Com. v. Carroll, 203 MDA 2007.

CourtSuperior Court of Pennsylvania
Citation936 A.2d 1148
Docket NumberNo. 203 MDA 2007.,203 MDA 2007.
PartiesCOMMONWEALTH of Pennsylvania, Appellant v. Joseph F. CARROLL, Appellee.
Decision Date19 November 2007

Charles A. Bressi, Jr. and James P. Goodman, Asst. Dist. Attys. for Com., appellant.

Ronald R. Pellish, Pottsville, for appellee.



¶ 1 This case is a Commonwealth appeal from the order granting Appellee's pretrial petition for writ of habeas corpus. We reverse the order and remand the case for trial.

¶ 2 Following a fatal vehicle accident, Appellee was charged with numerous offenses. After a preliminary hearing, the charges were held for court. Appellee then filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus. The habeas court granted the petition and dismissed the charges. The Commonwealth filed this appeal.

Offenses and Legal Principles

¶ 3 We first review the offenses with which Appellee was charged.

§ 3367. Racing on highways

(a) Definitions.—As used in this section the following words and phrases shall have the meanings given to them in this subsection:

"Drag race." The operation of two or more vehicles from a point side by side at accelerating speeds in a competitive attempt to outdistance each other, or the operation of one or more vehicles over a common selected course, from the same point to the same point, for the purpose of comparing the relative speeds or power of acceleration of the vehicle or vehicles within a certain distance or time limit.

"Race." The use of one or more vehicles in an attempt to outgain, outdistance or prevent another vehicle from passing, to arrive at a given destination ahead of another vehicle or vehicles, or to test the physical stamina or endurance of drivers over long distance driving routes.

(b) General rule.—No person shall drive a vehicle on a highway in any race, speed competition or contest, drag race or acceleration contest, test of physical endurance, exhibition of speed or acceleration, or for the purpose of making a speed record, and no person shall in any manner participate in any such race, competition, contest, test or exhibition.

75 Pa.C.S.A. § 3367.

§ 3309. Driving on roadways laned for traffic

Whenever any roadway has been divided into two or more clearly marked lanes for traffic the following rules in addition to all others not inconsistent therewith shall apply:

(1) Driving within single lane.—A vehicle shall be driven as nearly as practicable entirely within a single lane and shall not be moved from the lane until the driver has first ascertained that the movement can be made with safety.

75 Pa.C.S.A. § 3309(1).

§ 3361. Driving vehicle at safe speed

No person shall drive a vehicle at a speed greater than is reasonable and prudent under the conditions and having regard to the actual and potential hazards then existing, nor at a speed greater than will permit the driver to bring his vehicle to a stop within the assured clear distance ahead. Consistent with the foregoing, every person shall drive at a safe and appropriate speed when approaching and crossing an intersection or railroad grade crossing, when approaching and going around curve, when approaching a hill crest, when traveling upon any narrow or winding roadway and when special hazards exist with respect to pedestrians or other traffic or by reason of weather or highway conditions.

75 Pa.C.S.A. § 3361.

§ 3714. Careless driving

(a) General rule.—Any person who drives a vehicle in careless disregard for the safety of persons or property is guilty of careless driving, a summary offense.

75 Pa.C.S.A. § 3714(a).

§ 3736. Reckless driving

(a) General rule.—Any person who drives any vehicle in willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property is guilty of reckless driving.

75 Pa.C.S.A. § 3736(a).

¶ 4 The phrase "willful and wanton" means the driver grossly deviates from ordinary prudence and creates a substantial risk of injury. Commonwealth v. Greenberg, 885 A.2d 1025, 1027, 1028 (Pa.Super.2005). The phrase also envisions a callous disregard for the danger created by the driver's conduct. Id.

§ 3732. Homicide by vehicle

(a) Offense.—Any person who recklessly or with gross negligence causes the death of another person while engaged in the violation of any law of this Commonwealth or municipal ordinance applying to the operation or use of a vehicle or to the regulation of traffic except section 3802 (relating to driving under influence of alcohol or controlled substance) is guilty of homicide by vehicle, a felony of the third degree, when the violation is the cause of death.

75 Pa.C.S.A. § 3732.

¶ 5 A person acts recklessly with respect to an element of an offense by consciously disregarding a substantial and unjustifiable risk that the element exists or will result from the person's conduct. 18 Pa. C.S.A. § 302(b)(3). The risk must be of such a nature and degree that, in light of the circumstances known to the person and the nature and intent of the conduct in question, the disregard of that risk involves a gross deviation from the standard of conduct of a reasonable person. Id. The term "grossly negligent" is equivalent to the term "reckless." Commonwealth v Huggins, 575 Pa. 395, 836 A.2d 862, 868 (2003).

§ 2504. Involuntary manslaughter

(a) General rule.—A person is guilty of involuntary manslaughter when as a direct result of the doing of an unlawful act in a reckless or grossly negligent manner, or the doing of a lawful act in a reckless or grossly negligent manner, he causes the death of another person.

18 Pa.C.S.A. § 2504(a).

§ 2701. Simple assault

(a) Offense defined.—A person is guilty of assault if he:

* * * * * *

(2) negligently causes bodily injury to another with a deadly weapon;

18 Pa.C.S.A. § 2701(a)(2).

§ 2705. Recklessly endangering another person

A person commits a misdemeanor of the second degree if he recklessly engages in conduct which places or may place another person in danger of death or serious bodily injury.

18 Pa.C.S.A. § 2705.

¶ 6 In the criminal information, the Commonwealth cited the various summary traffic offenses (i.e., racing, driving on roadways laned for traffic, driving at safe speed, careless driving, and reckless driving) as the underlying acts which, in turn, were part of the misdemeanor and felony counts. For example, the summary traffic offenses were alleged as the conduct constituting a "violation of any law" which violation is an element of homicide by vehicle. See 75 Pa.C.S.A. § 3732; Criminal Information, 05/08/06, at Count 1. Similarly, each vehicle summary offense was alleged as "an unlawful act" done in a "reckless or grossly negligent manner" as part of involuntary manslaughter. See 18 Pa. C.S.A. § 2504; Criminal Information, 05/08/06, at Count 2. Also, the traffic summaries were set forth as the negligent conduct causing bodily injury in the simple assault count and as the reckless conduct in the charge of recklessly endangering another person (REAP). See 18 Pa.C.S.A. §§ 2701(a)(2), 2705; Criminal Information, 05/08/06, at Counts 3-6.

¶ 7 Also relevant to our analysis are several principles concerning habeas corpus petitions. A petition for writ of habeas corpus is the correct method for a defendant to test whether the Commonwealth has, before trial, established a prima facie case. Commonwealth v. Karlson, 449 Pa.Super. 378, 674 A.2d 249, 251 (1996). To demonstrate that a prima facie case exists, the Commonwealth must produce evidence of every material element of the charged offense(s) as well as the defendant's complicity therein. Commonwealth v. Fowlin, 450 Pa.Super. 489, 676 A.2d 665, 673 (1996). In an effort to meet its burden, the Commonwealth may utilize the evidence presented at the preliminary hearing and also may submit additional proof. Id.

¶ 8 Proof beyond a reasonable doubt is not required at the habeas stage, but the Commonwealth's evidence must be of such that, if accepted as true, it would justify a trial court in submitting the case to a jury. Id. Additionally, in the course of deciding a habeas petition, a court must view the evidence and its reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the Commonwealth. Id. Suspicion and conjecture, however, are unacceptable. Id.

¶ 9 On appeal, a trial court's decision to grant or deny a petition for a writ of habeas corpus will not be reversed absent an abuse of discretion. Karlson, 674 A.2d at 251. An abuse of discretion is not a mere error in judgment. Commonwealth v. Hardy, 918 A.2d 766, 776 (Pa.Super.2007). Instead, it involves bias, prejudice, partiality, ill-will, manifest unreasonableness, or a misapplication of the law. Id. In contrast, a proper exercise of discretion conforms to the law and the facts of record. Id.


¶ 10 Viewed most favorably to the Commonwealth, the evidence from the preliminary hearing and the habeas hearing reveals the following facts. Appellee and several friends were traveling along Route 61 North in three vehicles. The road was wet; the evening was misty. Appellee was driving one of the three cars. At various points along the way, all three drivers would pass each other and then move back into their original lane. Additionally, Appellee and at least one of the other two drivers were, at times, traveling well beyond the speed limit, apparently reaching eighty-five miles per hour.

¶ 11 Matthew Pritchard, the driver of one of the vehicles, testified that Appellee and he were "messing around" as they drove. N.T., 07/12/06, at 13. When questioned by the Commonwealth, Pritchard's testimony also included the following exchange:

Q.: Okay. And that messing around, tell us what you mean by messing around?

A.: Having, like having the front of the car ahead of the other one.

Q.: You were trying to have . . . You were each trying to have your car —

A.: Yeah.

Q.: — ahead of each other?

A.: Yes.

N.T., 07/12/06, at 13, 14.

¶ 12 Eventually, the three...

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