Commonwealth v. Snyder

Citation251 A.3d 782
Decision Date09 April 2021
Docket NumberNo. 2060 EDA 2019,2060 EDA 2019
Parties COMMONWEALTH of Pennsylvania v. Christopher SNYDER, Appellant
CourtSuperior Court of Pennsylvania

251 A.3d 782

COMMONWEALTH of Pennsylvania
Christopher SNYDER, Appellant

No. 2060 EDA 2019

Superior Court of Pennsylvania.

Submitted July 27, 2020
Filed: April 9, 2021

Lee B. Awbrey, Public Defender, Norristown, for appellant.

Robert M. Falin, Assistant District Attorney, for Commonwealth, appellee.



Christopher Snyder appeals from his June 20, 2019 judgment of sentence imposed after a jury found him guilty of corruption of minors, indecent assault without consent, indecent assault of person unconscious, and indecent assault with a person less than thirteen years of age. After careful review, we affirm Appellant's conviction, affirm in part and vacate in part Appellant's judgment of sentence, and remand for resentencing.

The trial court provided the following factual summary of this case:

In the fall of 2017, [Appellant] was living in a house with the then 12-year-old victim, S.F., along with the victim's family .... [Appellant] was a close friend to S.F.’s father and a close friend to the entire family.

One night, S.F. was awoken from sleep to [Appellant] rubbing her inner leg and vaginal area. At first[,] she was confused about what was happening, and looked at him and said, "What are you doing?" [Thereafter, Appellant left her room.]

S.F. was scared to tell her family about what happened. A couple of months after the assault in February of 2018, S.F. was able to open up to some school friends. The incident came to [S.F.’s mother's] attention when she received a phone call from the school principal.
251 A.3d 787
The matter was reported to law enforcement. S.F. spoke to Detective Gloria Hatcher of the Horsham Township Police Department. S.F. was also interviewed by Meghan Kerper of the Mission Kids Child Advocacy Center.

On March 12, 2019, [Appellant] proceeded to a jury trial where at the conclusion thereof a jury found him guilty of the aforementioned charges.

Trial Court Opinion, 9/18/19, at 1-2.

A jury trial commenced on March 12, 2019. At its conclusion, the jury found Appellant guilty of the aforementioned charges. On July 20, 2019, he was sentenced to nine to twenty months of imprisonment followed by eight years of probation. As part of his sentence, Appellant was ordered to pay $500 in non-mandatory fines along with the costs of prosecution.

Appellant was also found to be subject to lifetime tier-based registration under Subchapter H of the Pennsylvania Sentencing Code as a consequence of his conviction under 18 Pa.C.S. § 3126(a)(7). See 42 Pa.C.S. §§ 9799.14(d)(8), 9799.15(a)(3) (categorizing indecent assault against a complainant "less than 13 years of age" as a Tier III offense, which requires registration for "the life of the individual"). Appellant was determined not to be a sexually violent predator ("SVP"), and he filed no post-sentence motions.

Appellant filed a timely appeal to this Court. Both he and the trial court timely complied with their obligations under Pa.R.A.P. 1925. Appellant raises the following issues for our consideration:

1. Were [Appellant's] due process rights violated when the Commonwealth set forth a four-month date range in the Bills of Information to prosecute him for a single incident but then shifted at trial the timeframe in which they alleged the single incident occurred, after the defense presented alibi evidence that covered dates in the Bills of Information?

2. Did the trial court commit a reversible error when it denied the requested prompt complaint instruction?

3. Was the portion of the sentence requiring [Appellant] to comply with [Subchapter H] illegal because the applicable statute, 42 Pa.C.S. §§ 9799.10 -[.]41, violates both the Pennsylvania and Federal Constitutions?

4. Did the sentencing court err in assigning [Appellant] the costs of prosecution and a fine of $500 without consideration of his ability to pay?

Appellant's brief at 3.

Appellant's first issue concerns the dates listed on the information filed by the Commonwealth, which he characterizes as a claim arising under Commonwealth v. Devlin , 460 Pa. 508, 333 A.2d 888, 890 (1975) ("[T]he date of the commission of the offense must be fixed with reasonable certainty." ). This claim concerns the sufficiency of the evidence adduced by the Commonwealth, over which our standard and scope of review is well-established:

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 as verdict winner, were sufficient to prove every element of the offense beyond a reasonable doubt. The facts and circumstances established by the Commonwealth need not preclude every possibility of innocence. It is within the province of the fact-finder to determine the weight to accord each witness’ testimony and to believe all, part or none of the evidence. The Commonwealth may sustain its burden by proving every element of the crime by means of wholly circumstantial evidence. As an appellate court, we may not re-weight
251 A.3d 788
the evidence and substitute our judgment for that of the fact-finder.

Commonwealth v. Steele , 234 A.3d 840, 845 (Pa.Super. 2020) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted).

Appellant's argument implicates the timeline presented in the Commonwealth's information, which he claims differed from the evidence at trial. See Appellant's brief at 11-12 ("[T]he dates on [the information] were not only arbitrary, but almost completely separate and distinct from the dates the Commonwealth attempted to prove at trial."). In pertinent part, the information set forth allegations that Appellant committed these offenses within a date range of November 1, 2017 through March 6, 2018. Appellant contends that the Commonwealth misled Appellant by "abandoning" these dates at trial after Appellant presented an alleged alibi. Id . Thus, Appellant asserts that this purported chronological shift invalidated his alibi defense. See Appellant's brief at 14-15 (quoting Devlin , supra at 891 n.1 ) ("[A] variance between the allegations of the indictment and the proof offered at trial will not be deemed fatal ‘unless it could mislead the defendant at trial, involves an element of surprise prejudicial to the defendant's efforts to prepare his defense, precludes the defendant from anticipating the prosecution's proof, or impairs a substantial right.’ ").

The content and function of criminal informations is governed by Pennsylvania Rule of Criminal Procedure 560, which provides as follows with respect to allegations concerning the dates of charged offenses:

(A) After the defendant has been held for court following a preliminary hearing or an indictment, the attorney for the Commonwealth shall proceed by preparing an information and filing it with the court of common pleas.

(B) The information shall be signed by the attorney for the Commonwealth and shall be valid and sufficient in law if it contains:


(3) the date when the offense is alleged to have been committed if the precise date is known, ..., provided that if the precise date is not known or if the offense is a continuing one, an allegation that it was committed on or about any date within the period fixed by the statute of limitations shall be sufficient ....

Pa.R.Crim.P. 560. Consistent with this statutory language, the dates set forth in an information do not inextricably bind the Commonwealth to that timeline:

[T]he date laid in the indictment is not controlling, but some other reasonably definite date must be established with sufficient particularity to advise the jury and the defendant of the time the Commonwealth alleges the offense was actually committed, and to enable the defendant to know what dates and period of time he must cover if his defense is an alibi[.]

Devlin , supra at 890.

We are also mindful of the following legal principles regarding the Commonwealth's burden to establish a reliable date as to the offense:

It is the duty of the prosecution to fix the date when an alleged offense occurred with reasonable certainty[.] The purpose of so advising a defendant of the date when an offense is alleged to have been committed is to provide him with sufficient notice to meet the charges and prepare a defense.

However, due process is not reducible to a mathematical formula, and the Commonwealth does not always need to provide a specific date of an alleged crime. Additionally, indictments must be read
251 A.3d 789
in a common sense manner and are not to be construed in an overly technical sense. Permissible leeway regarding the date provided varies with, inter alia , the nature of the crime and the rights of the accused. See Pa.R.Crim.P. 560(B)(3)

Commonwealth v. Brooks , 7 A.3d 852, 857-58 (Pa.Super. 2010) (internal quotation marks and some citations omitted).

While acknowledging that the victim in this case was unable to provide a precise date for the assault, we also note that "[w]hen a young child is the victim of a crime, it is...

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