The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has decided the case of Commonwealth v. Perfetto, holding that Philadelphia prosecutors may not file more serious misdemeanor or felony charges against a defendant who has already been tried in traffic court for summary offenses arising from the same incident. This means that if you were arrested by the police, charged with DUI, and also received traffic tickets like a ticket for reckless driving and the traffic case has been resolved, you cannot be prosecuted for the DUI. This happens frequently in Philadelphia because traffic court cases go to trial much more quickly than criminal trials. Although this may seem like a loophole to some, it is actually a question of fundamental fairness as prosecutors simply should not be allowed to charge a defendant in multiple different courts for the same conduct. Doing so requires the defendant to take off multiple days from work, pay more in attorney’s fees, and potentially receive separate sentences for the same incident. This is an extremely significant decision because it could result in the dismissal of numerous cases.
The facts of Commonwealth v. Perfetto
On July 3, 2014, the defendant was operating a motor vehicle in Philadelphia. The police stopped him and issued him a citation because he was driving without his lights on as required by 75 Pa. C.S.A. § 4302. The officer then determined that the defendant was also driving under the influence of a controlled substance. In addition to issuing the traffic tickets, they subsequently arrested him and charged him with DUI. In Philadelphia, when someone is issued a traffic citation and charged with a more serious criminal offense at the same time, the cases are not usually joined together. Instead, defendants have traditionally had to resolve the traffic citations in traffic court and the criminal case in the Philadelphia Municipal Court.
Prior to the resolution of the criminal charges, the defendant was found guilty, in absentia, on the summary traffic offense in the traffic court. The traffic court is a division of the Philadelphia Municipal Court. After his conviction, the defendant had a preliminary hearing for his DUI charges and he was held for court on all charges. In Philadelphia, if a defendant is charged with a felony, he will have a preliminary hearing in Municipal Court. If the court determines there is enough evidence for a case to go to trial, then the defendant will be held for court, and the case will be transferred to the Court of Common Pleas.
Motion to Dismiss Under Rule 110
At his trial, the defendant filed a motion to dismiss the DUI charge against him because he had already been found guilty of the traffic offense. His defense attorney argued that 18 Pa. C.S.A. § 110 ( “Rule 110”) prohibits subsequent prosecutions that arise from the same criminal episode when the defendant has previously been convicted in the same court. Thus, he argued that because the defendant was found guilty in Municipal Court - Traffic Division for his traffic offense, and his traffic offense was part of the same incident as his alleged DUI, the Municipal Court - Criminal Division should dismiss the DUI case.
The trial court heard oral arguments on the defendant’s motion. The Commonwealth argued that Rule 110 should not apply because summary traffic offenses must be tried in the traffic division of the Philadelphia Municipal Court. Further, because the traffic division lacked the jurisdiction to hear the DUI charge, the two charges could not be tried at the same time. In other words, the Commonwealth argued that for all intents and purposes, the traffic division is a separate court and thus Rule 110 did not apply to the defendant’s case and his motion should be denied. At the conclusion of the arguments, the trial court agreed with the defendant and dismissed the DUI charges against him.
The Commonwealth’s Appeal to the Superior Court
The Commonwealth filed a notice of appeal to the Pennsylvania Superior Court. On appeal, a divided en banc panel of the Pennsylvania Superior Court reversed the trial court’s decision. The Superior Court engaged in a complex and convoluted jurisdictional analysis of Philadelphia’s Municipal Court and held that defendants who are charged with a traffic offense in Philadelphia must have the traffic offenses tried in the traffic division of the Municipal Court, regardless of whether the defendant is also charged with non-traffic offenses. Thus, according to the Superior Court, Rule 110 did not apply when a defendant was previously convicted or acquitted of a traffic offense. The defendant filed a petition for allowance of appeal to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, and the Pennsylvania Supreme Court accepted the appeal.
What is Rule 110?
Rule 110 is the codified version of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s decision in Commonwealth v. Campana. The Campana Court held that the Double Jeopardy clause requires the Commonwealth to bring all known charges arising from a single criminal episode against a defendant in one proceeding. The Pennsylvania legislature wrote this into law in Rule 110.
How do you win a Rule 110 motion?
In order to win a Rule 110 motion and obtain the dismissal of charges based on the existence of a prior prosecution, the defendant must be able to show four things. The defense must show:
First, the former prosecution resulted in an acquittal or a conviction.
Second, the current prosecution was based on the same criminal conduct or arose from the same criminal episode as the former prosecution.
Third, the prosecution was aware of all the charges when the former prosecution commenced.
Finally, all of the charges were within the same jurisdictional district.
If all of these requirements are met then the Commonwealth is prohibited from prosecuting the defendant.
The Commonwealth Cannot Prosecute You Twice If You’ve Already Been Convicted of Summary Offenses From The Same incident
In a divided opinion, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court overturned the Superior Court’s decision. The majority opinion found that this was a straightforward case of statutory interpretation and that the language of Rule 110 is clear and unambiguous. The Court found that all four elements of Rule 110 were met. Specifically, the defendant was found guilty for driving without lights, his DUI case arose out of the same episode as his driving without lights conviction, the prosecutor was aware of this conviction, and finally, his traffic conviction occurred in the same judicial district as his DUI case. Because all of the elements of Rule 110 were met, the Commonwealth was barred from prosecuting the defendant’s DUI case due to the prior traffic case.
Additionally, the majority opinion found that there was no rule that prohibited the Commonwealth from prosecuting the defendant’s traffic offense with his DUI charge. The Commonwealth’s argument that traffic cases must be prosecuted in the traffic division of Municipal Court was not accurate because the Commonwealth had the option of trying the defendant for the summary traffic citations in the criminal case. The majority opinion also reiterated that a summary offense can trigger Double Jeopardy protections, even though the consequences are usually less severe than those of a misdemeanor or a felony. Finally, the majority opinion acknowledged that this will cause problems for the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office, but nonetheless the Commonwealth is still precluded from prosecuting the defendant’s case due to Rule 110 and the Double Jeopardy Clause of the Pennsylvania Constitution. .
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