By Burt Rose
CONSPIRACY TO COMMIT THIRD DEGREE MURDER
In Commonwealth v. Fisher (October 30, 2013), the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania ruled on a claim that conspiracy to commit third-degree murder is not a cognizable offense under Pennsylvania law. The court, in the opinion by Justice Eakin, held that conspiracy to commit third-degree murder is a cognizable offense. The absence of a specific intent to kill does not preclude a defendant from being convicted of conspiracy to commit third-degree murder as absence of specific intent is not an element of third-degree murder. Third-degree murder is a malicious killing without proof that the specific result intended from the actions of the killer was the death of the victim. Where the defendant intends to commit the underlying crime (in this case a beating) which results in death, the evidence supports the charge of conspiracy to commit third-degree murder.
Justices Todd and Saylor dissented.
INEFFECTIVE ASSISTANCE OF COUNSEL AT POST TRIAL MOTIONS
In Commonwealth vs Holmes, October 30, 2013, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania ruled that trial courts have discretion to entertain claims of ineffective assistance of counsel in post verdict motions if there are extraordinary circumstances (where a claim of this nature is apparent from the record and meritorious to the extent that immediate consideration of the claim best serves the interests of justice) or the defendant demonstrates good cause to raise multiple ineffectiveness claims at that time, including non-record-based claims, and has expressly waived his right to seek subsequent PCRA review. This latter option appears to be designed to allow defendants whose sentences are so short that they would not qualify for PCRA review upon the conclusion of a direct appeal to obtain review of their ineffectiveness claims.
There was no dissenting opinion.
DISPROPORTIONALITY OF SENTENCE OF CHILD PORNOGRAPHY
On October 30, 2013 the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania decided the case of Commonwealth v. Baker, appellant. The appellant had been convicted in the Court of Common Pleas of Cumberland County of sexual abuse of children and possession of child pornography. He received a mandatory minimum sentence of 25 years for possession of child pornography as a second offender pursuant to 42 PaCS section 9718.2. On appeal he argued that the mandatory sentence violated the constitutional prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. The Supreme Court, in opinion authored by Justice McCaffery, rejected this argument. The court ruled that a 25 year minimum sentence of imprisonment for offenders who have twice been convicted of possessing child pornography is not grossly disproportionate to the crime. The court stressed the concept that appellant’s simple possession of child pornography created part of the demand for the possession of such images which in turn causes the production of child pornography and therefore victimizes other children.
There was no dissent.