Commonwealth v. Walker

Decision Date01 June 2018
Docket NumberNo. 33 MAP 2017,33 MAP 2017
Citation185 A.3d 969
Parties COMMONWEALTH of Pennsylvania, Appellant v. Terrell Laron WALKER, Damaire Wallace, Quashaad Rodney James and Maurice Towner Jr., Appellees
CourtPennsylvania Supreme Court

Karen Ann Diaz, Esq., Jill Marie Graziano, Esq., David Ward Heckler, Esq., Jonathan Richard Long, Esq., Matthew D. Weintraub, Esq., Bucks County District Attorney's Office, for Appellant.

Louis R. Busico, Esq., Law Office of Louis R. Busico, John J. Fioravanti Jr., Esq., Martin, Earl & Stilwell LLP, Paul Gregory Lang, Esq., Gallant, Parlow & Lang, P.C., Ronald Allan Smith, Esq., Ronald A. Smith & Associates, for Appellees.

SAYLOR, C.J., BAER, TODD, DONOHUE, DOUGHERTY, WECHT, MUNDY, JJ.

OPINION

JUSTICE DONOHUE

In this case, the Commonwealth filed a single notice of appeal from an order that disposed of four motions to suppress evidence filed by four criminal defendants (Appellees) at four different docket numbers. The Superior Court quashed the appeal, ruling that the Commonwealth was required to file four separate notices of appeal from the suppression order in connection with each of the Appellees' docketed criminal cases. For the reasons explained herein, we vacate the Superior Court's order. We also hold, however, that prospectively, where a single order resolves issues arising on more than one docket, separate notices of appeal must be filed for each case.

In the early morning hours of October 26, 2014, Bristol Township Police Officer Dennis Leighton received a radio broadcast about a robbery at the Glen Hollow Apartments, which indicated that the suspects were four African American men in a dark-colored Nissan Murano. Approximately forty-five minutes after receiving the radio call, Officer Leighton observed what he believed to be a dark-colored Nissan Murano carrying multiple African American men turn in front of him while he was stopped at an intersection. Officer Leighton followed the vehicle and eventually stopped it. While waiting for other officers to arrive on the scene, Officer Leighton observed that the vehicle was not a dark-colored Nissan Murano, but a grey Ford Escape. He also observed that the driver of the vehicle, Appellee Terrell Walker, was watching Officer Leighton closely in his rear and side-view mirrors, and that the passengers (Appellees Damaire Wallace, Quashaad Rodney James and Maurice Towner, Jr.) were moving around, occasionally dipping their shoulders down. After all four men were removed from the vehicle and handcuffed, the police looked into the vehicle and observed what they believed to be items taken from the Glen Hollow robbery. The vehicle was impounded and, after a warrant was obtained, searched. The search yielded various items believed to be tied to the Glen Hollow robbery. The men were arrested and subsequently charged, at separate docket numbers, with numerous crimes.

Each of the Appellees filed separate motions to suppress. While the arguments of the individual suppression motions varied in some respects, each Appellee argued that Officer Leighton lacked reasonable suspicion to effectuate the vehicle stop, thus necessitating suppression of all of the evidence and statements obtained thereafter. The trial court scheduled a hearing to consider the four suppression motions. Following the hearing, the trial court issued a single opinion and order granting the motions, agreeing with Appellees that Officer Leighton lacked reasonable suspicion. The caption to the opinion and order set forth the names of each of the Appellees and listed the four docket numbers for their individual cases. Trial Court Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law and Order, 6/30/2015.

The Commonwealth appealed the trial court's opinion and order to the Superior Court pursuant to Pennsylvania Rule of Appellate Procedure 311(d).1 In so doing, however, the Commonwealth filed a single notice of appeal, on which it listed the four docket numbers of Appellees' cases. See Notice of Appeal, 7/27/2015. Upon receipt of this single notice of appeal, the Prothonotary of the Superior Court issued a rule to show cause why the appeal should not be quashed, as the Commonwealth did not file four separate appeals. The Commonwealth filed a response and resolution of the issue was deferred to the merits panel.

The merits panel rejected the Commonwealth's contention that the Superior Court should, as a matter of judicial economy, sua sponte consolidate Appellees' four appeals pursuant to Rules 512 and 513 of the Pennsylvania Rules of Appellate Procedure. Commonwealth v. Walker , 2299 EDA 2015, 2016 WL 5845208, at *2 (Pa. Super. Sept. 30, 2016). Rule 512 provides:

Parties interested jointly, severally or otherwise in any order in the same matter or in joint matters or in matters consolidated for the purposes of trial or argument, may join as appellants or be joined as appellees in a single appeal where the grounds for appeal are similar, or any one or more of them may appeal separately or any two or more may join in an appeal.

Pa.R.A.P. 512. As the panel noted, this rule applies where multiple parties seek to appeal a single order. Walker , 2016 WL 5845208, at *2. In the present instance, however, a single party (the Commonwealth) appealed from a single order that applies to multiple cases, and thus the rule can have no application. Id.

Rule 513 states:

Where there is more than one appeal from the same order, or where the same question is involved in two or more appeals in different cases, the appellate court may, in its discretion, order them to be argued together in all particulars as if but a single appeal. Appeals may be consolidated by stipulation of the parties to the several appeals.

Pa.R.A.P. 513. The Superior Court likewise indicated that Rule 513 could not provide any relief in this circumstance, as this rule governs the consolidation of multiple appeals. Walker , 2016 WL 5845208, at *2. Because the Commonwealth filed a single appeal, the Superior Court found that consolidation was not possible. Id.

The Superior Court turned to the Official Note accompanying Rule 341 ("Final Orders; Generally"). The Official Note to Rule 341 provides, in relevant part, as follows:

Where, however, one or more orders resolves issues arising on more than one docket or relating to more than one judgment, separate notices of appeals must be filed." Commonwealth v. C.M.K. , 932 A.2d 111, 113 & n.3 (Pa. Super. 2007) (quashing appeal taken by single notice of appeal from order on remand for consideration under Pa.R.Crim.P. 607 of two persons' judgment of sentence).

Pa.R.A.P. 341, Official Note. The Superior Court concluded that this instruction required that the Commonwealth's appeal be quashed, as in this case separate notices of appeal were not filed in response to an order that resolved issues "arising on more than one docket." Walker , 2016 WL 5845208, at *3.

The Commonwealth argued that the Official Note did not apply here because C.M.K. was distinguishable. According to the Commonwealth, C.M.K. involved a single appeal filed by two criminal defendants based upon two judgments of sentence (and for convictions on different charges with different sentences). In that circumstance, the Superior Court in C.M.K. held that it was required to quash the appeal because of the particular problems associated with a single (joint) appeal:

From a purely logical standpoint, the problems inherent in criminal codefendants filing a joint appeal are readily apparent. In most cases, they would not have been convicted for identical actions. If, then, these codefendants raised a challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence, as Appellants here do, the evidence under evaluation would be different for each defendant, necessitating individualized arguments and analyses. The same would be true for challenges to different sentences.
Some appellate issues may coincide; for instance, in this case, Appellants challenge ex parte contact between the prosecutor and a juror. The potential for prejudice from such contact would appear to be the same for each defendant. However, even this claim may not be treated by this Court in exactly the same fashion. Appellants were individually represented at trial; accordingly, the issue may have been preserved at trial by one defendant's counsel and not the other's. In this case, Appellants have filed one joint brief which contains only joint arguments. These co-defendants are distinctive from typical co-defendants only in that they are married to each other. However, this distinction is irrelevant to the issues on appeal.

C.M.K. , 932 A.2d at 113 (footnote omitted). Distinguishing C.M.K. , the Commonwealth argued that the present case does not involve defendants who have their own distinct issues. Commonwealth's Brief at 27–31. Instead, this appeal stemmed from a single suppression order equally applicable to all of the Appellees, with a single set of findings of fact and conclusions of law, relating to a single vehicle stop. Id.

The Superior Court disagreed, indicating that although the specific problems produced by a single order differed in C.M.K. , the Commonwealth's single appeal in this instance generated a different set of issues:

For instance, affirming (or reversing) the suppression order may affect each defendant differently, depending on what evidence, if any, is still available for use by the Commonwealth at trial. Indeed, the results of such an appeal may ultimately affect circumstances which impact whether the codefendants should be jointly tried at all. Moreover, the Fourth Amendment and/or privacy rights of Appellees, as well as their standing to challenge the lawfulness of a search and/or seizure, could also differ between codefendants. Accordingly, although we agree that the specific concerns discussed in C.M.K. cannot arise in a Commonwealth's appeal from a suppression order affecting multiple codefendants, sufficiently similar or analogous hazards exist to justify the rule requiring the
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