Compulsory Joinder Rule; Jurisdiction

Com. v. Perfetto, 169 A.3d 1114 (Pa. Super. 2017), allocatur granted Feb. 27, 2018, appeal docket 7 EAP 2018 (majority) (concurring) (dissenting)

Perfetto was arrested in the City and County of Philadelphia and charged with three counts of driving under the influence (DUI) and the summary offense of driving without lights when required.  Following a trial in absentia, the Philadelphia Municipal Court Traffic Division found Perfetto guilty of the summary traffic violation. The Commonwealth then proceeded separately on the DUI charges in the Philadelphia Municipal Court General Division.

Perfetto filed a motion to dismiss, asserting that 18 Pa .C.S. § 110(1)(ii), the compulsory joinder rule, barred his prosecution for DUI.  The trial court granted Perfetto’s motion to dismiss, noting that “(1) an earlier prosecution had resulted in a conviction for a summary traffic offense; (2) Appellee’s DUI charges arose from the same criminal episode; (3) the Commonwealth was aware of the multiple charges; and (4) all charges occurred in the same judicial district.” The court also reasoned that the recent merger of the former Traffic Court of Philadelphia with the Philadelphia Municipal Court brought charges within the jurisdiction of the same court, and the court reasoned that the policy aims of 18 Pa. C.S. § 110(1)(ii) barred the subsequent DUI prosecution.

The Commonwealth appealed. The Superior Court granted en banc certification to address the effect of amended language of the compulsory joinder rule and whether the trial court erred when it dismissed DUI charges pursuant to 18 Pa. C.S. § 110 based on the prior adjudication of Perfetto’s summary traffic offense.

First, the court identified the policy considerations behind the compulsory joinder rule: “(1) to protect a person accused of crimes from governmental harassment of being forced to undergo successive trials for offenses stemming from the same criminal episode; and (2) as a matter of judicial administration and economy, to assure finality without unduly burdening the judicial process by repetitious litigation.” Slip Op., at 5 (quoting Commonwealth v. Hude, 458 A.2d 177, 180 (Pa. 1983)).

The court then looked to the pre-2002 compulsory joinder statute, which stated in relevant part:

§ 110. When prosecution barred by former prosecution for different offense

Although a prosecution is for a violation of a different provision of the statutes than a former prosecution or is based on different facts, it is barred by such former prosecution under the following circumstances:

(1) The former prosecution resulted in an acquittal or in a conviction as defined in section 109 of this title (relating to when prosecution barred by former prosecution for the same offense) and the subsequent prosecution is for:

(ii) any offense based on the same conduct or arising from the same criminal episode, if such offense was known to the appropriate prosecuting officer at the time of the commencement of the first trial and was within the jurisdiction of a single court unless the court ordered a separate trial of the charge of such offense …

Slip Op., at 6. (quoting 18 Pa.C.S. § 110 (1973) (amended 2002) (emphasis added)).

In 2002, the statute was amended to substitute the phrase “was within the jurisdiction of a single court” with “occurred within the same judicial district as the former prosecution.”  The Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s compulsory joinder test was revised to reflect this language change to provide that subsequent prosecution is barred when all four of the following conditions are met:

(1) the former prosecution resulted in an acquittal or conviction; (2) the current prosecution was based on the same criminal conduct or arose from the same criminal episode; (3) the prosecutor in the subsequent trial was aware of the charges before the first trial; and (4) all charges [are] within the same judicial district as the former prosecution.

Slip Op., at 9. The court also noted that, in updating the rule, the Supreme Court had considered the legislative intent of the 2002 amendment to conclude:

Based upon the plain words of these statutory provisions, we have no problem in concluding the General Assembly intended that, for purposes of the compulsory joinder statute, the phrase “judicial district” means the geographical area established by the General Assembly in which a court of common pleas is located.


While, the Superior Court noted, no case before the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania addressed how the change in statutory language affected pre-amendment compulsory joinder practices, the majority concluded that Section 110, as amended:

requires a court to consider not the jurisdiction of a court, but rather whether multiple offenses occurred within the same judicial district. If so, and provided the prosecutor is aware of the offenses, all charges shall be joined and prosecuted together. Thus, the addition of the “same judicial district” language requires that all charges occurring within the same judicial district, arising from the same criminal conduct or criminal episode, and known to a prosecutor, shall be joined at the time of commencement of the first prosecution.

Slip Op., at 9-10 (emphasis in original).

Applying this principle to Perfetto’s situation, where the first three prongs of the test were met, the Superior Court needed to address the unique structure of the First Judicial District, where the traffic court was absorbed by the Municipal Court. After a review of the structure of the Municipal Court, the Superior Court determined that despite the Municipal Court’s absorption of the traffic court, the comment to Pa.R.Crim.P. 1001(D) clarified that summary traffic offenses remain the responsibility of the Philadelphia Municipal Court Traffic Division:

This rule, which defines “Municipal Court case,” is intended to ensure that the Municipal Court will take dispositive action, including trial and verdict when appropriate, in any criminal case that does not involve a felony, excluding summary cases under the Vehicle Code. The latter are under the jurisdiction of the Municipal Court Traffic Division, the successor of the Philadelphia Traffic Court …

Slip Op., at 17-18.

Focusing on the special jurisdiction of the Philadelphia traffic court, the Superior Court found that Perfetto’s summary traffic charges and DUI charges were not brought before the same judicial district as required by the Supreme Court’s compulsory joinder test. Therefore, Superior Court concluded, the compulsory joinder rule did not bar prosecution of the DUI charges against Perfetto, reversed the ruling of the trial court, and remanded the case back to the Philadelphia Municipal Court for trial.

Judge Moulton concurred in the decision, but agreed with the Commonwealth’s argument that subsequent prosecution of DUI offenses was permissible under §112 of the Crimes Code when the traffic division lacked jurisdiction over the DUI offenses.

Judge Dubow dissented, finding the trial court’s dismissal proper when the compulsory joinder rule barred the DUI prosecution. Specifically, Judge Dubow emphasized that the Commonwealth could have prosecuted both the summary traffic and DUI charges against Perfetto before the Municipal Court General Division.

The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania granted allocatur on the following issues:

(1) Whether [the] Superior Court erred in determining that [the] Philadelphia Municipal Court – Traffic Division has sole jurisdiction over summary traffic offenses even when those charges are part of a single incident which also includes a misdemeanor and/or felony charges? Is this decision in conflict with 18 Pa.C.S. § 110, the 2002 amendment thereto removing jurisdiction as an element of the offense, its constitutional underpinnings, and decisions of this Court?

(2) Where the lower [c]ourt dismissed the prosecution under 18 Pa.C.S. § 110 because all the prongs of the test for dismissal under that statute were met, did the trial [c]ourt properly dismiss the charges?

For more information, contact Kevin McKeon or Dennis Whitaker.