Commonwealth v. Ball

Decision Date28 September 2016
Docket NumberNo. 23 MAP 2015,23 MAP 2015
Citation146 A.3d 755
Parties Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Appellant v. James Arthur Ball, III, Appellee
CourtPennsylvania Supreme Court

David James Freed, Esq., Charles John Volkert Jr., Esq., Cumberland County District Attorney's Office, for Appellant.

Joseph Dominick Caraciolo, Esq., Foreman, Foreman & Caraciolo, P.C., Karen Lynn DeMarco, Esq., Foreman & Caraciolo, P.C., for Appellee.




James Arthur Ball III was charged with and tried for a summary offense before a Magisterial District Judge (“MDJ”). The MDJ convicted Ball of a lesser included offense, implicitly acquitting him of the greater charged offense. Ball appealed his conviction to the court of common pleas (“the trial court) for a de novo trial pursuant to Pa.R.Crim.P. 462(A),1 whereupon the Commonwealth sought to re-try him on the greater offense. The trial court allowed the Commonwealth to try Ball on the original charge, notwithstanding Ball's objection that reinstating that charge violated the double jeopardy clauses of the United States and Pennsylvania Constitutions.

Ball was convicted of the greater offense, and he appealed to the Superior Court. Finding merit in Ball's double jeopardy claim, the Superior Court reversed the trial court and discharged Ball. We granted allocatur to determine whether the constitutional prohibition on double jeopardy barred the Commonwealth from reinstating Ball's implicitly-acquitted greater offense. We now hold that the Commonwealth may not prosecute a defendant for the greater offense under these circumstances. Accordingly, we affirm the Superior Court on this issue.

We also granted allocatur to decide whether the Superior Court erred when it discharged Ball after having found that the prohibition on double jeopardy precluded his retrial on the greater summary offense. On this issue, we conclude that the Superior Court did err. A MDJ has the authority, sua sponte , to convict a defendant of an uncharged, lesser included offense, and the defendant has a right to have that conviction reviewed by a court of record. Therefore, we reverse the Superior Court's order in part, and remand the case to the trial court for a trial de novo limited only to the lesser included offense.

The history of this case may be summarized briefly. On January 14, 2013, a Mechanicsburg police officer stopped Ball for speeding. Upon reviewing Ball's driver's history, the officer learned that Ball's license had been suspended as a result of prior convictions for driving-under-the-influence (“DUI”). The officer cited Ball for driving while operating privileges were suspended related to the DUI convictions (“DUS-DUI”), 75 Pa.C.S. 1543(b)(1).2 Ball proceeded to a summary trial before a Cumberland County MDJ, where he was found guilty of driving while his operating privileges were suspended (“DUS”), 75 Pa.C.S. 1543(a),3 indisputably a lesser included offense of DUS-DUI. See, e.g., Commonwealth v. Cunningham, 380 Pa.Super. 177, 551 A.2d 288 (1988) (DUS is a lesser included offense of DUS-DUI). The MDJ sentenced Ball to thirty days' imprisonment and a $1000 fine.4

Ball appealed to the trial court for a de novo trial pursuant to Rule 462(A). Before the trial court, the Commonwealth sought to reinstate the DUS-DUI charge. Ball objected, arguing that allowing the Commonwealth to re-try him on DUS-DUI would subject him to double jeopardy because he had already been acquitted of that charge before the MDJ and was appealing only the DUS conviction. The trial court disagreed. Relying upon Commonwealth v. Lennon, 64 A.3d 1092 (Pa.Super.2013), the court held that Ball had waived his double jeopardy protections by appealing for a de novo trial.

In Lennon, the defendant voluntarily entered a guilty plea to disorderly conduct in exchange for the Commonwealth's withdrawal of the remaining charges. Following his guilty plea, the defendant appealed to the court of common pleas.5 In response to the defendant's appeal, the Commonwealth sought to reinstate the withdrawn charges so that it could try the defendant on all charges. The defendant argued that he could not be re-tried on the dismissed charges without being put twice in jeopardy. The trial court rejected both parties' arguments and ordered specific performance of the plea agreement. The defendant appealed to the Superior Court, which held that the trial court erred in preventing the defendant from exercising his rule-based right to have his case reviewed at a de novo trial. However, the Superior Court also held that the defendant had waived his double jeopardy protections by voluntarily opting for a new trial instead of accepting the terms of his plea agreement. The Superior Court remanded the case, informing the defendant that he either could accept the plea agreement or proceed to a new trial on the full panoply of charges originally lodged against him.

In the present case, the trial court concluded that, although Ball was appealing from a conviction and not a guilty plea, his case was indistinguishable from Lennon because Rule 462(A) allows for appeals from both convictions and guilty pleas. Accordingly, the trial court overruled Ball's objections and reinstated the DUS-DUI charge. Following the de novo trial, Ball was convicted of DUS-DUI, and sentenced to sixty days' imprisonment and a $1000 fine. Ball then appealed this conviction to the Superior Court.

Ball presented three issues to the Superior Court:

I. Whether the Double Jeopardy Clause[s] of the United States and Pennsylvania Constitutions prevent the Commonwealth from retrying [Ball] after an acquittal by the Magisterial District Judge?
II. Whether [Ball's] appeal of a verdict of guilt from a Magisterial District Judge includes offenses for which [Ball] was found not guilty?
III. Whether a Magisterial District Judge may find [Ball] guilty of an offense for which [he] has not been charged?

Commonwealth v. Ball, 97 A.3d 397, 399 (Pa.Super.2014).

The Superior Court addressed only the double jeopardy issue. The court began by recognizing that both the United States and Pennsylvania Constitutions prohibit a person from being “twice put in jeopardy of life or limb.” See Pa. Const. art. I, § 10 ; U.S. Const. amend. V. The court explained that this prohibition was designed to protect individuals from being tried or punished more than once for the same allegation or offense. Specifically, the court recognized that the double jeopardy clauses protect against a second prosecution following an acquittal or conviction, see Commonwealth v. Young, 35 A.3d 54, 58–59 (Pa.Super.2011), and that, [i]n Pennsylvania, jeopardy attaches when a defendant stands before a tribunal where guilt or innocence will be determined.” Ball, 97 A.3d at 400 (quoting Young, 35 A.3d at 58–59 ). The court also made clear that the protection against double jeopardy applies with full force in summary cases. See Commonwealth v. Walczak, 440 Pa.Super. 339, 655 A.2d 592, 596 (1995) (stating that, in a criminal proceeding before a MDJ, “jeopardy attaches ... when the court begins to hear evidence. Thus, where a defendant has been found not guilty at trial, he may not be retried on the same offense.”).

Turning to the present case, the Superior Court determined that, after a fact-finding hearing, the MDJ had acquitted Ball of DUS-DUI, the offense for which he was charged. Therefore, the court held, “it was impermissible to retry Ball, and the trial court's adjudication of guilt at the de novo bench trial was a legal ity.” Ball, 97 A.3d at 400. The Superior Court emphasized that Ball's voluntary appeal for a trial de novo had no bearing upon its holding because Ball's acquittal by the MDJ constitutes an unassailable legal finality. See Walczak, 655 A.2d at 596 (stating that “a fact-finder's verdict of not guilty is accorded absolute finality. It is completely insulated from appellate review.”) (citation omitted). The Superior Court disavowed the trial court's reliance upon Lennon, opining that Lennon was inapposite because the defendant in that case had appealed from a guilty plea, after entering a negotiated plea agreement, thereby validly waiving his double jeopardy challenge, whereas here, Ball had pled not guilty to DUS-DUI, and was acquitted of that offense. Ball, 97 A.3d at 400 (citing Lennon, 64 A.3d at 1101 ). Finally, without citing precedent, the Superior Court held that Ball's conviction for DUS by the MDJ was “of no moment” because Ball had not been charged with that offense. Without addressing either of the remaining issues raised by Ball, the Superior Court reversed Ball's judgment of sentence, and discharged him. The Commonwealth sought reargument, which was denied.

We subsequently granted allowance of appeal in order to address the following issues (quoted verbatim from the Commonwealth's petition):

(1) Given the extensive impact the Superior Court's published opinion could have on the lower courts and prosecution offices in situations where a defendant initiates a statutory summary appeal from a Magisterial District Judge's sua sponte finding of guilt on an uncharged, lesser-included offense, should this Honorable Court grant review because the purpose for double jeopardy protections are not implicated, or implicated minimally, when the defendant appeals his conviction for a trial de novo ?
(2) Should this Honorable Court exercise its supervisory authority over the Superior Court's erroneous discharge of defendant and remand his case for sentencing on the lesser-included offense he appeals and necessarily was found guilty of committing?

Commonwealth v. Ball, 111 A.3d 745 (Pa.2015).

The core premise of the Commonwealth's argument before this Court is that the prohibition against double jeopardy is not implicated where a defendant voluntarily subjects himself to further prosecution. The Commonwealth contends that the two-tiered de novo review...

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