Commonwealth v. Robel, 2466 EDA 2021

CourtSuperior Court of Pennsylvania
Writing for the CourtPANELLA, P.J.
PartiesCOMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA v. MICHAEL ROBEL Appellant COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA v. KAREEM JOHNSON Appellant
Docket Number2466 EDA 2021,2470 EDA 2021,J-A17005-22,J-A17006-22
Decision Date22 November 2022

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA
v.

MICHAEL ROBEL Appellant

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA
v.

KAREEM JOHNSON Appellant

Nos. 2466 EDA 2021, 2470 EDA 2021

Nos. J-A17005-22, J-A17006-22

Superior Court of Pennsylvania

November 22, 2022


NON-PRECEDENTIAL DECISION - SEE SUPERIOR COURT I.O.P. 65.37

Appeal from the Judgment of Sentence Entered October 14, 2021 In the Court of Common Pleas of Chester County Criminal Division at No(s): CP-15-CR-0003414-2019, CP-15-CR-0003415-2019

BEFORE: PANELLA, P.J., NICHOLS, J., and COLINS, J. [*]

MEMORANDUM

PANELLA, P.J.

Appellants Michael Robel and Kareem Johnson appeal from the judgment of sentence following their convictions for failing to provide required financial information. Robel and Johnson argue their alleged criminal conduct constituted at most a de minimis infraction and therefore the charge should

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have been dismissed. We consolidate these appeals pursuant to Pa.R.A.P. 513 and we vacate the judgment of sentence after finding that the omission was a de minimis violation of the applicable statute.

The essential facts of both cases are largely undisputed. Robel and Johnson were elected constables tasked with, among other duties, preserving peace at polling places. Robel was a constable for Northumberland County, while Johnson was a constable for Chester County. As a condition of holding these offices, both men were required to file an annual statement of financial interest documenting any source of income over $1300 they received while in office.

Perhaps most importantly to this case, in 2018, both men were employed as security officers by the company Raven Knights, LLC during the construction of the Mariner East Pipeline in Chester County but failed to list this fact in their statement of financial interest. As a result, the Chester County District Attorney's Office charged both men with accepting bribes,[1] official

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oppression,[2] conflict of interest,[3] accepting improper influence,[4] and failing to properly complete their statements of financial interest.[5]

At the conclusion of their jury trial, Robel and Johnson moved for judgment of acquittal. The trial court acquitted them of four of their five charges. The jury then convicted them of the only remaining charge against each, the failure to properly complete the statement of financial interest.

Initially, we note that Robel and Johnson were tried together as co-defendants in the trial court and petitioned for their appeals to be consolidated before this Court. Their petition was denied, but they were granted permission to argue together before this panel. Pa.R.A.P. 513 provides that we may, in our discretion, consolidate appeals. See Always Busy Consulting, LLC v. Babford & Company, Inc., 247 A.3d 1033, 1042 (Pa. 2021). The issues raised and arguments made are substantially the same for each appellant. Based on this, we consolidate these appeals sua sponte.

Next, we analyze the timeliness of this appeal. Robel and Johnson argue that their post-sentence motions, which were electronically filed, were timely

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under the circumstances and that their appeal was, in turn, also timely. We agree.

On October 14, 2021, both Robel and Johnson were sentenced to pay a $250.00 fine and court costs. They filed post-sentence motions electronically pursuant to Pa.R.Crim.P. 576.1, which allows a party to timely submit a filing electronically. Those motions were filed on October 25, 2021, the final day for timely filing. Counsel received an electronic mail confirmation of the submission of this filing. However, he then received additional electronic mail the following morning, on October 26, 2021, stating the filing had been rejected. The motions were administratively rejected by the trial court due to an issue with the electronic filing. Counsel claimed that the filing was rejected because the electronic "tag" on the document was incorrect, however, it was the only "tag" available for selection at the time of filing. Counsel re-filed the post-sentence motions that same morning with a different tag. Given these circumstances, we conclude the post-sentence motions were timely filed.[6]

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And, as the post-sentence motions were denied on October 27, 2021, the notices of appeal were timely filed [7]

We now turn to the merits of these appeals. Robel and Johnson raise two issues for our review. First, they claim that if they committed an infraction under the relevant statute, it was not the type of behavior that the legislature intended to punish. Next, they argue that the evidence presented at trial was insufficient to establish beyond a reasonable doubt that they purposefully omitted information from their financial statements.

Johnson and Robel's first argument centers around the purpose and scope of the State Ethics Act. They argue that any violation of the Act they committed was de minimis in nature and we should therefore vacate their convictions. See Appellant's Brief at 18.[8] Johnson and Robel argue that the trial court misapplied the law and exercised manifestly unreasonable judgment in denying their motion for acquittal. See id. at 20.

When reviewing a trial court's decision regarding whether an action constitutes a de minimis infraction, we employ an abuse of discretion

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standard. See Commonwealth v. Przybyla, 722 A.2d 183, 184 (Pa. Super. 1998). We will find an abuse of discretion has occurred when a trial court has overridden or misapplied the law, or used manifestly unreasonable, biased or prejudiced judgment as reflected in the record. See Commonwealth v. LeClair, 236 A.3d 71, 78 (Pa. Super. 2020). The legislature has codified the procedure for handling a de minimis infraction in 18 Pa.C.S.A. § 312(a) as follows:

General rule.-The court shall dismiss a prosecution if, having regard to the nature of the conduct charged to constitute an offense and the nature of the attendant circumstances, it finds that the conduct
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