Com. v. Collins

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
Writing for the CourtZAPPALA, Justice.
Citation564 Pa. 144,764 A.2d 1056
Decision Date17 January 2001
PartiesCOMMONWEALTH of Pennsylvania, Appellee, v. Casey S. COLLINS, Appellant.

764 A.2d 1056
564 Pa. 144

COMMONWEALTH of Pennsylvania, Appellee,
v.
Casey S. COLLINS, Appellant

Supreme Court of Pennsylvania.

Submitted April 12, 2000.

Decided January 17, 2001.


F. Cortez Bell, III, Bell Silberblatt & Wood, Clearfield, for Casey S. Collins.

Ray Gricar, Dist. Atty., District Attorney's Office, for Com.

Before FLAHERTY, C.J., and ZAPPALA, CAPPY, CASTILLE, NIGRO, NEWMAN and SAYLOR, JJ.

OPINION

ZAPPALA, Justice.

We granted allocatur to determine whether the offenses of homicide by vehicle and homicide by vehicle while driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI) merge for sentencing purposes. Due to the mutually exclusive nature of the statutory elements, we hold that homicide by vehicle is not a lesser included offense of homicide by vehicle/DUI and therefore the Superior Court properly affirmed the imposition of separate sentences. Accordingly, we affirm.

764 A.2d 1057
The record establishes that on September 30, 1995, a motor vehicle accident occurred in which a passenger in the vehicle driven by Appellant was killed. Another passenger sustained serious injuries. Following a jury trial, Appellant was convicted of involuntary manslaughter, driving under the influence, homicide by vehicle, homicide by vehicle/DUI and recklessly endangering another person. He was also convicted of the summary offenses of careless driving, driving at an unsafe speed, and purchase, consumption, possession or transportation of liquor by a minor

The common pleas court sentenced Appellant to consecutive sentences of three to seven years imprisonment for homicide by vehicle/DUI, two to five years imprisonment for homicide by vehicle and one to two years imprisonment for recklessly endangering another person. The court found that the remaining offenses merged for purposes of sentencing. The court denied Appellant's post-trial motions that challenged, inter alia, the propriety of the sentence. It noted that it was bound by the Superior Court's decision in Commonwealth v. Neupert, 454 Pa.Super. 62, 684 A.2d 627 (1996), which held that sentences imposed for homicide by vehicle and homicide by vehicle/DUI do not merge. The Superior Court affirmed, holding that Commonwealth v. Neupert controlled and therefore the common pleas court did not abuse its discretion by imposing separate sentences.

The imposition of sentence is vested within the sound discretion of the trial court and will not be disturbed absent an abuse of that discretion. Commonwealth v. Vasquez, 560 Pa. 381, 744 A.2d 1280 (2000). Only the appellate court with initial jurisdiction over an appeal may review discretionary aspects of sentencing. 42 Pa.C.S. § 9781(f). The trial court's exercise of discretion, however, is not at issue here. Rather, the issue is whether the trial court erred as a matter of law in imposing an illegal sentence when it concluded that the sentences for homicide by vehicle and homicide by vehicle/DUI do not merge.1

Generally, the doctrine of merger is a rule of statutory construction designed to determine whether the legislature intended for the punishment of one offense to encompass that for another offense arising from the same criminal act or transaction. Commonwealth v. Anderson, 538 Pa. 574, 650 A.2d 20, 21 (1994). If the legislature were to tell us that crime A merges with crime B, the problem would not arise, for the legislative intent would be manifest. It is in cases where the legislature has not given direction that we must devise a rule. Id. Consistent application of an accepted merger analysis has proven to be a difficult task.

Our Court discussed the problem in Commonwealth v. Anderson. The issue there was whether the single criminal act of shooting a victim and critically injuring her could support multiple sentences for attempted murder and aggravated assault. We held that the operative inquiry in a merger analysis is whether the crimes involved are greater or lesser included offenses, i.e., whether the elements of the lesser included offense are a necessary subcomponent but not a sufficient component of elements of another crime. Id. at 23, (citing, Commonwealth v. Williams, 521 Pa. 556, 559 A.2d 25, 28 (1989)).2 In other words, we stated that the court must determine

764 A.2d 1058
whether the elements of the lesser crime are all included within the elements of the greater crime, and the greater offense includes at least one additional element which is different, in which case the sentences merge, or whether both crimes require proof of at least one element which the other does not, in which case the sentences do not merge.3

Id. at 24.

We concluded that the "act necessary to establish the offense of attempted murder—a substantial step towards an intentional killing—includes, indeed, coincides with, the same act which was necessary to establish the offense of aggravated assault—the infliction of serious bodily injury." Id. at 24. Likewise, the intent necessary to establish the offense of attempted murder was greater than and necessarily included the intent required for aggravated assault. Accordingly, we held that aggravated assault was a lesser included offense of attempted murder and the sentences imposed for the offenses must merge.

In applying Anderson to the facts of Commonwealth v. Neupert, the Superior Court examined the statutory elements of the same crimes at issue here. Homicide by vehicle is defined in section 3732 of the Vehicle Code, which provides:

Any person who unintentionally 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 3731 (relating to driving under influence of alcohol or controlled substance) is guilty of homicide by vehicle, a misdemeanor of the first degree, when the violation is the cause of death.

75 Pa.C.S. § 3732 (emphasis added).

Section 3735(a) of the Vehicle Code defines homicide by vehicle/DUI as follows:

Any person who unintentionally causes the death of another person as the result of a violation of section 3731 (relating to driving under influence of alcohol or controlled substance) and who is convicted of violating section 3731 is guilty of a felony of the second degree when the violation is the cause of death and the sentencing court shall order the person to serve a minimum term of imprisonment of not less than three years.

75 Pa.C.S. § 3735(a)(2) (emphasis added).

The Neupert court concluded that homicide by vehicle is not a lesser included offense of homicide by vehicle/DUI because homicide by vehicle requires the cause of death to be the result of a violation of a motor vehicle law other than a DUI violation, while homicide by vehicle/DUI explicitly requires a DUI conviction as an element of the crime.

Appellant argues that Neupert was wrongly decided. He contends that because one death resulted from his criminal conduct of "unsafe driving while intoxicated," he cannot be sentenced to two separate consecutive terms of incarceration. Appellant asserts that one cannot be sentenced separately for causing a death by two different means, i.e., by operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated and by simultaneously violating other provisions of the Vehicle Code. He argues that the traditional lesser included offense analysis of Anderson is not applicable to his particular situation and suggests that we instead "look at what the crime or ultimate objective of the criminal conduct was." Appellant's Brief at 2.4

764 A.2d 1059
We decline Appellant's invitation to deviate from the Anderson merger rule and instead adopt the Superior Court's reasoning as set forth in Neupert. Regardless of whether one death resulted from Appellant's criminal conduct, the fact remains that the legislature crafted the statutory elements of the two offenses as mutually exclusive (homicide by vehicle requiring a non-DUI Vehicle Code conviction, while homicide by vehicle/DUI requiring a DUI conviction). This is relevant not only in examining the elements of the crimes at issue, but also in examining the particular criminal conduct for which Appellant was sentenced, a factor we recently addressed in Commonwealth v. Comer, 552 Pa. 527, 716 A.2d 593 (1998)

In Comer, the defendant recklessly drove his vehicle into a bus stand and killed a pedestrian. The issue was whether the imposition of separate sentences for involuntary manslaughter and homicide by vehicle, which were based upon the same...

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53 practice notes
  • Com. v. Grant
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
    • December 31, 2002
    ...upon a point does not bind a court when, in the court's judgment, the point agreed upon is simply incorrect. See Commonwealth v. Collins, 564 Pa. 144, 764 A.2d 1056, 1058 n. 4...
  • Com. v. Davidson, No. 34 MAP 2005.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
    • November 20, 2007
    ...of one offense to encompass that for another offense arising from the same criminal act or transaction." Commonwealth v. Collins, 564 Pa. 144, 764 A.2d 1056, 1057 (2001); Commonwealth v. Anderson, 538 Pa. 574, 650 A.2d 20, 21 (1994). Thus, a main objective in development of the merger ......
  • Robinson Twp. v. Pa. Pub. Util. Comm'n
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
    • December 19, 2013
    ...Court is not bound by parties' agreement on legal point when, in Court's judgment, legal point is incorrect); Commonwealth v. Collins, 564 Pa. 144, 764 A.2d 1056, 1058 n. 4 (2001) (same). Finally, to the extent a [83 A.3d 943]number of the issues in this case, on both sides, have not been b......
  • Commonwealth v. Samuels
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
    • August 28, 2001
    ...it follows that homicide by vehicle/DUI should be construed likewise. Recently, in his dissenting opinion in Commonwealth v. Collins, 564 Pa. 144, 764 A.2d 1056 (2001), Mr. Justice Nigro summarized the derivation of Section 3735 from Section 3732 and described the relationship between the p......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
53 cases
  • Com. v. Grant
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
    • December 31, 2002
    ...upon a point does not bind a court when, in the court's judgment, the point agreed upon is simply incorrect. See Commonwealth v. Collins, 564 Pa. 144, 764 A.2d 1056, 1058 n. 4...
  • Com. v. Davidson, No. 34 MAP 2005.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
    • November 20, 2007
    ...of one offense to encompass that for another offense arising from the same criminal act or transaction." Commonwealth v. Collins, 564 Pa. 144, 764 A.2d 1056, 1057 (2001); Commonwealth v. Anderson, 538 Pa. 574, 650 A.2d 20, 21 (1994). Thus, a main objective in development of the merger ......
  • Robinson Twp. v. Pa. Pub. Util. Comm'n
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
    • December 19, 2013
    ...Court is not bound by parties' agreement on legal point when, in Court's judgment, legal point is incorrect); Commonwealth v. Collins, 564 Pa. 144, 764 A.2d 1056, 1058 n. 4 (2001) (same). Finally, to the extent a [83 A.3d 943]number of the issues in this case, on both sides, have not been b......
  • Commonwealth v. Samuels
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
    • August 28, 2001
    ...it follows that homicide by vehicle/DUI should be construed likewise. Recently, in his dissenting opinion in Commonwealth v. Collins, 564 Pa. 144, 764 A.2d 1056 (2001), Mr. Justice Nigro summarized the derivation of Section 3735 from Section 3732 and described the relationship between the p......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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