Double Jeopardy; Municipal Court Jurisdiction

Commonwealth v. Johnson, 221 A.3d 217 (Pa. Super. 2019), allocatur granted August 5, 2020, appeal docket 23 EAP 2020

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court will consider whether the Commonwealth was required to try drug offenses and suspended license offenses simultaneously because the Philadelphia Municipal Court and the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia are both in the First Judicial District of Pennsylvania.

On June 23, 2015, police stopped the defendant for careless driving and discovered that he was driving with a suspended license. Johnson was charged with driving with a suspended license, possession of heroin, and possession with intent to deliver heroin (“PWID”). Before bringing the drug charges in the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia, the Commonwealth tried and convicted Johnson of the summary offense in the Philadelphia Municipal Court (Traffic Division). Johnson moved to dismiss the drug charges on the grounds that, under the General Assembly’s statutes, the Commonwealth needed to try all of his offenses simultaneously. Johnson asserted the Commonwealth’s failure to do so violated 18 Pa.C.S. § 110, which bars a subsequent prosecution if:

(1) The former prosecution resulted in an acquittal or in a conviction … and the subsequent prosecution is for:

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(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 occurred within the same judicial district as the former prosecution unless the court ordered a separate trial of the charge of such offense ….

18 Pa.C.S. § 110. The trial court denied Johnson’s motion to dismiss, relying on the Superior Court’s holding in Commonwealth v. Perfetto, 169 A.3d 1114 (Pa. Super. 2017) (en banc) in which Superior Court held that, despite the plain language of 18 Pa.C.S.A. § 110 compelling joinder within the same judicial district, “the jurisdiction of a court remains a consideration implicit to any compulsory joinder analysis, and it is particularly important in those judicial districts that, for various reasons, have distinct minor courts or magisterial district judges vested with exclusive jurisdiction over specific matters.” Slip op. at 3, quoting Perfetto, 169 A.3d at 1121. During the pendency of the appeal, the Supreme Court reversed Superior Court’s decision in Commonwealth v. Perfetto, 207 A.3d 812 (Pa. 2019) (“Perfetto II“). The Perfetto II Court concluded that 18 Pa.C.S.A. § 110(1)(ii) barred the Commonwealth from further prosecuting Perfetto’s offense of DUI because all of Perfetto’s alleged offenses arose from the same criminal episode, occurred within the same judicial district, the prosecutors knew of the other offenses when they tried the case in the municipal court, and the Philadelphia Municipal Court’s General Division had original jurisdiction over both the summary offense and the DUI offense; therefore, the Commonwealth needed to try all of its charges in the municipal court. On appeal, the Commonwealth argued that it was still free to prosecute Johnson for intent to deliver under 18 Pa.C.S.A. § 112, which provides, in relevant part, that a former “prosecution is not a bar within the meaning of section 109 of this title … through section 111 of this title … [if t]he former prosecution was before a court which lacked jurisdiction over the defendant or the offense.”

On appeal, Superior Court noted that the court in Perfetto II did not foreclose the application of the section 112 exception, explaining:

Indeed, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania left room for a case such as this when it decided Perfetto II . The Perfetto II Court stated that Perfetto’s “former prosecution for his summary offense was before a court (namely, the Philadelphia Municipal Court) that had jurisdiction to adjudicate all of [his] charges, albeit in the court’s General Division.” Perfetto II, 207 A.3d at 823 (emphasis added). Therefore, the Court rejected the Commonwealth’s claim that the exception in Section 112(1) applied.

Slip op. at 9. Thus, Superior Court found that the section 112 exception trumps the section 110 compulsory joinder rule and concluded that the Johnson’s prior prosecution in municipal court for traffic violation did not bar prosecution in the court of common pleas for charge of possession of heroin with intent to deliver, despite arising from same criminal episode in same judicial district with Commonwealth’s knowledge at time of prior prosecution. In so holding, the court reasoned that the municipal court’s jurisdiction extended only to any crime punishable by five years’ incarceration or less, and possession of heroin with intent to deliver carried maximum possible sentence of 15 years, which exceeds the jurisdictional limits of the Philadelphia Municipal Court.

The Supreme Court will consider the following issue, as stated by the petitioner:

Did not the Superior Court, in a published opinion, misapply 18 Pa.C.S. § 112 in such a way as to conflict with precedent from both the Superior Court and this Court?

For more information, contact Kevin McKeon or Dennis Whitaker.