Commonwealth v. Munson, 2356 EDA 2018

CourtSuperior Court of Pennsylvania
Writing for the CourtOPINION BY OLSON, J.
Citation261 A.3d 530
Parties COMMONWEALTH of Pennsylvania, Appellant v. Hassan MUNSON
Docket NumberNo. 2356 EDA 2018,2356 EDA 2018
Decision Date13 August 2021

261 A.3d 530

COMMONWEALTH of Pennsylvania, Appellant
v.
Hassan MUNSON

No. 2356 EDA 2018

Superior Court of Pennsylvania.

Argued March 9, 2021
Filed August 13, 2021


Shawn K. Page Sr., Assistant District Attorney, Media, for Commonwealth, appellant.

Katherine A. Walecka, Philadelphia, for appellee.

BEFORE: OLSON, J., NICHOLS, J., and STEVENS, P.J.E.*

OPINION BY OLSON, J.:

The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania appeals from an order entered in the Criminal Division of the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County on July 31, 2018, which denied its motion to refile certain charges against Appellee, Hassan Munson (Munson).1 ,2 In the order, the trial

261 A.3d 534

court concluded that the Commonwealth failed to establish a prima facie case that Munson committed the offenses of aggravated cruelty to animals – torture,3 criminal conspiracy,4 and animal fighting – amusement or gain.5 After careful review, we reverse and remand.

A preliminary hearing was held on June 5, 2018 at the municipal court level.6 At the commencement of this hearing, the municipal court ordered sequestration of "all witnesses." N.T. First Preliminary Hearing, 6/5/18, at 3. Thereafter, the Commonwealth called Officer Wayne Smith to testify. Officer Smith testified that he is a 16-year veteran enforcement officer with the Pennsylvania Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals ("SPCA"). In that capacity, he enforces animal cruelty laws, receives training in animal cruelty and agricultural law, lectures annually on blood sport, and has testified as an expert in the common pleas courts "50 plus times." Id. at 5-6, 17-18. He explained that he is familiar with the equipment, medication, and procedures used in dog fighting because he has participated in "hundreds" of investigations and arrests. Id. at 6. The municipal court certified Officer Smith as an expert in animal cruelty but did not permit him to offer opinions about the medical status or condition of an animal. Id. at 20.

Officer Smith further testified that on March 10, 2018, the SPCA and Philadelphia Police Department ("PPD") received a complaint of animal fighting on the 1200 block of 35th Street in Philadelphia. Id . at 7. At approximately 7:00 p.m., Officer Smith began surveillance by observing the location from under a bread truck. Id. Soon after Officer Smith arrived, a man walked down the street using the speaker phone feature of his cellular telephone. Officer Smith testified that the man "was banging on a garage door yelling ‘where are you guys at.’ You could hear on the speaker." Id. Based on what he heard of the cell phone conversation, Officer Smith informed SPCA Director of Law Enforcement Nicole Wilson, that the location was 1213-1214 South 35th Street. Id. at 8.

261 A.3d 535

At 7:45 p.m., two Black males pulled up in an older black pickup truck and entered a small roll-up door at 1214 South 35th Street. Id. at 8.7 These men picked up a carpet from the back of the truck and took it inside the garage. Id. Officer Smith observed groups of five to ten males enter the small roll-up door, which he memorialized in photographs that were admitted into evidence. Id. at 9, 10. A doorman guarded the roll-up door through which each man entered. See Id. at 13, 37. Officer Smith observed Munson pulling up to the location and photographed him in his wheelchair speaking with the doorman before entering the garage. Id. at 13. Officer Smith observed over 50 people enter the property. Id. at 12.

At approximately 8:00 p.m., co-defendant Brian Peterson walked a black-and-white pit bull to the premises, picked it up, and carried it through the small roll-up door at 1214 South 35th Street. Officer Smith photographed Peterson with the black-and-white dog as he entered the property and identified Peterson in court. Id. at 9-10, 12. At some point, Peterson brought the dog back outside and put it into his vehicle. Id. at 37.

Soon after, another man approached the garage with a tan-and-white pit bull. Id. at 10. Officer Smith photographed the man enter the garage with the tan-and-white dog. Id. at 12. Once this man was inside, Peterson retrieved the black-and-white dog and walked it inside the garage again. Id. at 10. At this point, the roll-up door was closed. Id. at 13. Officer Smith informed Director Wilson that the dogs were inside, and he believed the dog fight started. Id.

Officer Smith took his truck around the building to block other streets. As he walked back around the building, he observed PPD and SPCA officers "banging and kicking and announcing their presence." Id. at 14. He then saw the large bay door go up and "a flood of people came out." Id. He pursued these individuals as they ran from the garage. Officers subsequently apprehended 15 individuals along the sidewalk, including Munson and his co-defendants, Peterson, Robert Parks, Leslie Taylor, and Michael Easton. Id.

When Officer Smith entered the garage, he observed a makeshift ring and a red carpet within it. Id. at 15-16. Officer Smith took a photograph of this and explained that "the red carpet [ ] is used for traction. They laid that down and put the ring around it and that will keep the dogs from slipping all over." Id. at 21. Officer Smith described the red carpet as new and the ring as temporary. Id. There were several motorcycles, dirt bikes, and four wheelers on one side of the garage. Id. at 15.

Officer Smith saw the black-and-white dog inside the bathroom of the garage and described it as "badly injured" with "injuries to the top of the head and the muscle and chest area." Id. at 16. A photograph of the black-and-white dog in the bathroom showed injuries to the dog's head, face, muscle, and leg. Id. at 23. The tan-and-white dog ran away but was later captured and presented with "injuries to the legs, chest and face." Id. Officer Smith authenticated photographs he had taken of the tan-and-white dog. Id. at 24.

Officer Smith testified that, after a dog fight, dogs typically have bites to the face, chest, and legs because "[w]hen the two dogs go at it, they are face-to-face and try to grab on the first thing which is the face, chest and [legs]." Id. at 20. He affirmed

261 A.3d 536

the dogs he observed at the garage had injuries to the face, chest, and legs. Id. Officer Smith further testified that he found "a milk, Dawn dish washing liquid, and rubbing alcohol" mixture inside the bathroom, which he explained is commonly used in dog fighting to wash the dogs before a fight to "make sure there is no poison or impurities that will stop a dog from latching on." Id. at 22.

Officer Smith testified another officer secured a search warrant. Id. at 25. Inside the makeshift ring, officers found a black backpack, a three-inch collar, a hanging scale, a container of dog supplements, several cellular telephones, and two guns. Id. at 26. Officer Smith testified that the hanging scale in the garage was similar to those he observed at other dog fighting locations. Id. at 22-23. He explained, "when two dogs fight they come up with a matched weight that both dogs have to come within. If one dog is over or under, you wind up forfeiting the fight. It is up to the two fighters to go on. You still lose your money. [The dogs] are weighed with a hanging scale." Id.

Officer Smith made in-court identifications of Munson and the other co-defendants. On the day of the incident, he photographed each individual arrestee, including the contents of their pockets. Id. at 26, 29. In total, officers recovered almost $8,000.00 from Munson and his co-defendants. See id. at 27-29. Munson had $5,238.00, which was placed on the floor in front of his wheelchair. Id. at 22, 29. Peterson had $2,160.00 in his pockets. Id. at 28. Parks had approximately $320.00 in his pockets. Id. at 27, 43. Taylor had a smaller amount of cash in his pockets. Easton was found inside of the building hiding behind a welding machine with cash in his pockets. Id. at 29, 32.

Officers found two other dogs in nearby vehicles. Id. at 31. Officers rescued an underweight, malnourished, and dehydrated dog from a minivan registered to Parks located a block and a half away from the garage. Id. at 31, 43. Officers executed a search warrant on a vehicle with out-of-state tags, wherein they found a puppy without food or water. Id. at 31-32.

At the conclusion of Officer Smith's testimony,8 the Commonwealth rested. See Id. at 32. After brief argument, the municipal court dismissed the charges, stating there was a lack of evidence tying Munson and his co-defendants to their respective charges. Id. at 55-56.

On June 15, 2018, the Commonwealth filed a notice of refiling against Munson, together with his co-defendants Taylor, Easton, Peterson, and Parks. Trial Court Opinion at 2. The Honorable Shanese I. Johnson ("trial court") presided over a second preliminary hearing at the Court of Common Pleas on July 17, 2018.9 At this hearing, after the incorporation of the June 5, 2018 notes of testimony and corresponding

261 A.3d 537

photographs into the record, the Commonwealth called Director Wilson to testify. Since 2009, Director Wilson worked for the Pennsylvania SPCA and she served as the Director of Humane Law...

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3 practice notes
  • Commonwealth v. Sinkiewicz, 480 EDA 2022
    • United States
    • Superior Court of Pennsylvania
    • 5 avril 2023
    ...Supreme Court recently reminded that the prima facie showing is a low threshold for the Commonwealth to surpass. Commonwealth v. Munson, 261 A.3d 530, 540 (Pa. Super. 2021) (citations omitted). In the present case, the Commonwealth argues the trial court erroneously denied its motions to re......
  • Harris v. Couttien, 1008 EDA 2020
    • United States
    • Superior Court of Pennsylvania
    • 13 août 2021
    ...actual notice of the litigation, the court should only dismiss the complaint "where plaintiffs' failure to comply with the Rules of Civil 261 A.3d 530 Procedure has prejudiced defendant ."3 McCreesh , 888 A.2d at 674 (emphasis added). Most important to our analysis, where the mode of servic......
  • Commonwealth v. Reed, 1611 EDA 2021
    • United States
    • Superior Court of Pennsylvania
    • 9 août 2022
    ...Supreme Court recently reminded that the prima facie showing is a low threshold for the Commonwealth to surpass. 5 Commonwealth v. Munson, 261 A.3d 530, 540 (Pa. Super. 2021) (citations omitted). The Commonwealth charged Mr. Reed with various firearms violations, all of which, relevant to t......
3 cases
  • Commonwealth v. Sinkiewicz, 480 EDA 2022
    • United States
    • Superior Court of Pennsylvania
    • 5 avril 2023
    ...Supreme Court recently reminded that the prima facie showing is a low threshold for the Commonwealth to surpass. Commonwealth v. Munson, 261 A.3d 530, 540 (Pa. Super. 2021) (citations omitted). In the present case, the Commonwealth argues the trial court erroneously denied its motions to re......
  • Harris v. Couttien, 1008 EDA 2020
    • United States
    • Superior Court of Pennsylvania
    • 13 août 2021
    ...actual notice of the litigation, the court should only dismiss the complaint "where plaintiffs' failure to comply with the Rules of Civil 261 A.3d 530 Procedure has prejudiced defendant ."3 McCreesh , 888 A.2d at 674 (emphasis added). Most important to our analysis, where the mode of servic......
  • Commonwealth v. Reed, 1611 EDA 2021
    • United States
    • Superior Court of Pennsylvania
    • 9 août 2022
    ...Supreme Court recently reminded that the prima facie showing is a low threshold for the Commonwealth to surpass. 5 Commonwealth v. Munson, 261 A.3d 530, 540 (Pa. Super. 2021) (citations omitted). The Commonwealth charged Mr. Reed with various firearms violations, all of which, relevant to t......

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