Com. v. Johnson

Decision Date22 September 2003
Citation833 A.2d 260
PartiesCOMMONWEALTH of Pennsylvania, Appellee, v. Henry JOHNSON, Appellant.
CourtPennsylvania Superior Court

Joseph J. Valvo, Philadelphia, for appellant.

Catherine L. Marshall, Asst. Dist. Atty., Philadelphia, for Com., appellee.

BEFORE: JOYCE, BENDER and BOWES, JJ.

OPINION BY JOYCE, J.:

¶ 1 Appellant, Henry Johnson, appeals from the January 7, 2002 judgment of sentence entered in the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County. Appellant challenges the sufficiency of the evidence underlying his conviction of driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI). After review, we affirm.

¶ 2 Viewed in the light most favorable to the Commonwealth, the evidence presented at trial revealed the following.

On September 11, 1999 at approximately 10:40 p.m., Officer Karen Nance... was directed to the corner of 27th and Clearfield Streets in the City and County of Philadelphia [Pennsylvania] based on information she received while on duty. At the intersection, Officer Nance observed what appeared to be an accident involving two vehicles in the middle of 27th Street. Officer Nance stated that the vehicles were located in the middle of the street, in a traffic lane. The first vehicle was a 1989 Pontiac with women and children seated inside. The second vehicle was a 1982 Chevy Impala which was owned by Appellant and was situated behind the Pontiac. Officer Nance observed that there was damage to the hatchback and rear bumper of the Pontiac, and damage to the front bumper of the Appellant's vehicle.
Upon the Officer's arrival, the women and children were still in the Pontiac, and the Appellant was outside the Chevy Impala, leaning on the driver's side door. The Officer observed no one in the immediate area other than Appellant and the women and children seated in the Pontiac. Further, the Officer saw no other cars in the vicinity of the accident. Moreover, the officer testified that on the way to the scene of the accident, a distance of about three blocks, she did not see anyone in the area besides the Appellant and the occupants of the Pontiac.
Officer Nance testified that at the time of the incident, the Appellant was incoherent, disheveled in appearance, and staggered when he walked or moved. When the Officer asked the Appellant for identification, he had difficulty locating it. When the Appellant did find his license, Officer Nance discovered that it had been suspended. The registration and insurance information revealed that the car was registered to the Appellant.
Officer Nance stated that while she was talking with Appellant, she noted the strong odor of alcohol on his breath. When the [O]fficer asked if the Appellant had consumed alcohol, Appellant responded that he had a few beers. In addition, the Appellant staggered when the [O]fficer asked him to walk the curb. At this point, Officer Nance placed the Appellant under arrest.
At trial, there was a stipulation that an Officer Lewis ... administered a breathalyzer to the Appellant. Officer Lewis conducted this test using Intoxilyser 5000 and the results revealed that the Appellant had a 0.210 Blood Alcohol Level. Based on the results, [it was stipulated that] Officer Lewis, had he been called to testify, would have offered the opinion that the Appellant would be impaired from operating a motor vehicle, and was not a safe driver.

Trial Court Opinion, 7/16/2002, at 2-4 (footnotes and citations to the notes of testimony omitted).

¶ 3 Procedurally, Appellant was charged with driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI), 75 Pa.C.S.A. § 3731. Appellant underwent a bench trial at the Philadelphia Municipal Court on August 22, 2000, and was found guilty as charged. On February 20, 2001, Appellant was sentenced to 30 days to 23½ months' incarceration. On February 27, 2001, Appellant filed a notice of appeal to the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas. Having waived his right to a jury trial, on October 22, 2001, Appellant was tried before the Honorable Annette M. Rizzo. Judge Rizzo found Appellant guilty as charged and on January 7, 2002, she sentenced Appellant to 30 days to 23½ months' incarceration to be followed by 22½ months' reporting probation.

¶ 4 On January 17, 2002, Appellant filed a motion for reconsideration. The trial judge did not rule on Appellant's motion. Subsequently, on May 20, 2002, the Clerk of Courts (the Office of Active Criminal Records) issued an order indicating that Appellant's post-sentence motion was denied by operation of law. See Pa. R.Crim.P. 720(B)(3). On May 23, 2002, Appellant filed the instant appeal.1

¶ 5 Upon receipt of Appellant's notice of appeal, the trial court directed Appellant to file a concise statement of matters complained of pursuant to Pa.R.A.P. 1925(b). Appellant complied with the trial court's directive and filed a statement challenging the sufficiency of the evidence underlying his conviction. The trial court filed an opinion pursuant to Pa.R.A.P. 1925(a) addressing the single issue raised by Appellant.

¶ 6 In this appeal, Appellant questions the sufficiency of the evidence upon which he was convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol. See Brief for Appellant, at 4. Appellant argues that the evidence was insufficient because there was no direct evidence that he was driving under the influence of alcohol. He further contends that the evidence only showed that he was merely present at the scene of the accident since no one saw him in the car and no one saw him driving the car prior to or during the accident.

¶ 7 Another facet of Appellant's argument is the contention that the evidence presented by the Commonwealth leads to a number of reasonable fact patterns and inferences. According to Appellant, one could reasonably conclude that Appellant was a passenger in his own car when the accident occurred; that there may have been several occupants of Appellant's car at the time of the accident and they fled after the accident, leaving Appellant to deal with the consequences. Appellant further speculates that someone else may have been driving Appellant's car at the time of the accident and that this unknown driver may have summoned Appellant to the scene and then fled. We are not convinced by Appellant's arguments and speculations.

The standard we apply in reviewing the sufficiency of evidence is whether, viewing all the evidence admitted at trial in the light most favorable to the verdict winner, there is sufficient evidence to enable the factfinder to find every element of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. In applying the above test, we may not weigh the evidence and substitute our judgment for that of the factfinder. In addition, we note that the facts and circumstances established by the Commonwealth need not preclude every possibility of innocence. Any doubts regarding a defendant's guilt may be resolved by the fact-finder unless the evidence is so weak and inconclusive that as a matter of law no probability of fact may be drawn from the combined circumstances. The Commonwealth may sustain its burden of proving every element of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt by means of wholly circumstantial evidence. Moreover, in applying the above test, the entire record must be evaluated and all evidence actually received must be considered. Finally, the trier of fact while passing upon the credibility of witnesses and the weight of the evidence produced, is free to believe all, part or none of the evidence.

Commonwealth v. Lambert, 795 A.2d 1010, 1014—1015 (Pa.Super.2002) (internal citations and quotation marks omitted).

¶ 8 Pursuant to 75 Pa.C.S.A. § 3731(a), "[a] person shall not drive, operate or be in actual physical control of the movement of any vehicle: (1) while under the influence of alcohol to a degree which renders the person incapable of safe driving." Id. A person is guilty of driving under the influence of alcohol if (1) he was driving, operating or in actual physical control of a vehicle; (2) while he was under the influence of alcohol to the degree that rendered him incapable of safe driving or if his blood alcohol level was 0.10% or greater while driving or within three hours thereafter. Commonwealth v. Woodruff, 447 Pa.Super. 222, 668 A.2d 1158, 1161 (1995). "The term `operate' requires evidence of actual physical control of either the machinery of the motor vehicle or the management of the vehicle's movement, but not evidence that the vehicle was in motion." Commonwealth v. Wilson, 442 Pa.Super. 521, 660 A.2d 105, 107 (1995) (citation omitted).

¶ 9 Herein, Appellant does not contest the sufficiency of the evidence that he was under the influence of alcohol when the police arrived at the accident scene and subsequently arrested him. Indeed, the evidence clearly shows that within three hours of his arrest, Appellant's blood alcohol level was determined to be 0.210%, more than twice the legal limit.

¶ 10 Appellant argues, however, that the evidence did not establish that he was driving, operating, or in actual physical control of his motor vehicle at the time in question because no one saw him in the vehicle. This argument is based on a misunderstanding of Pennsylvania DUI law. Under Pennsylvania law, an eyewitness is not required to establish that a defendant was driving, operating, or was in actual physical control of a motor vehicle. The Commonwealth can establish through wholly circumstantial evidence that a defendant was driving, operating or in actual physical control of a motor vehicle.

¶ 11 In the case at bar, one of the cars involved in the accident (the Chevy Impala) was owned by Appellant and was registered in his name. The other car involved in the accident (the Pontiac) sustained rear-end damage while Appellant's vehicle sustained front-end damage. When the police arrived, Appellant's vehicle was located on a travel lane on a public street behind the other vehicle involved in the accident. This indicates that App...

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  • Com. v. Williams
    • United States
    • Pennsylvania Superior Court
    • March 18, 2005
    ..."need not preclude every possibility of innocence" or establish the defendant's guilt to a mathematical certainty. Commonwealth v. Johnson, 833 A.2d 260, 264 (Pa.Super.2003). "Finally, the trier of fact while passing upon the credibility of witnesses and the weight of the evidence produced,......
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