Preclusion of Evidence that Allegedly Shows Crime was Committed by Someone Else

Commonwealth v. Yale, 2019 WL 3763966 (Pa. Super. 2019) (unreported), allocatur granted Feb. 20, 2020, appeal docket 9 MAP 2020

While serving an arrest warrant on Larry Thompson at Eric Yale’s mother’s house, a police officer entered Yale’s bedroom and found Yale, methamphetamine, and items consistent with manufacturing methamphetamine using the  “one-pot” method (a process of mixing chemicals in a plastic soda bottle). Police also found Thompson hiding in Yale’s bedroom closet. While in custody, Yale admitted the items were used to manufacture methamphetamine and they were found in his bedroom. Yale and Thompson were subsequently charged with accomplice and principal theories of liability of possession with intent to manufacture or deliver a controlled substance (PWID), possession of a controlled substance, possession of drug paraphernalia, and risking catastrophe.

The trial court precluded Yale’s attempt to admit evidence that on two separate occasions Thompson pleaded guilty to using the one-pot method to produce methamphetamine and was charged with other methamphetamine offenses. Yale was convicted. The Superior Court found that exclusion of the evidence concerning Thompson’s prior acts  in Yale’s trial was not an abuse of discretion:

Yale argues the trial court abused its discretion by precluding evidence of Thompson’s October 12, 2016 arrest and November 3, 2015 guilty plea, both of which involved Thompson’s use of the “one-pot” method to produce methamphetamine. [Citation omitted]. We, however, agree with the trial court’s reasoning; beyond Thompson’s cases involving methamphetamine production, “[Yale] did not demonstrate how the present cases against [Yale] and [Thompson] had such detailed similarities or the same methodology as the . . . cases against [Thompson] to show any common scheme, plan or design which would have exonerated [Yale.]” [Citation omitted]. Consequently, Yale fails to demonstrate how Thompson’s prior bad acts are so “strikingly similar” to his own charged crimes as to establish Thompson as “the person charged with the commission of the crime on trial.” [Commonwealth v. Rini, 427 A.2d 1385 (Pa. Super. 1981)] (describing one-pot method of methamphetamine production as “[t]he way people make methamphetamine right now[.]”). Our review of the record leads us to conclude that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in finding that evidence of Thompsons prior methamphetamine-related activity was not so distinctive as to warrant admission. [Commonwealth v. Palagonia, 868 A.2d 1212 (Pa. Super. 2005)]. Yale, therefore, is not entitled to relief.

Slip Op. at 10.

The Supreme Court will review:

Whether the Superior Court misapplied controlling case law and misapprehended controlling facts in concluding that the trial court did not err as a matter of law or abuse its discretion in precluding the defense from presenting evidence that Larry Thompson, an individual found at the scene, had been previously arrested for similar offenses and possessed knowledge of how to manufacture methamphetamine, to demonstrate that he was the perpetrator of the present charges?

For more information, contact Kevin McKeon or Dennis Whitaker.