Com. v. Prosdocimo

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
Writing for the CourtBefore NIX; FLAHERTY
Citation578 A.2d 1273,525 Pa. 147
PartiesCOMMONWEALTH of Pennsylvania, Appellant, v. William PROSDOCIMO, Appellee.
Decision Date17 August 1990

Page 1273

578 A.2d 1273
525 Pa. 147
COMMONWEALTH of Pennsylvania, Appellant,
v.
William PROSDOCIMO, Appellee.
Supreme Court of Pennsylvania.
Argued May 8, 1990.
Decided Aug. 17, 1990.

[525 Pa. 148] Robert E. Colville, Dist. Atty., Robert L. Eberhardt, Dara A. DeCourney, Scott A. Bradley, Dep. Dist. Attys., Pittsburgh, for appellant.

[525 Pa. 149] Vincent R. Baginski, Pittsburgh, for appellee.

Before NIX, C.J., and LARSEN, FLAHERTY, McDERMOTT, ZAPPALA, PAPADAKOS and CAPPY, JJ.

OPINION OF THE COURT

FLAHERTY, Justice.

This appeal raises the issue of the propriety of the jury instructions on felony-murder and robbery at William Prosdocimo's trial.

Prosdocimo was one of several people tried for participation in the murder of Gary DeStefano on June 14, 1979. Prosdocimo and the victim, along with a number of other people, were engaged in transporting illegal drugs from Florida and selling them in western Pennsylvania. Prosdocimo and others conceived a plan whereby they would steal drugs brought into Pennsylvania

Page 1274

by Gerald Walls and DeStefano; during the execution of the plan, DeStefano was shot in the face and killed by co-conspirator Robert Bricker. On May 22, 1985, Prosdocimo was convicted by a jury of second-degree murder, and was eventually sentenced to life imprisonment. On appeal, a divided panel of the Superior Court reversed the judgment of sentence and awarded Prosdocimo a new trial, holding that confusing and incorrect jury instructions on felony-murder and robbery prejudiced Prosdocimo and constituted reversible error. 1 Commonwealth v. Prosdocimo, 375 Pa.Super. 622, 541 A.2d 32 (1988). We allowed the appeal of the Commonwealth in order to review the jury charge and to determine whether the relief awarded by the Superior Court is necessary and proper.

The crux of the Superior Court holding is that the trial judge's instructions interchanged the legal definitions of [525 Pa. 150] robbery and theft in such a way as to confuse the jury and permit the jury to convict Prosdocimo of felony-murder if he participated in a theft, whereas the law requires that felony-murder be predicated on one of several enumerated felonies, including robbery but excluding theft. The Commonwealth, as appellant, challenges this holding, claiming instead that the jury instructions were not incorrect or misleading, and that they were no more complicated than necessary in view of the complexity of the law of felony-murder.

When evaluating jury instructions, the charge must be read as a whole to determine whether it was fair or prejudicial. The trial court has broad discretion in phrasing its instructions, and may choose its own wording so long as the law is clearly, adequately, and accurately presented to the jury for its consideration. Commonwealth v. Ohle, 503 Pa. 566, 582, 470 A.2d 61, 70 (1983). The entire charge given by the trial court on felony-murder was as follows.

The first degree of homicide which you must consider is second degree murder, which is commonly referred to as felony murder. It is commonly called felony murder because it involves a killing incidental to another felony. You may find the Defendant guilty of second degree murder if you are satisfied that the following elements have been proven beyond a reasonable doubt: First, that Gary DeStefano is dead; second, that the Defendant or an accomplice of the Defendant killed him; third, that the killing was committed while the Defendant or an accomplice was engaged in the commission of the felony of robbery; fourth, that the act of the Defendant or his accomplice that killed Gary DeStefano was done in furtherance of the felony of robbery; and finally, that the killing was with malice on the part of the Defendant and/or his accomplice. Like all murders, second degree murder requires malice. But malice is presumed or may be inferred if a Defendant engaged or was an accomplice in the commission of a felony dangerous to human life, such as robbery. No other proof would be necessary [525 Pa. 151] under the circumstances. For persons to be accomplices in committing or attempting to commit a felony, they must have a common design, in other words, a shared intent to commit that felony.

Now I will define the felony of robbery for you. In order to find that the Defendant was an accomplice or a party to, that is he shared a common intent in the commission of the crime of robbery, you must be satisfied that the following elements have been demonstrated: First, that the Defendant or his accomplice inflicted or threatened to inflict serious bodily harm to Gary DeStefano during the commission of a felony, and that felony would be theft. Secondly, that the Defendant did so in committing a theft, or that his accomplice did so in committing a theft. Now, serious bodily injury is injury which creates a substantial

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risk of death, or which causes serious permanent disfigurement or permanent loss or impairment of the function of any bodily member, and clearly death would meet the definition of serious bodily injury. For the purposes of the crime of robbery, a Defendant's act is in the course of committing a theft not only if it occurs in the actual commission of a theft, but if it occurs in an attempted theft. As I...

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84 practice notes
  • Com. v. Daniels, No. 410 CAP.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
    • January 23, 2009
    ...Murphy, 559 Pa. 71, 739 A.2d 141, 146 (1999); Commonwealth v. Stokes, 532 Pa. 242, 615 A.2d 704, 709 (1992); Commonwealth v. Prosdocimo, 525 Pa. 147, 578 A.2d 1273 (1990). The trial court has broad discretion in phrasing the charge and the instruction will not be found in error if, taken as......
  • Hill v. Wetzel, CIVIL ACTION No. 12–2185
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Pennsylvania)
    • November 10, 2016
    ...the law and was consistent with Pennsylvania Standard Jury Instructions, § 15.3701A (Crim. 2008). See, e.g., Commonwealth v. Prosdocimo , 525 Pa. 147, 578 A.2d 1273, 1276–77 (Pa. 1990) (finding significant that the jury charge closely tracked the language of the suggested standard jury inst......
  • Com. v. Wright, No. 403 CAP.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
    • December 22, 2008
    ...so long as the law is clearly, adequately, and accurately presented to the jury for its consideration." Commonwealth v. Prosdocimo, 525 Pa. 147, 578 A.2d 1273, 1274 (1990). For appellant to be entitled to a new trial, the jury instruction must have been fundamentally in error, or misled or ......
  • Commonwealth v. Baker, No. 2108 MDA 2009
    • United States
    • Superior Court of Pennsylvania
    • June 27, 2011
    ...presented to the jury for its consideration. Commonwealth v. Ohle, 503 Pa. 566, 582, 470 A.2d 61, 70 (1983).Commonwealth v. Prosdocimo, 525 Pa. 147, 150, 578 A.2d 1273, 1274 (1990). Baker requested that Pennsylvania Suggested Standard Jury Instruction 3.04D be given to the jury. That instru......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
85 cases
  • Com. v. Daniels, No. 410 CAP.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
    • January 23, 2009
    ...Murphy, 559 Pa. 71, 739 A.2d 141, 146 (1999); Commonwealth v. Stokes, 532 Pa. 242, 615 A.2d 704, 709 (1992); Commonwealth v. Prosdocimo, 525 Pa. 147, 578 A.2d 1273 (1990). The trial court has broad discretion in phrasing the charge and the instruction will not be found in error if, taken as......
  • Hill v. Wetzel, CIVIL ACTION No. 12–2185
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Pennsylvania)
    • November 10, 2016
    ...the law and was consistent with Pennsylvania Standard Jury Instructions, § 15.3701A (Crim. 2008). See, e.g., Commonwealth v. Prosdocimo , 525 Pa. 147, 578 A.2d 1273, 1276–77 (Pa. 1990) (finding significant that the jury charge closely tracked the language of the suggested standard jury inst......
  • Com. v. Wright, No. 403 CAP.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
    • December 22, 2008
    ...so long as the law is clearly, adequately, and accurately presented to the jury for its consideration." Commonwealth v. Prosdocimo, 525 Pa. 147, 578 A.2d 1273, 1274 (1990). For appellant to be entitled to a new trial, the jury instruction must have been fundamentally in error, or misled or ......
  • Commonwealth v. Baker, No. 2108 MDA 2009
    • United States
    • Superior Court of Pennsylvania
    • June 27, 2011
    ...presented to the jury for its consideration. Commonwealth v. Ohle, 503 Pa. 566, 582, 470 A.2d 61, 70 (1983).Commonwealth v. Prosdocimo, 525 Pa. 147, 150, 578 A.2d 1273, 1274 (1990). Baker requested that Pennsylvania Suggested Standard Jury Instruction 3.04D be given to the jury. That instru......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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