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August 2020 Docket Review

Posted by Corrie Woods | Sep 01, 2020 | 0 Comments

This month, the Court issued 5 precedential opinions (linked below) and 9 orders granting allocatur.

On the opinion side, there is nothing particularly earth-shattering, but a special complement of the Court in Reid reiterated that a new judicial decision does not, in and of itself, allow similarly situated petitioners to obviate the time-bar provisions of the PCRA. Although the holding is somewhat unremarkable, the opinion contains a series of thoughtful glosses on the exceptions to the time-bar provisions that may be useful to those practicing in PCRA cases in the future. On the allocatur side, the Court granted review in McCabe to consider how certain alternative/treatment courts intersect with decisions forbidding discrimination against indigent defendants, a decision which may end up making it a lot easier for certain classes of defendants to stay in alternative/treatment courts. And in Rawls, Johnson, and Dunkins, the court, not shy to step into controversies, granted review ostensibly to consider augmenting or regird police officers' duties towards suspects in the contexts of post-charge custodial interrogations, pat-down searches, and geolocation searches, respectively. We have talked before about how the allocatur process requires only three Justices to grant review, but an opinion must ultimately garner a majority of four. This circumstances has proven to be a mixed bag in the criminal justice arena, where the opinions often bear out that a strong minority of the court may be voting to grant review so as to expand the rights of criminal defendants, but it is essentially an even bet as to whether they can glean the votes of another Justice to do it. Sometimes it does, and sometimes the Court's more moderate or conservative (on criminal justice issues) Justices close ranks. It will be interesting to see how these three decisions ultimately shake out.

Precedential Opinions

  • Commonwealth v. Reid, 752 CAP (Opinion by Dougherty, J.) (holding claim of judicial bias predicated on former Chief Justice Castille's participation in the defendant's appeal after his office while serving Philadelphia's District Attorney prosecuted to be time-barred)

  • Kurach v. Truck Ins. Exch., 12 EAP 2019 et al. (Opinion by Todd, J.) (holding an insurer was entitled to withhold from its actual cash value payment general contractor's overhead and profit expenses and rejecting a public policy argument to the contrary)

  • Johnson v. Phelan Hallinan & Schmieg, LLP, 26 WAP 2019 (Opinion by Wecht, J.) (holding that the 2008 Amendment to Act 6, increasing the covered residential mortgage ceiling and tying it to inflation does not apply retroactively to mortgages entered into prior to its effective date)

  • Commonwealth v. Bagnall, 38 WAP 2019 (Opinion by Baer, J.) (holding that district attorney's knowledge of its failure to disclose a cooperation agreement with a witness in the defendant's prosecution was imputed to the Office of the Attorney General when the latter agency took over the prosecution)

  • Commonwealth v. Nevels, 23 WAP 2019 (Opinion by Saylor, C.J.) (holding the offense of retaliation against a witness does not apply solely to witnesses in civil matters)

Allocatur Grants

  • Commonwealth v. McCabe, 226 MAL 2020 (granting review to consider whether veterans courts are governed by the Rules of Criminal Procedure applicable to Alternative Rehabilitative Dispositions and whether beneficial aspects otherwise available under the aegis of such courts may be denied based on a participant's ability to pay)

  • U.S. Venture, Inc. v. Commonwealth, 140 MAL 2020 (granting review to review the Commonwealth Court's interpretation of the term “construction” in the Procurement Code as referring only to public structures and buildings)

  • Commonwealth v. Edwards, 116 EAL 2020 (granting review to consider whether the offense of recklessly endangering another person merges with aggravated assault causing serious bodily injury)

  • Babb v. Geisinger Clinic, 24 MAL 2020 (granting review to consider whether the lower courts applied the correct standard of proof for rebuttal of the presumption of at-will employment)

  • Commonwealth v. Rawls, 58 MAL 2020 (granting review to consider whether police must do more than provide Miranda warnings to satisfy the right to counsel where they deliberately withhold that a defendant has already been charged with a crime)

  • Commonwealth v. Johnson, 42 EAL 2020 (granting review of Superior Court's holding that a defendant prosecuted for DUI before a minor court may not challenge his ensuing prosecution for factually related crimes outside the minor court's jurisdiction on the basis of certain statutory provisions regarding double jeopardy)

  • Commonwealth v. Dunkins, 118 MAL 2020 (granting review of whether the Superior Court improperly affirmed a trial court decision rejecting a motion to suppress the defendant's warrantless-obtained WiFi-based location data)

  • In the Interest of T.W., 98 EAL 2020 (granting review to consider the appropriate standard for post-pat-down searches of pockets)

  • Quigley v. UCBR, 92 EAL 2020 (granting review to consider whether the Commonwealth Court erred in applying issue preservation rules to an appeal to the Unemployment Compensation Board of Review)

About the Author

Corrie Woods

Corrie is our primary litigator, and focuses his practice on appellate, criminal, and post-conviction cases. Corrie also authors the firm's blog, SCOPABlog, which is the only regularly updated blog providing comprehensive coverage of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania's docket. Corrie became an a...


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