A blog of the Philadelphia Bar Association’s Criminal Justice Section

Supreme Court PABy Burt Rose

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The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania has finally issued a decision on the case of COMMONWEALTH of Pennsylvania v. Fred Charles MORAN, Appellant, 2014 WL 6491605, #39 MAP 2011 (decided on Nov. 20, 2014—the case was argued on 5/9/12). This was a direct appeal from the order of Superior Court (2 to 1 Panel), 5 A.3d 273 (2010), reconsideration denied 10–13–2010, affirming the judgment of sentence of Delaware County Court of Common Pleas, Criminal Division, dated 3–17–2008 at No. CP–23–CR–0004579–2007. The Justices were CASTILLE, C.J., SAYLOR, EAKIN, BAER, TODD andSTEVENS. Justice Eakins wrote the Opinion for the Court. Justices Saylor and Baer dissented.

Fred Moran challenged the sufficiency of the evidence in support of his conviction for bribery in official and political matters, 18 Pa.C.S. § 4701. He also raised the question of whether this is a strict liability crime, and if not, asked the Court to determine the appropriate mens rea for such an offense. The Court held that § 4701 is not a strict liability crime and that the mens rea for this offense is the Crimes Code’s default culpability provision, § 302(c). Although there was sufficient evidence to support the appellant’s conviction, the trial court erred in its instructions to the jury regarding intent; however, that error was deemed to be harmless. Therefore, the Court affirmed the conviction.

Justice Eakin wrote that § 302 applies when a criminal statute does not express a specific mens rea. Since Section 4701 contains no language regarding mental state, it is precisely this defect in existing law that § 302(c) was intended to remedy. Furthermore, it was not the legislature’s intent that mental state be intuited from the language of the statute; absent summary offenses or absolute liability crimes, if there is no express wording indicative of a discrete mental state, § 302(c) applies. Accordingly, as § 4701 includes no express culpability requirement, the Commonwealth must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the public official was at least reckless in engaging in the conduct proscribed by the statute.

So this was a win for the law but a loss for the client. Counsel for the Appellant was Burton A. Rose (nice try).

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