Commonwealth v. Robinson

Decision Date19 November 2015
CourtPennsylvania Superior Court
PartiesCOMMONWEALTH of Pennsylvania, Appellee v. James Jumah ROBINSON, Appellant.

128 A.3d 261
2015 PA Super 238

COMMONWEALTH of Pennsylvania, Appellee
v.
James Jumah ROBINSON, Appellant.

Superior Court of Pennsylvania.

Argued June 30, 2015.
Filed Nov. 19, 2015.


128 A.3d 263

Douglas J. Waltman, Reading, for appellant.

Alisa R. Hobart, Assistant District Attorney, Reading, for Commonwealth, appellee.

Opinion

OPINION BY DONOHUE, J.:

Appellant, James Jumah Robinson (“Robinson”), appeals from the judgment of sentence following his convictions of carrying a firearm without a license, 18 Pa.C.S.A. § 6106(a)(1), and receiving stolen property, 18 Pa.C.S.A. § 3925(a). On appeal, Robinson challenges the sufficiency of the evidence supporting the conviction of receiving stolen property, contending that the Commonwealth did not prove that he possessed the requisite mens rea for the crime. For the reasons that follow, we reverse Robinson's conviction of receiving stolen property, vacate the judgment of sentence, and remand for resentencing on the remaining firearms conviction.

On May 19, 2013, Officers Christopher Dinger and Brett Sneeringer intervened in a domestic dispute between Robinson and Adrianne Myers (“Myers”), with another female (Mercedes Hodge (“Hodge”)) also at the scene. N.T., 2/11/2014, at 15. According to Officer Dinger, Myers was “screaming very loudly and ... seemed to be very angry at [Robinson].” Id. While Officer Dinger talked with Myers and Hodge, Hodge “quietly informed” the officer that Robinson was currently carrying a firearm in his pocket. Id. at 17. Officer Dinger testified that he then approached Robinson and asked if he had any weapons on his person, to which Robinson “just froze where he stood” and “stared at [the officer] stone-faced.” Id. Officer Dinger conducted a Terry pat down search of Robinson's exterior for weapons, at which time he felt a large revolver in Robinson's left front coat pocket. Id. at 17–18. Officer Dinger held the revolver tightly through the jacket and asked Robinson if he had a permit to carry the weapon. Id. at 18. Robinson again offered no response, remaining “stone-faced” and just stood “without moving or saying anything”. Id. Officer Sneeringer handcuffed Robinson and Officer Dinger removed a loaded .357 Magnum revolver, manufacturer's serial number 140594, from his left front coat pocket. Id. at 18–19. Officer Dinger contacted the county dispatcher, who advised that a search indicated that Robinson did not possess a permit to carry a firearm and that he had a scofflaw warrant for an unpaid harassment ticket. Id. at 28.

128 A.3d 264

Officer Dinger identified Jeffery Schoenberger (“Schoenberger”) of Lebanon, Pennsylvania, as the probable owner of the handgun. Id. at 24. Schoenberger testified that he purchased the weapon in a private sale and then took it to a local gun shop to complete the transaction. Id. at 38. He kept the handgun in his basement, and the last time he could remember seeing it was July 2010. Id. at 39. He did not know that it was missing until May 2013 when Officer Dinger contacted him. Id. at 39–40. At that time, Schoenberger reported the weapon as missing, but subsequently decided not to pursue charges because he believed that his stepson likely took it and “sold it for money or traded it for drugs.” Id. at 42. Schoenberger indicated that he did not know Robinson and had not given him the handgun. Id. at 40.

After a jury trial on February 11, 2014, Robinson was convicted of the two above-referenced crimes.1 On the conviction of firearms not to be carried without a license, the trial court sentenced him to a term of incarceration of not less than forty-two months or more than seven years. On the conviction of receiving stolen property, the trial court sentenced Robinson to a consecutive term of incarceration of not less than two years or more than ten years.

On appeal, Robinson challenged only the sufficiency of the evidence supporting his conviction of receiving stolen property. In a memorandum decision issued on December 23, 2014, a panel of this Court reversed the conviction of receiving stolen property and remanded for resentencing. This Court subsequently granted en banc review for further consideration of the sufficiency of the evidence for the disputed conviction. Robinson contends that the Commonwealth presented no evidence at trial to establish that he knew, or had reason to know, that the firearm in his possession was stolen. The Commonwealth disagrees, arguing that it introduced circumstantial evidence that, when viewed in the light most favorable to the verdict winner, permitted the jury to infer that Robinson possessed the requisite mens rea for a conviction of receiving stolen property.

Our standard of review for a challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence is de novo, but our scope of review is limited to considering the evidence of record, and all reasonable inferences arising therefrom, viewed in the light most favorable to the Commonwealth as the verdict winner. Commonwealth v. Rushing, 627 Pa. 59, 99 A.3d 416, 420–21 (2014). Evidence is sufficient if it can support every element of the crime charged beyond a reasonable doubt. Commonwealth v. Forrey, 108 A.3d 895, 897 (Pa.Super.2015); Commonwealth v. Vogelsong, 90 A.3d 717, 719 (Pa.Super.2014). The trier of fact, while passing upon the credibility of witnesses and the weight of the proof, is free to believe all, part, or none of the evidence. Commonwealth v. Watkins, 577 Pa. 194, 843 A.2d 1203, 1211 (2003).

The crime of receiving stolen property is defined by statute as follows:

§ 3925. Receiving stolen property

(a) Offense defined.—A person is guilty of theft if he intentionally receives, retains, or disposes of movable

128 A.3d 265

property of another knowing that it has been stolen, or believing that it has probably been stolen, unless the property is received, retained, or disposed with intent to restore it to the owner.

18 Pa.C.S.A. § 3925(a). Based upon this definition, this Court has identified the elements of the crime, as relevant here, to be: (1) intentionally acquiring possession of the movable property of another; (2) with knowledge or belief that it was probably stolen; and (3) the intent to deprive permanently. Commonwealth v. Nero, 58 A.3d 802, 807 (Pa.Super.2012) (quoting Commonwealth v. Young, 35 A.3d 54, 63 (Pa.Super.2011), appeal denied, 616 Pa. 646, 48 A.3d 1249 (2012)), appeal denied, 166 Pa.Super. 544, 72 A.2d 602 (2013).

Robinson contests the sufficiency of the evidence only with respect to the second element of the crime, sometimes referred to as “guilty knowledge” of the crime. See Commonwealth v. Matthews, 429 Pa.Super. 291, 632 A.2d 570, 572 (1993). This Court has commented on the basic requirement for satisfaction of this second element as follows:

Importantly, the Legislature expressly defined the required mental state as “knowing” or “believing.” Because the Legislature excluded mental states such as recklessness, negligence, or naïveté about the stolen status of the property, those mental states are insufficient. Commonwealth v. Dunlap, 351 Pa.Super. 43, 505 A.2d 255, 257 (1985); see also Commonwealth v. Ostrosky, 589 Pa. 437, 909 A.2d 1224, 1230 n. 7 (2006) (express inclusion of certain statutory terms implies the exclusion of those that are not mentioned); compare 18 Pa.C.S.A. § 302(c) (where the Legislature does not define the relevant mental state, a finding of recklessness is sufficient). This reasoning is consistent with the common recognition that penal statutes are to be strictly construed. Commonwealth v. Jarowecki, 604 Pa. 242, 985 A.2d 955, 959 (2009), citing 1 Pa.C.S.A. § 1928(b)(1). Thus, courts may not hold that a less culpable mental state satisfies a criminal statute where the statute demands proof of the more culpable mental state. See Dunlap; compare 18 Pa.C.S.A. 302(d) (generally, if the Commonwealth proves a more culpable mental state, then the less culpable mental state is satisfied).

Commonwealth v. Newton, 994 A.2d 1127, 1131 (Pa.Super.2010), appeal denied, 608 Pa. 630, 8 A.3d 898 (2010).

Accordingly, the Commonwealth had the burden to establish either that Robinson knew the firearm in question was stolen, or believed that it had probably been stolen. A person “knows” that goods are stolen if he is “aware” of that fact. Id. (citing 18 Pa.C.S.A. § 302(b)(2)(i)). In this case, as in most cases, the Commonwealth acknowledges that there is no direct proof that Robinson knew for a fact that the handgun was stolen. Commonwealth's Substituted Brief at 9–10. Instead, the Commonwealth contends that it introduced sufficient evidence to prove that Robinson believed the firearm was probably stolen. Id. In this regard, the Commonwealth correctly notes that the guilty knowledge required here (like all culpable mental states) may be inferred from circumstantial evidence. Id. at 8; Commonwealth v. Pruitt, 597 Pa. 307, 951 A.2d 307, 314 (2008), cert. denied, 556 U.S. 1131, 129 S.Ct. 1614, 173 L.Ed.2d 1001 (2009).

The viability of inferences of guilty knowledge in connection with the crime of receiving stolen property has a long history. In early cases, this Court sanctioned an evidentiary presumption that a defendant's unexplained possession of recently stolen property was sufficient proof to support a...

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  • Commonwealth v. Robinson
    • United States
    • Pennsylvania Superior Court
    • November 19, 2015
    ...128 A.3d 261COMMONWEALTH of Pennsylvania, Appelleev.James Jumah ROBINSON, Appellant.No. 912 MDA 2014Superior Court of Pennsylvania.Argued June 30, 2015.Filed Nov. 19, 2015.128 A.3d 263Douglas J. Waltman, Reading, for appellant.Alisa R. Hobart, Assistant District Attorney, Reading, for Commo......

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