Where Orders Entered on More Than One Docket are Involved, Must Separate Notices of Appeal Must Be Filed?

Com. v. Walker, 2016 WL 5845208 (Pa. Super.) (unreported), 33 MAP 2017

Issue

Whether a single notice of appeal may be filed from identical suppression orders at separate co-defendants’ criminal dockets?

Background

Four criminal defendants were charged at separate dockets with numerous offenses related to an armed robbery. The defendants filed suppression motions and a consolidated suppression hearing was held. The suppression court granted the motions to suppress. The Commonwealth timely appealed, but instead of filing a separate notice of appeal at each defendant’s criminal docket number, filed a single notice of appeal with all four case captions.

Based on existing case law and the 2013 amendment to the note to Pa. R.A.P. 341, the Superior Court sua sponte issued an order to show cause why the appeal should not be quashed, as the Commonwealth failed to file separate appeals for each defendant. After reviewing the arguments for and against, the Superior Court quashed the Commonwealth’s appeal, reasoning that in Com. v. C.M.K., 932 A.2d 111 (Pa. Super. 2007) it had quashed an appeal by two criminal defendants, and that the note to Pa. R.A.P. 341 referenced C.M.K. and warned that a separate notice of appeal needed to be filed from each docket in which an order had been entered.  As the court reasoned:

We must first decide whether to quash the instant appeal due to the Commonwealth’s failure to file separate notices of appeal for each Appellee. Pa.R.A.P. 341 governs appeals from final orders. The Note to Rule 341 states, in part, as follows:

Where … one or more orders resolves issues arising on more than one docket or relating to more than one judgment, separate notices of appeal 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’ judgments of sentence).

Pa.R.A.P. Rule 341, Note at ¶ 4 (emphasis added).

In C.M.K., codefendants C.M.K. and M.W.K. were convicted following a jury trial “of various offenses related to their physical abuse of their child.” C.M.K., 932 A.2d at 112. They filed separate notices of appeal, which were later consolidated by this Court. Subsequently, “this Court vacated the judgments of sentence and remanded for consideration of a Pa.R.Crim.P. 607 motion challenging the weight of the evidence.” Id. Following a hearing, the trial court issued an order denying C.M.K.’s and M.W.K’s weight-of-the-evidence claim, and then resentenced both C.M.K. and M.W.K. C.M.K. and M.W.K. then filed one, joint notice of appeal from their judgments of sentence. This Court deemed their joint notice of appeal “a legal nullity” that required “quashal[.]” Id. at 113.

Slip Op., at 5.

Rejecting the Commonwealth’s attempt to distinguish the factual circumstances of C.M.K. from the single notice of appeal in the suppression context, the court reasoned:

[T]his Court recognizes that similar problems can arise when the Commonwealth files a single appeal from an order granting suppression with regard to multiple codefendants, regardless of whether the lower court issued a single, consolidated order containing identical findingsof fact and legal analysis for each case.2 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.3 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 Commonwealth to file separate appeals with respect to each Appellee/codefendant.

Slip Op., at 6-7.

Judge Stevens dissented, noting that while courts have long discouraged the filing of a single notice of appeal from orders entered at multiple dockets, the rule has not always been enforced, and that this case is distinguishable from C.M.K.:

C.M.K. is distinguishable from the instant case. In C.M.K., the appeal was taken from two judgments of sentence imposed on different charges. In the case sub judice, on the other hand, the suppression court’s order is the same as to each Appellee, and thus, the appellate suppression issue presented by the Commonwealth overlaps. Moreover, in this case, the Clerk of Courts noted the filing of the suppression court’s single order, as well as the Commonwealth’s single notice of appeal, at each Appellee’s docket number. Accordingly, in light of the fact Appellees have not suffered any prejudice (as they each had the opportunity to fully brief the suppression issue on appeal), the circumstances permit this Court to accept the Commonwealth’s appeal. Thus, contrary to the Majority, I would not quash the appeal, but, in the interest of justice, would accept it. Accordingly, I respectfully dissent.

Dissenting Memorandum, at 5.

The Supreme Court granted allocatur. The issue, as stated by Petitioner, is:

Whether the Superior Court erred in quashing the Commonwealth’s appeal of the trial court’s grant of suppression by overlooking, misapprehending and/or ignoring the record and/or ignoring controlling case law where the facts and circumstances established that the Respondents were not prejudiced by the filing of a single notice of appeal where the trial court entered one suppression order for all four cases and entered identical findings of fact and conclusions of law in each case?

For more information, contact Kevin McKeon or Dennis Whitaker.