On October 28, 2003, a jury returned a verdict of guilty but mentally ill of third degree murder in the death of Lisa Hargrave, and guilty but mentally ill of voluntary manslaughter in the death of the unborn child. On November 17, 2003, Appellant was sentenced to 15 to 40 years' imprisonment for the murder, and a consecutive 5 to 20 year term for the voluntary manslaughter. Appellant's timely post sentence motions were denied by Order dated February 10, 2004, and this appeal followed.

¶ 5 Appellant raises four issues on appeal challenging (1) the constitutionality of the Crimes Against the Unborn Child Act, 18 Pa.C.S.A. § 2601 et seq.; (2) the trial court's jury instruction for the crime of voluntary manslaughter of an unborn child; (3) the Commonwealth's failure to prove the corpus delicti of the crimes charged; and (4) the aggregate sentence of 20 to 60 years' imprisonment. For the reasons set forth below, we affirm.

¶ 6 Appellant's primary issue is his constitutional challenge to the Commonwealth's fetal homicide statute. Enacted in October of 1997, the Crimes Against the Unborn Child Act, 18 Pa.C.S.A. § 2601 et seq., extends criminal liability for the murder, voluntary manslaughter, or aggravated assault of an unborn child. Appellant contends, however, that the Act violates substantive due process because it is vague and overbroad, and equal protection because it exempts female perpetrators. We disagree.

¶ 7 When reviewing the constitutionality of a statute, we begin with the "strong presumption that legislative enactments do not violate the constitution." Commonwealth v. MacPherson, 561 Pa. 571, 752 A.2d 384, 388 (2000). Thus, the challenger of the Act bears a heavy burden of proving that the statute "clearly, palpably and plainly violates constitutional rights." Id. (internal quotations omitted).

¶ 8 Appellant was convicted of voluntary manslaughter of an unborn child, 18 Pa.C.S.A § 2605(a)(1).

868 A.2d 522
A person who kills an unborn child without lawful justification commits voluntary manslaughter of an unborn child if at the time of the killing he is acting under a sudden and intense passion resulting from serious provocation by: ... the mother of the unborn child whom the actor endeavors to kill, but he negligently or accidentally causes the death of the unborn child[.]

Id.4 In defining "unborn child," the statute refers to the meaning given that term in the Abortion Control Act, 18 Pa.C.S.A. § 3201 et seq., as "an individual of the species homo sapiens from fertilization until live birth." Id. at § 3203. Appellant's first constitutional challenge focuses on this definition. He argues that because the Act fails to include a viability element, it is unconstitutionally vague as no jury would be able to determine when the act of the defendant caused the death of the unborn child.

¶ 9 When considering a void for vagueness challenge, we focus on the conduct prohibited by the statute, which must be explained with "`sufficient definiteness that ordinary people can understand what conduct is prohibited and in a manner that does not encourage arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement.'" Commonwealth v. Mikulan, 504 Pa. 244, 470 A.2d 1339, 1342 (1983) (quoting Kolender v. Lawson, 461 U.S. 352, 357, 103 S.Ct. 1855, 75 L.Ed.2d 903 (1983)). Here, it is clear that the legislature intended to protect unborn children from the moment of fertilization. The viability of the fetus, that is, its likelihood of survival outside of the mother's body, is irrelevant. Indeed, viability, in a broader sense, becomes important only in determining whether it was the act of the defendant which caused the death of the unborn child rather than some other factor. As our Supreme Court noted in Commonwealth v. Booth, 564 Pa. 228, 766 A.2d 843, 850 (2001), "[t]oday it is understood that a mother and her unborn child are separate and distinct entities, and that medicine is generally able to prove the corpus delicti of the homicide of an unborn child." (internal citations omitted). As always, the burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt this causation element is on the Commonwealth. Clearly, a death occurs when the embryo or fetus no longer has the capacity to thrive or grow. See Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary 289 (8th ed.1981) (defining death as "a permanent cessation of all vital functions."). When an act of the defendant has caused the death, he may be held criminally liable.5 Therefore, Appellant's void for vagueness challenge fails.

¶ 10 Appellant raises a second, related due process claim, arguing that the statute is overbroad because "a person could be held criminally liable for causing the destruction of a non-living organism." (Appellant's Brief at 17). Citing the United States Supreme Court decisions in Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113, 93 S.Ct. 705, 35 L.Ed.2d 147 (1973) and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, 505 U.S. 833, 112 S.Ct.

868 A.2d 523
2791, 120 L.Ed.2d 674 (1992), Appellant contends that human life does not exist unless an organism is "living;" because the statute fails to define what constitutes a "living" organism, it is overbroad

¶ 11 Appellant's reliance on Roe and Casey is misplaced. Although the Roe Court held that a state has a legitimate interest in protecting a fetus from the time of viability such that it may regulate abortions, it also held that the state "has still another important and legitimate interest in protecting the potentiality of human life." Roe, supra at 162, 93 S.Ct. 705 (emphasis original). The Casey Court reaffirmed "the principle that the State has legitimate interests from the outset of the pregnancy in protecting the health of the woman and the life of the fetus that may become a child." Casey, supra at 846, 112 S.Ct. 2791. As the Court further explained,

The woman's liberty [to have some freedom to terminate her pregnancy] is not so unlimited ... that from the outset the State cannot show its concern for the life of the unborn, and at a later point in fetal development the State's interest in life has sufficient force so that the right of the woman to terminate the pregnancy can be restricted.

Id. at 869, 112 S.Ct. 2791.

¶ 12 The Act sub judice imposes criminal liability only on those who, without legal justification, cause the death of an unborn child. Therefore, if it can be proven through medical evidence that the embryo or fetus was not "living" prior to the precipitating act, the defendant cannot be held criminally liable. Accordingly, we find that the statute comports with the requirements of due process.

¶ 13 In State v. Merrill, 450 N.W.2d 318 (Minn.1990), cert. denied, 496 U.S. 931, 110 S.Ct. 2633, 110 L.Ed.2d 653 (1990), a virtually identical issue was raised before the Supreme Court of Minnesota with respect to that state's fetal homicide statute. The appellant had been indicted...

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31 practice notes
  • Com. v. Bullock
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
    • December 27, 2006
    ...motions were denied. After a unanimous panel of the Superior Court affirmed in a published opinion, see Commonwealth v. Bullock, 868 A.2d 516 (Pa.Super.2005), this Court granted discretionary review. See Commonwealth v. Bullock, 584 Pa. 705, 885 A.2d 40 (2005) (per curiam). Only the judgmen......
  • Com. v. Matroni
    • United States
    • Superior Court of Pennsylvania
    • April 19, 2007
    ...a claim of inadequate consideration of mitigating factors does not raise a substantial question for our review." Commonwealth v. Bullock, 868 A.2d 516, 529 (Pa.Super.2005) (citing Commonwealth v. Wellor, 731 A.2d 152 (Pa.Super.1999); Commonwealth v. Bershad, 693 A.2d 1303 (Pa.Super.1997); C......
  • Commonwealth v. Radecki, No. 1558 WDA 2016
    • United States
    • Pennsylvania Superior Court
    • February 21, 2018
    ...inadequate when it "contains incantations of statutory provisions and pronouncements of conclusions of law[.]" Commonwealth v. Bullock , 868 A.2d 516, 528 (Pa. Super. 2005) (citation omitted).Here, Appellant asserts in his Rule 2119(f) statement:[T]he [trial] court imposed both aggravated r......
  • Lawrence v. State, No. 05-05-01391-CR.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Texas
    • December 27, 2006
    ...are protected from the moment of fertilization"), appeal dism'd, 85 Ohio St.3d 1477, 709 N.E.2d 849 (Ohio 1999); Commonwealth v. Bullock, 868 A.2d 516, 522 (Pa.Super.2005) (holding Pennsylvania Legislature clearly intended to protect unborn children when enacting voluntary manslaughter stat......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
32 cases
  • Com. v. Bullock
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
    • December 27, 2006
    ...motions were denied. After a unanimous panel of the Superior Court affirmed in a published opinion, see Commonwealth v. Bullock, 868 A.2d 516 (Pa.Super.2005), this Court granted discretionary review. See Commonwealth v. Bullock, 584 Pa. 705, 885 A.2d 40 (2005) (per curiam). Only the judgmen......
  • Com. v. Matroni
    • United States
    • Superior Court of Pennsylvania
    • April 19, 2007
    ...a claim of inadequate consideration of mitigating factors does not raise a substantial question for our review." Commonwealth v. Bullock, 868 A.2d 516, 529 (Pa.Super.2005) (citing Commonwealth v. Wellor, 731 A.2d 152 (Pa.Super.1999); Commonwealth v. Bershad, 693 A.2d 1303 (Pa.Super.1997); C......
  • Commonwealth v. Radecki, No. 1558 WDA 2016
    • United States
    • Pennsylvania Superior Court
    • February 21, 2018
    ...inadequate when it "contains incantations of statutory provisions and pronouncements of conclusions of law[.]" Commonwealth v. Bullock , 868 A.2d 516, 528 (Pa. Super. 2005) (citation omitted).Here, Appellant asserts in his Rule 2119(f) statement:[T]he [trial] court imposed both aggravated r......
  • Lawrence v. State, No. 05-05-01391-CR.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Texas
    • December 27, 2006
    ...are protected from the moment of fertilization"), appeal dism'd, 85 Ohio St.3d 1477, 709 N.E.2d 849 (Ohio 1999); Commonwealth v. Bullock, 868 A.2d 516, 522 (Pa.Super.2005) (holding Pennsylvania Legislature clearly intended to protect unborn children when enacting voluntary manslaughter stat......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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