Com. v. Grabowski

Decision Date24 October 1988
CourtPennsylvania Superior Court
PartiesCOMMONWEALTH of Pennsylvania, Appellee, v. John C. GRABOWSKI, Appellant.

Frank W. Ittel, Jr., Pittsburgh, for appellant.

Edward M. Clark, Asst. Dist. Atty., Pittsburgh, for Com., appellee.

Before CIRILLO, President Judge, and BECK and POPOVICH, JJ.


This is an appeal from the judgments of sentence entered by the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas, Criminal Division. On March 5, 1987, the appellant, John Grabowski, was sentenced on four counts of theft by receiving stolen property.1 We affirm.

For the first time on appeal through his newly-appointed counsel, the appellant asserts that he was denied effective assistance of trial counsel on three grounds: 1) Trial counsel erroneously failed to file post-trial motions attacking the sufficiency of the evidence; 2) Trial counsel erroneously failed to object to the charge to the jury; and 3) Trial counsel erroneously failed to object to the admission of incompetent opinion evidence. Having reviewed the record and the parties' briefs, we find that the appellant has failed to prove his allegations of error.

The record reveals the following pertinent facts: On February 5, 1986, the appellant, who operated Superior Auto Body, an automobile repair business in Pittsburgh, was evicted from his place of business. During the eviction process, the Allegheny County Deputy Sheriff, who was supervising the eviction removal of the appellant's equipment and automobile parts, was told by one of the moving crew, Mark Loveland, that the vehicle serial numbers (VIN) had been removed from numerous inventory items. Mr. Loveland suspected that some of the parts may have been stolen. Accordingly, the Sheriff directed Mr. Loveland to contact the Pittsburgh Police Department.

At approximately 2:00 p.m. the same day, two Pittsburgh police detectives arrived at the body shop to investigate. Outside Superior Auto Body, the officers observed a flatbed truck loaded with automobile doors. Upon closer inspection, the detectives noticed that the VINs were removed from most of the doors. Believing removal of VINs to be a violation of federal law, the detectives entered the body shop to investigate further.

While inside the building, the investigators uncovered packing slips from inside automobile seats and from between the space between automobile roof and the cloth ceiling thereof. These packing slips reported the VINs of the cars upon which the seats and roofs were originally installed. The police also recorded the serial number of a word processor found on the premises. The VINs and the computer serial number were entered in the police computer. The results indicated that some of the VINs were from vehicles that had been reported stolen, and the word processor had also been reported stolen. Search warrants were then obtained, and the police seized the stolen parts and the word processor.

Several days later, the police were contacted by Charles Wilker, an investigator from the Erie Insurance Exchange. Wilker informed the police that a Pittsburgh parking citation had been issued to a Chevrolet Celebrity insured by Erie which had been reported stolen. Upon investigation, police determined that the citation was issued only hours after the reported time of the theft and the car was cited while parked within a block of Superior Auto Body. In addition, Wilker provided the police with a set of keys to the stolen car. The police then tried the keys in a Chevrolet Celebrity door and trunk that had been removed from Superior Auto Body and found that the keys opened the locks.

As a result of the investigation, the appellant was charged with six counts of theft by receiving stolen property: four counts involved auto parts found on the premises of Superior Auto Body; one count involved the door into which the keys fit; and one count involved the word processor. Demurrers were sustained as to two of the counts; involving auto parts seized at Superior Auto Body and the appellant was convicted of the remaining four. Post-trial motions were filed and denied. Mr. Grabowski was then sentenced to a term of incarceration totalling two to four years, and this appeal followed. Present counsel commenced his representation after notice of appeal had been filed.

The law in Pennsylvania presumes that trial counsel was effective. Commonwealth v. Quier, 366 Pa.Super. 275, 278, 531 A.2d 8, 9 (1987); Commonwealth v. Norris, 305 Pa.Super. 206, 210, 451 A.2d 494, 496 (1982). Consequently, the burden of proving counsel's ineffectiveness rests upon the appellant. Quier, 366 Pa.Superior Ct. at 278, 531 A.2d at 9; Commonwealth v. Iverson, 358 Pa.Super. 1, 5, 516 A.2d 738, 740 (1986). Recently, our Supreme Court, in Commonwealth v. Davis, 518 Pa. 77, 541 A.2d 315 (1988), reiterated the analysis to be performed when reviewing a claim of ineffectiveness.

There are three elements to a valid claim of ineffective assistance. We inquire first whether the underlying claim is of arguable merit; that is, whether the disputed action or omission by counsel was of questionable legal soundness. If so, we ask whether counsel had any reasonable basis for the questionable action or omission which was designed to effectuate his client's interest. If he did, our inquiry ends. If not, the appellant will be granted relief if he also demonstrates that counsel's improper course of conduct worked to his prejudice, i.e., had an adverse effect upon the outcome of the proceedings. Commonwealth v. Pierce, 515 Pa. 153, 527 A.2d 973 (1987); Commonwealth v. Sullivan, 472 Pa. 129, 371 A.2d 468 (1977); Commonwealth ex rel. Washington v. Maroney, 427 Pa. 599, 235 A.2d 349 (1967).

Davis, 518 Pa.Superior Ct. at 83, 541 A.2d at 318.

First, we will dispose of the appellant's contention that he was denied effective assistance of counsel due to counsel's failure to file a post-trial motion attacking the sufficiency of the evidence. Initially, we must determine whether the appellant's underlying claim is meritorious, i.e., whether the evidence presented was legally sufficient to support a guilty verdict. After reviewing the record, we find that the evidence presented was sufficient to support the guilty verdict.

In reviewing the sufficiency of the evidence, we view the evidence in a light most favorable to the verdict winner and give the verdict winner the benefit of all reasonable inferences arising from the evidence. The test is whether the evidence is sufficient to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Commonwealth v. Stark, 363 Pa.Super. 356, 360, 526 A.2d 383, 385 (1987), citing Commonwealth v. Campbell, 353 Pa.Super. 178, 181, 509 A.2d 394, 395 (1986); Commonwealth v. Meadows, 417 Pa. 201, 369 A.2d 1266, 1268 (1977).

The offense of receiving stolen property is defined in the Pennsylvania crimes code as follows:

18 Pa.C.S.A. § 3925. Receiving Stolen Property

(a) Offense defined.--A person is guilty of theft if he intentionally receives, retains, or disposes of movable property of another knowing that it has been stolen, or believing that it has probably been stolen, unless the property is received, retained, or disposed with intent to restore it to the owner.

Instantly, the appellant does not dispute that the property at issue were stolen or that he had the pilfered items in his possession. Instead, the appellant alleges that the evidence presented was insufficient to prove he possessed "guilty knowledge". "In order to establish the mens rea element of the crime of receiving stolen property, the Commonwealth must prove that the accused possessed property with 'guilty knowledge', i.e., knowing that it has been stolen, or believing that it has probably been stolen. 18 Pa.C.S. § 3925(a)." Commonwealth v. Dunlap, 351 Pa.Super. 43, 47, 505 A.2d at 255, 257 (1985). Upon review of the record, we are convinced that the Commonwealth met this burden.

A permissible inference of guilty knowledge may be inferred from the unexplained possession of recently stolen goods as well as from the surrounding circumstances. Whether possession is recent and whether it is unexplained are normally questions for the trier of fact. Commonwealth v. Williams, 468 Pa. 357, 362 A.2d 244 (1976). Commonwealth v. Dunlap, 351 Pa.Superior Ct. at 47, 505 A.2d at 257; Commonwealth v. Worrell, 277 Pa.Super. 386, 419 A.2d 1199, 1201 (1980). Relevant considerations include but are not limited to the accused's conduct at arrest and conduct while in possession; the time elapsed between the accused's possession and the theft; the type of property; the situs of the theft and the situs of the possession; the value of the property and the price paid for the property; and the quantity of the property. Commonwealth v. Dunlap, 351 Pa.Superior Ct. at 47, 505 A.2d at 257; Commonwealth v. Worrell, 277 Pa.Superior Ct. at 419 A.2d at 1201; Commonwealth v. Simmons, 233 Pa.Super. 547, 336 A.2d 624, 629-630 (1975).

At trial, the jury was presented with the following evidence upon which to base its decision. The auto parts in question were removed from three automobiles: a Oldsmobile Toronado stolen on November 12, 1985, less than three months prior the initiation of the investigation on February 5, 1986; a AMC Eagle stolen on December 20, 1985, approximately one and one-half months prior to the investigation; and a Chevrolet Celebrity stolen on January 17 1986, only nineteen days prior to the investigation. The computer in question was stolen on July 28, 1984, approximately one year and six months prior to the investigation of the appellant.

The appellant admitted that he removed the VINs from the stolen automobile parts, and testimony at trial revealed that this practice, although not illegal, was not standard practice in the industry. Significantly, the appellant conceded that he did not have receipts or invoices for the...

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5 cases
  • Com. v. Randall
    • United States
    • Superior Court of Pennsylvania
    • August 1, 2000
    ...with respect to what happened to the third shell casing in this case, his testimony was permissible. See e.g. Commonwealth v. Grabowski, 378 Pa.Super. 454, 549 A.2d 145, 151 (1988), appeal denied, 522 Pa. 583, 559 A.2d 526 (1989) ("A witness may state relevant facts known to him, because of......
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    • United States
    • Superior Court of Pennsylvania
    • April 29, 1991
    ...appellant has the burden of proof in this respect. Commonwealth v. McNeil, 506 Pa. 607, 487 A.2d 802 (1985); Commonwealth v. Grabowski, 378 Pa.Super. 454, 549 A.2d 145 (1988). Our review of the record indicates that appellant's underlying argument lacks merit. Appellant contends that the fo......
  • Com. v. Carson
    • United States
    • Superior Court of Pennsylvania
    • June 17, 1991
    ...had reason to know that it was stolen. See In Interest of Scott, 388 Pa.Super. 550, 566 A.2d 266, 267 (1989); Commonwealth v. Grabowski, 378 Pa.Super. 454, 549 A.2d 145, 148 (1988),appeal denied 522 Pa. 583, 559 A.2d 526 In addition, a conviction for unauthorized use of a vehicle must be pr......
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    • United States
    • Superior Court of Pennsylvania
    • November 6, 1989
    ...even though he is not regarded as an expert whose opinion would be admissible on a hypothetical inquiry." Commonwealth v. Grabowski, 378 Pa.Super. 454, 465, 549 A.2d 145, 151 (1988). If the witness has any reasonable pretention to specialized knowledge on the subject under investigation he ......
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