Commonwealth v. Corbett, 496 MDA 2021

CourtSuperior Court of Pennsylvania
Writing for the CourtCOLINS, J.
Docket Number496 MDA 2021,J-S01032-22
Decision Date24 May 2022


Appeal from the Judgment of Sentence Entered October 22, 2020 In the Court of Common Pleas of York County Criminal Division at No(s): CP-67-CR-0002239-2019

Joseph D. Seletyn, Esq.




Appellant James Arthur Corbett, appeals from the judgment of sentence imposed following his conviction of four counts of possession with intent to deliver a controlled substance ("PWID"), corrupt organizations, and criminal conspiracy to commit corrupt organizations.[1]

On March 17, 2018, Alan Bocchini, Jr. was found dead in a bathroom of his workplace, a factory in York County. It was later determined that Bocchini died of an overdose of heroin and fentanyl. Police arrested Bocchini's dealer, Kayleigh Hess, in August 2018, and she confirmed that she had sold opioids to Bocchini on the day of his death. Hess also informed police that she had purchased the drugs she sold to Bocchini from Appellant, her dealer whom she knew by the name of "Sha." Detectives arranged for Hess to make two controlled purchases on August 28 and August 29, 2018 from "Sha"; on each occasion, she purchased ten packets of a white substance that tested positive for fentanyl and acetyl fentanyl, a fentanyl derivative.

Detectives also worked with another confidential informant, Linda Johnson, who bought drugs from Appellant, whom she knew as "D." Johnson performed two controlled purchases from Appellant on August 29 and October 16, 2018. During the first purchase, Appellant sold Johnson ten packets of fentanyl and acetyl fentanyl and the second sale consisted of ten glassine bags containing fentanyl.

Appellant was arrested and charged in relation to Bocchini's overdose death as well as the four subsequent controlled purchases. The charges against Appellant included drug delivery resulting in death, five counts of PWID, criminal conspiracy to commit drug delivery resulting in death, criminal conspiracy to commit PWID, corrupt organizations, and criminal conspiracy to commit corrupt organizations.[2] A jury trial commenced on September 14, 2020. On September 18, 2020, the jury found Appellant guilty of four counts of PWID, corrupt organizations, and conspiracy to commit same; each of these charges related to the controlled purchases in August and October 2018.

Appellant was acquitted of the remaining charges relating to Bocchini's overdose death.

On October 22, 2020, the trial court sentenced Appellant to an aggregate sentence of 23 ½ to 47 years' imprisonment, consisting of 5-to-10-year sentences on each of the PWID counts and a 42-to-84-month sentence on the corrupt organizations charge.[3] Each of the sentences were imposed consecutively. Appellant then filed a post-sentence motion in which he raised the three issues argued in this appeal. The trial court denied the post-sentence motion on April 7, 2021. Appellant thereafter filed this timely appeal.[4]

Appellant raises the following issues for our review:
I. Whether the evidence was insufficient to support the verdict as to possession with intent to deliver (4 counts), corrupt organizations and criminal conspiracy to corrupt organizations, in that it was not established [that] Appellant delivered drugs or was involved in a conspiracy.
II. Whether the verdicts as to possession with intent to deliver (4 counts), corrupt organizations and criminal conspiracy to corrupt organizations were against the greater weight of the evidence, in that it was not established [that] Appellant delivered drugs or was involved in a conspiracy.
III. Whether the honorable trial court erred and abused its discretion in sentencing Appellant to 23 ½ to 47 years.

Appellant's Brief at 4 (unnecessary capitalization omitted; issues reordered for ease of disposition).

Appellant first challenges the sufficiency of the evidence related to each of his convictions.[5] A challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence presents a question of law and is subject to plenary review under a de novo standard. Commonwealth v. Smith, 234 A.3d 576, 581 (Pa. 2020). When reviewing the sufficiency of the evidence, we must determine whether the evidence admitted at trial and all reasonable inferences drawn therefrom, viewed in the light most favorable to the Commonwealth, were sufficient to prove every element of the offense beyond a reasonable doubt. Id. "[T]he facts and circumstances established by the Commonwealth need not preclude every possibility of innocence." Commonwealth v. Bowens, 265 A.3d 730, 740 (Pa. Super. 2021) (en banc) (citation omitted). "The Commonwealth may sustain its burden of proving every element of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt by means of wholly circumstantial evidence." Id. (citation omitted). Finally, we note that the trier of fact has the authority to determine the weight of the evidence and credibility of the witnesses and is free to believe all, part, or none of the evidence. Id. at 741.

The jury convicted Appellant of four counts of PWID, one count of corrupt organizations, and one count of criminal conspiracy to commit corrupt organizations. With respect to Appellant's PWID convictions, the Controlled Substance, Drug, Device and Cosmetic Act prohibits "the manufacture, delivery, or possession with intent to manufacture or deliver, a controlled substance by a person not registered under this act." 35 P.S. § 780-113(a)(30). Delivery is defined as "the actual, constructive, or attempted transfer from one person to another of a controlled substance . . . whether or not there is an agency relationship." 35 P.S. § 780-102(b).

"Thus, for a defendant to be liable . . . for the delivery of a controlled substance there must be evidence that he knowingly made an actual, constructive, or attempted transfer of a controlled substance to another person without the legal authority to do so." Commonwealth v. Ellison, 213 A.3d 312, 319 (Pa. Super. 2019) (quoting Commonwealth v. Murphy, 844 A.2d 1228, 1234 (Pa. 2004)). "A defendant actually transfers drugs whenever he physically conveys drugs to another person." Id. (citation omitted).

There is no requirement that an exchange of money take place or that the defendant transfers the drugs to a law enforcement officer; "all that is necessary is that the transfer be between two people." Id. (citation omitted).

With respect to Appellant's convictions for corrupt organizations and conspiracy to commit corrupt organizations, Section 911 of the Crimes Code provides as follows:

(b) Prohibited activities.--
(3) It shall be unlawful for any person employed by or associated with any enterprise to conduct or participate, directly or indirectly, in the conduct of such enterprise's affairs through a pattern of racketeering activity.
(4)It shall be unlawful for any person to conspire to violate any of the provisions of paragraphs (1), (2) or (3) of this subsection.

18 Pa.C.S. § 911(b)(3), (4). An enterprise is defined as "any individual, partnership, corporation, association or other legal entity, and any union or group of individuals associated in fact although not a legal entity, engaged in commerce and includes legitimate as well as illegitimate entities and governmental entities." 18 Pa.C.S. § 911(h)(3). "Racketeering activity" includes the commission of an act punishable as PWID under the Controlled Substance, Drug, Device and Cosmetic Act, and a "[p]attern of racketeering activity[] refers to a course of conduct requiring two or more acts of racketeering activity[.]" 18 Pa.C.S. § 911(h)(1)(ii), (4).

To prove that Appellant was guilty of the conspiracy charge, the Commonwealth was required to establish that Appellant:

1) entered into an agreement to commit or aid in an unlawful act with another person or persons; 2) with a shared criminal intent; and 3) an overt act was done in furtherance of the conspiracy. The conduct of the parties and the circumstances surrounding such conduct may create a web of evidence linking the accused to the alleged conspiracy beyond a reasonable doubt. The conspiratorial agreement can be inferred from a variety of circumstances including, but not limited to, the relation between the parties, knowledge of and participation in the crime, and the circumstances and conduct of the parties surrounding the criminal episode.

Commonwealth v. Rogal, 120 A.3d 994, 1001 (Pa. Super. 2015) (citation omitted).

Appellant argues that there was insufficient evidence to support his convictions as police did not observe any of the actual transfers of drugs to the confidential informants and there were no records of Appellant's communications or scientific evidence offered to support the Commonwealth's case. Appellant also notes that police did not recover any marked funds from him after the controlled purchases and only one of the two confidential informants, Kayleigh Hess, testified at trial.[6] Appellant further argues that the Commonwealth failed to show that he was engaged in an enterprise with any other individuals. Appellant contends that, despite Hess's testimony that she accompanied him on visits to New York City, she did not testify that she witnessed the actual drugs that were allegedly brought back to York.

In its April 19, 2021 opinion in support of its order denying Appellant's post-sentence motion, the trial court thoroughly summarized the evidence adduced at trial relating to Appellant's convictions. Trial Court Opinion, 4/19/21 at 1-11. This evidence includes the testimony of detectives with the York City Police Department regarding the four controlled purchases from Appellant,...

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