Com. v. Hill

Decision Date17 August 1999
Citation558 Pa. 238,736 A.2d 578
PartiesCOMMONWEALTH of Pennsylvania, Appellee, v. Vernon HILL, Appellant. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Appellee, v. George Cornell, Appellant.
CourtPennsylvania Supreme Court

John W. Packel, Anne L. Saunders, Philadelphia, Ellen T. Greenlee, Helen A. Marino, for Vernon Hill.

Catherine Marshall, Philadelphia, Jonathan M. Levy, for Com. in No. 32 E.D. Appeal Docket 1998. John Petroak, David Cherundolo, Asst. Public Defenders, Gerard Karam, Public Defender, for George Cornell.

Michael J. Barrasse, Dist. Atty., William P. O'Malley and Amil Minora, Asst. Dist. Attys., for Com. in No. 104 M.D. Appeal Docket 1998.



NIGRO, Justice.

In this consolidated appeal, Appellant Vernon Hill contends that the Superior Court erred by affirming the trial court's denial of his motion to dismiss pursuant to Pennsylvania Rule of Criminal Procedure 1100 (Rule 1100). Likewise, Appellant George Cornell contends that the Superior Court erred by reversing the trial court's grant of his Rule 1100 motion to dismiss. We disagree with both Appellants and therefore, affirm the decisions of the Superior Court.

This Court promulgated Rule 1100 in order to give substantive effect to the United States Supreme Court's observation that state courts have the authority, pursuant to their supervisory powers, to establish fixed time periods within which criminal cases must be brought to trial. Commonwealth v. DeBlase, 542 Pa. 22, 30, 665 A.2d 427, 431 (1995) (citing Barker v. Wingo, 407 U.S. 514, 92 S.Ct. 2182, 33 L.Ed.2d 101 (1972)). Rule 1100 "is intended to reduce the backlog of cases awaiting trial and to `formulate a rule of criminal procedure fixing a maximum time limit' to bring an accused to trial." Commonwealth v. Smith, 524 Pa. 72, 75, 569 A.2d 337, 338 (1990) (citing Commonwealth v. Hamilton, 449 Pa. 297, 308, 297 A.2d 127, 133 (1972)). The mandatory time requirement of Rule 1100 was designed to encourage both the prosecution and the judiciary to act promptly in criminal cases and to establish an objective time limit for their guidance. Id. In pertinent part, Rule 1100 provides:

(a)(2) Trial in a court case in which a written complaint is filed against the defendant, where the defendant is incarcerated on that case, shall commence no later than 180 days from the date on which the complaint is filed.

(3) Trial in a court case in which a written complaint is filed against the defendant, where the defendant is at liberty on bail, shall commence no later than 365 days from the date on which the complaint is filed.


(c) In determining the period for commencement of trial, there shall be excluded therefrom:

(1) the period of time between the filing of the written complaint and the defendant's arrest, provided that the defendant could not be apprehended because his or her whereabouts were unknown and could not be determined by due diligence;

(2) any period of time for which the defendant expressly waives Rule 1100;

(3) such period of delay at any stage of the proceedings as results from:

(i) the unavailability of the defendant or the defendant's attorney;

(ii) any continuance granted at the request of the defendant or the defendant's attorney.


(e) No defendant shall be held in pre-trial incarceration on a given case for a period exceeding 180 days excluding time described in subsection (c) above. Any defendant held in excess of 180 days is entitled upon petition to immediate release on nominal bail.


(g) For defendants on bail after the expiration of 365 days, at any time before trial, the defendant or the defendant's attorney may apply to the court for an order dismissing the charges with prejudice on the ground that this rule has been violated. A copy of such motion shall be served upon the attorney for the Commonwealth, who shall also have the right to be heard thereon.

If the court, upon hearing, shall determine that the Commonwealth exercised due diligence and that the circumstances occasioning the postponement were beyond the control of the Commonwealth, the motion to dismiss shall be denied and the case shall be listed for trial on a date certain. If, on any successive listing of the case, the Commonwealth is not prepared to proceed to trial on the date fixed, the court shall determine whether the Commonwealth exercised due diligence in attempting to be prepared to proceed to trial. If, at any time, it is determined that the Commonwealth did not exercise due diligence, the court shall dismiss the charges and discharge the defendant.

Pa. R.Crim. P. 1100.

In evaluating Rule 1100 issues, our standard of review of a trial court's decision is whether the trial court abused its discretion. Commonwealth v. Matis, 551 Pa. 220, 227, 710 A.2d 12, 15 (1998); Commonwealth v. Malinowski, 543 Pa. 350, 359, 671 A.2d 674, 678-79 (1996). The proper scope of review in determining the propriety of the trial court's ruling is limited to the evidence on the record of the Rule 1100 evidentiary hearing and the findings of the lower court. Matis, 551 Pa. at 227, 710 A.2d at 15; Commonwealth v. Edwards, 528 Pa. 103, 105, 595 A.2d 52, 53 (1991). In reviewing the determination of the hearing court, an appellate court must view the facts in the light most favorable to the prevailing party. Edwards, 528 Pa. at 105, 595 A.2d at 53 (citing Commonwealth v. Robinson, 518 Pa. 156, 541 A.2d 1387 (1988)). With these principles in mind, we now turn to consider each of the appeals before us.1

Commonwealth v. Hill

On February 7, 1994, Appellant Vernon Hill and his co-defendant, Larry Whitters, went to the home of Harvey "Flex" Davidson to collect proceeds from the sale of illegal drugs. When Davidson failed to comply with their demands, Hill and Whitters shot him to death.

Police arrested Hill on February 26, 1994. The following day, the Commonwealth filed a criminal complaint against him, charging him with murder and related offenses. On March 9, 1994, a preliminary hearing was held and on March 30, 1994, Hill waived a formal arraignment and entered a plea of not guilty. On May 2, 1994, Hill filed an omnibus pretrial motion. On that same day, the trial court listed the case for a bail hearing. On May 20, 1994, the trial court denied the bail petition and scheduled the matter for a status hearing.

The trial court conducted status hearings on June 9, 1994, June 23, 1994, June 29, 1994 and July 21, 1994. At each of these hearings, the trial court noted that the investigation remained incomplete and was ongoing. On August 19, 1994, the trial court listed the case in the "Ready Pool."

On August 29, 1994, Hill filed his second pretrial motion, in which he requested that his trial be severed from his co-defendant's. On October 12, 1994, Hill filed a third pretrial motion, seeking to bar the death penalty as unconstitutional.2 On October 17, 1994, the trial court conducted a conference to organize the motions filed by Hill and to schedule a hearing. On November 22, 1994 and January 24, 1995, the trial court conducted hearings on the motion to bar the death penalty. On January 25, 1995, Hill filed an amendment to his motion attacking Pennsylvania's death penalty statute, adding claims that the statute violated Pennsylvania's constitution.

The trial court scheduled a pretrial proceeding for May 12, 1995, but due to the unavailability of the Commonwealth, continued the proceeding for three days later. At the proceeding on May 15, 1995, the trial court scheduled a hearing for Hill's motion to sever and listed the trial to begin on September 13, 1995. On June 12, 1995, the trial court heard arguments on the motion to sever and subsequently denied the motion on June 20, 1995. At the Commonwealth's request, the trial court also rescheduled Hill's trial for October 18, 1995. On July 6, 1995, the trial court denied Hill's motion to bar the death penalty as unconstitutional.

A hearing on Hill's omnibus pretrial motion was scheduled for July 13, 1995, but at the Commonwealth's request, the trial court continued the hearing until the following day. On July 14, 1995, testimony on the motion was taken. Since the taking of the testimony was not completed by the end of the day, the hearing was continued until July 18, 1995. On July 18, 1995, the Commonwealth was unavailable due to illness and, as a result, the trial court continued the hearing until the commencement of trial.

Shortly before his trial was scheduled to begin, Hill requested a continuance. The trial court granted Hill's request and rescheduled the commencement of trial for December 6, 1995. On the day set for the rescheduled trial, the Commonwealth was unavailable because it was trying another case. To accommodate the Commonwealth, the trial court continued the trial until March 11, 1996.

On March 11, 1996, the trial court completed the hearing on the omnibus pretrial motion and denied it. On that same day, Hill filed a Rule 1100 motion to dismiss the charges, which the trial court denied. On March 12, 1996, Hill waived his right to a jury trial and testimony began. On March 14, 1996, the trial court found Hill guilty of third degree murder, voluntary manslaughter, involuntary manslaughter, possession of an instrument of crime, criminal conspiracy and violating the Uniform Firearms Act. He was sentenced to an aggregate term of fifteen to thirty-six years imprisonment.

On appeal, Hill claimed that the trial court erred by denying his Rule 1100 motion to dismiss. In rejecting Hill's claim, the Superior Court conducted the following analysis. First, the court found that a total of 742 days had elapsed from the time that the criminal complaint was filed on February 27, 1994 until trial commenced on May 11, 1996. Then, the court found that the 441 days between May 2, 1994, and July 17, 1995 were excludable from the Rule 1100...

To continue reading

Request your trial
61 cases
  • Commonwealth v. Burno
    • United States
    • Pennsylvania Supreme Court
    • February 22, 2017 bring its cases in an orderly fashion." Commonwealth v. Dixon , 589 Pa. 28, 907 A.2d 468, 473 (2006) (citing Commonwealth v. Hill , 558 Pa. 238, 736 A.2d 578, 580 (1999) ). Generally,Rule 600 serves to protect a defendant's speedy trial rights, as well as society's right to effective pro......
  • Commonwealth v. Harth, 13 EAP 2020
    • United States
    • Pennsylvania Supreme Court
    • June 22, 2021 exercise due diligence shall be included in the computation of the time within which trial must commence"); Commonwealth v. Hill , 558 Pa. 238, 736 A.2d 578, 587 (1999) ("A delay caused by the Commonwealth's lack of due diligence will not constitute excludable time.")). Therefore, accord......
  • Commonwealth v. Boczkowski
    • United States
    • Pennsylvania Supreme Court
    • March 23, 2004
    ...most favorable to the prevailing party" and we will not disturb the decision below absent an abuse of discretion. Commonwealth v. Hill, 558 Pa. 238, 736 A.2d 578, 581 (1999). Pursuant to the Rule and this Court's holding in Hill, a capital defendant must be brought to trial within 365 non-e......
  • Com. v. Preston
    • United States
    • Pennsylvania Superior Court
    • July 13, 2006
    ...are confined to determining whether the trial court committed an "abuse of discretion" in reaching its decision. Commonwealth v. Hill, 558 Pa. 238, 736 A.2d 578, 581 (1999); Commonwealth v. Montgomery, 861 A.2d 304, 309 (Pa.Super.2004). In Commonwealth v. Widmer, 560 Pa. 308, 744 A.2d 745, ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT