Is a transfer order filed after the twenty-day limitation in 42 Pa. C.S. § 6322 and Pa.R.Crim.P. 597 a legal nullity?
Commonwealth v. Green, 265 A.3d 798 (Pa. Super. 2021), allocatur granted Apr. 5, 2022, appeal docket 16 WAP 2021
Damien Green, who was 15 years old at the time, was charged with murder and related offenses arising from the robbery and death of Devon Pfirsching. In accordance with 42 Pa. C.S. § 6322 and Pa.R.Crim.P. 597, Green filed a petition that the matter be decertified and transferred to the juvenile division for adjudication.
The court held a hearing on Green’s decertification petition and at the close of evidence on January 19, 2021, the court noted that it had twenty days after the hearing to issue its decision, i.e., until February 8, 2021. During a phone call on March 8, 2021, the court requested that the litigants waive the statutory twenty-day deadline provided in 42 Pa.C.S. § 6322 (providing that “if the court does not make its finding within 20 days of the hearing on the petition to transfer the case, the defendant’s petition to transfer the case shall be denied by operation of law.”) and Pa.R.Crim.P. 597 (providing that if no decision is rendered within 20 days of the conclusion of the hearing, a motion for transfer “shall be denied by operation of law. The clerk of courts immediately shall enter an order on behalf of the judge.”). The Commonwealth declined the court’s request in writing, “noting that the statutory time limit could not be waived, and positing that the decertification petition had already been denied by operation of law.” Slip op. at 2, n.2. On March 10, 2021, fifty days after the hearing, the court entered an order stating that the court “made decision [sic] and finding in this matter on February 2, 2021,” and granted Green’s petition for decertification. Slip op. at 2.
The Commonwealth appealed, arguing that because the trial court did not take action until fifty days after the hearing, the court lost jurisdiction over Green’s petition pursuant to 42 Pa.C.S. § 6322 and Pa.R.Crim.P. 597, such that the trial court’s order granting decertification was a legal nullity.
Superior Court held that the transfer order was a legal nullity, concluding that:
Here, the court had the authority to act on Appellee’s decertification and transfer petition until February 8, 2021, twenty days after the conclusion of the hearing. After February 8, 2021, pursuant to Section 6322, the court no longer had the authority to act on the petition. The court’s Order granting the petition, entered on March 10, 2021, is, thus, a legal nullity.
Slip op. at 5. Superior Court further noted that:
Our rules of criminal procedure also require the court to announce its decision regarding the transfer of the case in open court no later than 20 days after the hearing. Pa.R.Crim.P. 597(C). If no decision is rendered within 20 days of the conclusion of the hearing, the motion for transfer “shall be denied by operation of law. The clerk of courts immediately shall enter an order on behalf of the judge.” Id. at 597(D). The court in this case did not follow this rule.
Slip op. at 4, n.5.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted allocatur to consider:
Whether, as a matter of first impression and in the interests of justice, a transfer order filed after the twenty[-]day limitation in 42 Pa.C.S.[§]6322 and Pa.R.Crim.P. 597 is a legal nullity or should exceptions created by Pennsylvania jurisprudence [under] similar rules and statutes be applicable?