Commonwealth v. Patterson

Decision Date08 February 2018
Docket NumberNo. 1390 WDA 2016,1390 WDA 2016
Citation180 A.3d 1217
Parties COMMONWEALTH of Pennsylvania v. Christopher Scott PATTERSON, Appellant
CourtPennsylvania Superior Court

Stephen C. Paul, Pittsburgh, for appellant.

Lawrence W. Koenig, Assistant District Attorney, Greensburg, for Commonwealth, appellee.



Appellant, Christopher Scott Patterson, appeals from the August 12, 2016 judgment of sentence following his conviction of third-degree murder. After careful review, we affirm.

The trial court provided the following factual and procedural history:

The charges in this case arose from the shooting death of Kevin Croney, the owner and operator of True Image Tattoo, on March 13, 2015, in the parking lot of the tattoo shop in New Kensington, Westmoreland County. The evidence presented at trial established that on March 13, 2015, at approximately 3:00 p.m., [appellant] went to the True Image Tattoo shop for the purpose of getting a laser tattoo removal treatment, as part of a series of treatments Mr. Croney had been providing. After entering the shop, [appellant] and Mr. Croney went upstairs to Mr. Croney's office and when they returned back downstairs, they appeared to be engaged in an argument regarding money. In order to avoid disrupting the customers within the tattoo shop, both Mr. Croney and [appellant] walked through the back office door and out into a parking area situate immediately behind the building.
[Appellant] testified that at this time, Mr. Croney was getting perturbed because he wanted [appellant] to start paying for the laser tattoo removal treatments, and [appellant] was getting perturbed because he did not feel like he owed Mr. Croney any money based upon a prior agreement that they had made. [Appellant] then testified that he informed Mr. Croney that he would go elsewhere to finish his treatment, and he turned to go to his vehicle which was parked nearby in the parking lot approximately six feet away. As [appellant] was walking towards his car, he claims that he was hit in the back of the head by Mr. Croney, and an altercation ensued.
Mark Patrick, an employee of True Image Tattoo, testified that after he overheard Mr. Croney and [appellant] arguing, he went outside to make sure everything was okay. When he walked outside, he observed [appellant] pinning Mr. Croney up against the door and punching him in the face. Mr. Patrick attempted to defuse the situation by shoving [appellant] away from Mr. Croney. At this time, Mr. Patrick testified that the fighting could have stopped right there—it was broken up—Mr. Croney wasn't advancing. However, despite Mr. Patrick's efforts to separate Mr. Croney and [appellant], Mr. Patrick testified that after shoving [appellant] away, [appellant] began running in his direction in yet another attempt to get to Mr. Croney who was standing behind him. Mr. Patrick testified that in that moment he got spun around and looked up just in time to see [appellant] shoot Mr. Croney.
[Appellant] testified that he shot Mr. Croney in self[-]defense after he observed Mr. Croney holding his pistol in his hand. Mr. Patrick testified that at no time did he see Mr. Croney pull out his gun and point it at [appellant]. During the investigation, a black Glock 9mm pistol, later identified as belonging to Mr. Croney and a Smith and Wesson .38 special revolver belonging to [appellant] were recovered from the scene.
On or about March 16, 2015, [appellant] was arrested and initially charged with Criminal Homicide. After the preliminary hearing, the Criminal Homicide charge was held for court, but was later amended to Murder of the First Degree. The charge of Murder of the Third Degree was also added by Criminal Information. [Appellant] was charged as follows:
1. Count One: Murder of the First Degree, in violation of 18 Pa.C.S.A. § 2502(a).
2. Count Two: Murder of the Third Degree, in violation of 18 Pa.C.S.A. § 2502(c).
On March 14, 2016, [appellant] proceeded to a jury trial before [the trial court]. During trial, [appellant] was represented by Attorney Patrick Thomassey. During the trial, the Commonwealth requested that the jury be given an opportunity to view the scene of the alleged crime. On the first day of the trial, the jury, counsel for the parties, [appellant], and Sheriff Deputies, drove to the scene of the alleged crime for a view of the scene. To ensure safety of all involved, the security of [appellant] and court personnel, [appellant] was handcuffed and shackled at all times while transported to the view and while on the scene of the view in the presence of the jury.
On March 18, 2016, the jury returned a verdict of guilty of Murder of the Third Degree, and sentencing was deferred pending a Pre–Sentence Investigation. On July 18, 2016, [appellant] was sentenced to sixteen (16) to thirty-two (32) years['] incarceration at the Department of Corrections and ordered to pay restitution in the amount of $14,050.00 to Mr. Croney's family.
On July 26, 2016, Attorney Thomas Will formally entered his appearance on behalf of [appellant]. On the same day, [appellant] timely filed post-sentence motions. A hearing on the post-sentence motions was held on September 1, 2016, at which time, all post-sentence motions were denied. On September 14, 2016, [appellant] filed a timely Notice of Appeal to the Pennsylvania Superior Court. On September 16, 2016, [the trial court] ordered [appellant] to file a Concise Statement of Errors Complained of on Appeal within twenty-one (21) days. On October 5, 2016, [appellant] filed said statement and raised eleven issues.

Trial court opinion, 11/1/16 at 1–4 (citations to record omitted). The trial court filed an opinion pursuant to Pa.R.A.P. 1925(a) on November 1, 2016.

Appellant raises the following issues for our review:

I. Whether the Trial Court erred and denied [a]ppellant's U.S. Constitutional rights under the Fifth, Sixth, and Fourteenth Amendments when it permitted the jury to view [appellant] shackled and restrained while on view at the scene of the incident?
II. Whether the Trial Court erred when it directly informed the jury that [appellant] was incarcerated and not afforded bail as a result of the incident in question?
III. Whether the Trial Court erred when it permitted the Commonwealth to begin its case at the scene of the incident without any prior testimony or other presented evidence?
IV. Whether the Trial Court erred when it denied [a]ppellant's Motions for Acquittal?
V. Whether the evidence presented was sufficient to convict [appellant] of homicide in the third degree?
VI. Whether the Commonwealth presented sufficient evidence to prove that [appellant] did not act in self-defense?
VII. Whether the Trial Court erred when it denied [appellant's] Post Sentence Motion of Acquittal/Arrest of Judgement and Modification to a Conviction of Voluntary Manslaughter?
VIII. Whether the Trial Court erred when it denied [appellant's] Post Sentence Motion for Modification of Sentence?
IX. Whether the Trial Court erred when it Denied [appellant's] Post Sentence Motion for New Trial?
X. Whether the Trial Court Erred when it permitted the Commonwealth to present evidence of telephone recordings within the Westmoreland County Correctional Facility?
XI. Whether the Trial Court erred when it did not allow the jury to review transcripts of [appellant's] testimony during deliberation?

Appellant's brief at 5.


In his first issue for our review, appellant avers that the trial court erred by permitting the jury to view appellant in shackles during the view of the crime scene at the beginning of the trial. Specifically, appellant avers that the trial court failed to consider any alternative measures to restrain and/or "immediately subdue" appellant following an "adverse incident," thus abusing its discretion. (See id. at 31.) We disagree.

It is well settled under common law and the Constitution that, part and parcel of the concept of a fair trial, is a defendant's right to be permitted to appear free from shackles or other physical restraint—this right, however, is not absolute. Commonwealth v. Jasper , 531 Pa. 1, 610 A.2d 949, 955 (1992). Circumstances that have justified the use of restraint include where a defendant disrupts the proceedings, when there is danger of an escape, and where the court believes that an unrestrained defendant may attack others. Id. Proper security measures are within the sound discretion of the trial court, and, thus, will not be disturbed absent an abuse of that discretion. Commonwealth v. Patterson , 452 Pa. 457, 308 A.2d 90 (1973).

In re F.C. III , 607 Pa. 45, 2 A.3d 1201, 1222 (2010). Our cases have defined an abuse of discretion as, "... not merely an error of judgment but involves misapplication or overriding the law or the exercise of a manifestly unreasonable judgment passed upon partiality, prejudice or ill will." Commonwealth v. L.P. , 137 A.3d 629, 635 (Pa.Super. 2016), quoting Commonwealth v. Ruffin , 10 A.3d 336, 338 (Pa.Super. 2010) (citations omitted).

Appellant cites a litany of cases from the Supreme Court of the United States discussing the appearance of a criminal defendant during trial and the prejudicial effect that a defendant's appearance may have on a jury. See Estelle v. Williams , 425 U.S. 501, 512, 96 S.Ct. 1691, 48 L.Ed.2d 126 (1976) (holding that a defendant cannot be compelled to "stand trial before a jury while dressed in identifiable prison clothes"); Illinois v. Allen , 397 U.S. 337, 344, 90 S.Ct. 1057, 25 L.Ed.2d 353 (1970) (stating that shackling and gagging a defendant is "something of an affront to the [ ] dignity and decorum of the judicial proceedings," and the use of shackles could "have a significant effect on the jury's feelings about the defendant"); Holbrook v. Flynn , 475 U.S. 560, 571, 106 S.Ct. 1340, 89 L.Ed.2d 525 (1986) (finding that four uniformed and armed police officers sitting in...

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