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Caselaw 2014

Article I. Declaration of Rights

Section 5: Elections

Applewhite v. Commonwealth, --- A.3d ---, 2014 WL 184988 (Pa. Cmwlth. January 17, 2014): per McGinley, J., the court held that the Voter ID law, Act 18, unduly burdens the fundamental right to vote afforded by Article 1, Section 5 of the Pennsylvania Constitution, but does not violate the equal protection provided Sections 1 and 26 of the state constitution.

Section 6: Trial by Jury

Bensinger v. Univ. of Pittsburgh Med. Ctr., 2014 PA Super 174 (Pa. Super. Ct. Aug. 19, 2014): per Olson, J., held in part that "there is no state constitutional right to jury trial on a whistleblower claim." After denying the appellant's statutory claims for a jury trial, the court determined that appellant had not met the "two requirements [that] must be satisfied for a jury trial to be guaranteed by our Constitution," which includes "show[ing] that a right to a jury trial ‘would have been required in 1790, when the Pennsylvania Constitution was adopted,' and that "the action must have a common law basis, not a statutory basis."

Section 8: Security from Searches and Seizures

Commonwealth v. Gary, --- A.3d ---, 2014 WL 1686766 (Pa. Apr. 29, 2014): per McCaffery, J., the court held that the federal automobile exception will apply to warrantless searches of motor vehicles under Article 1, Section 8 of the Pennsylvania Constitution. Therefore, police need only probable cause when conducting such a search.

Commonwealth v. Lyles, 2014 WL 3579690 (Pa. July 21, 2014): per Eakin, J., held that suppression of drug evidence found on a Defendant should not be suppressed under Article 1, Section 8 of the Pennsylvania Constitution and the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution. The drugs were discovered when a police officer removed the Defendant's hand from his pants pocket while the officer was inspecting the Defendant's ID. The court held that the Defendant could not reasonably believe that he was not free to leave under the circumstances and had therefore not been detained by the officer and that their interaction could only be seen as a mere encounter. In dissent, Justice Saylor stated that "the U.S. Supreme Court has never held that no seizure occurs where an officer stops a citizen, takes possession of an identification card, and later explains that the citizen was not free to leave in the circumstances." In dissent, Justice Saylor wrote that the defendant could not have reasonably believed he was free to leave.

Section 9: Rights of the Accused in Criminal Prosecutions

Commonwealth v. Dozier, 2014 PA Super 177 (Pa. Super. Ct. Aug. 20, 2014): per Wecht, J., the court held that a defendant's right to a speedy trial under the Sixth Amendment and Article I, Section 9 of the Pennsylvania Constitution was not violated by a delay in his sentencing. The court held that the prisoner had failed to show how a 30 day delay in his sentencing prejudiced him in light of the circumstances of the delay or that he even protested once about the delay.

Section 10: Initiation of Criminal Proceedings; Twice in Jeopardy; Eminent Domain

Commonwealth v. Ball, WL 3670023 (Pa. Super. Ct. July 24, 2014): per Musmanno, J., the court held that a retrial on a charge that was dropped against the defendant by a Magisterial District Court judge after hearing evidence at a hearing and dismissing the charges was barred by the prohibition against Double Jeopardy under Art. I, §10 of the Pennsylvania Constitution. In making the ruling, the court observed that under Pennsylvania Double Jeopardy "jeopardy attaches when a defendant stands before a tribunal where guilt or innocence will be determined" and thus, provides more protection than the Federal Double Jeopardy Clause in the Fifth Amendment.

Commonwealth v. Perez, --- A.3d---, 2014 PA Super 142 (Pa. Super. Ct. July 9, 2014): per Mundy, J., held that new registration requirements under Pennsylvania's SORNA statute are constitutional under Pennsylvania's and federal government's ex post facto clauses. When analyzing Pennsylvania's ex post facto clause under Article I, §10 of the State Constitution, the court found that the appellants did "not include the required Edmunds analysis to consider whether . . . the Pennsylvania Constitution would provide higher ex post facto protections."

Section 11: Courts to be Open; Suits Against the Commonwealth

Telwell, Inc. v. Pub. Sch. Employees' Ret. Sys., 88 A.3d 1079 (Pa. Cmwlth. Apr. 2, 2014): per Jubelirer, J., the court held that "the clear and unambiguous language of" 62 Pa.C.S.A. § 102(f.1) gave the Public School Employees' Retirement System (PSERS) "sovereign immunity pursuant" to Article 1, Section 11 of the Pennsylvania Constitution and 62 Pa.C.S.A. § 1702(b) for suits involving loans made by the agency.

Section 13: Bail; Fines and Punishments 

Commonwealth v. Eisenberg, WL 4079968 (Pa. Aug. 19, 2014): per Castille, C.J., held that the minimum mandatory fines under the Gaming Act was a violation of Article I, Section 13 of the Pennsylvania Constitution. Specifically, the Court held that a mandatory minimum fine of $75,000 for a first offense "misdemeanor theft of $200 under [the] Gaming Act...violated Pennsylvania Constitution's prohibition against excessive fines." Chief Justice Castille wrote that when analyzing Article I, Section 13, the "Court has looked to the gross disproportionality standard from [U.S. v. Bajakajian], which includes a threshold comparison between the amount of the fine and the gravity of the offense triggering the fine."

Section 27: Natural Resources and the Public Estate

Robinson Twp. v. Commonwaelth, 2014 WL 3511722 (Pa. Commw. Ct. July 17, 2014): per Pellegrini, J., on remand from the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, held that various sections of Act 13 did not violate the Pennsylvania Constitution as special laws or under the single subject rule, but also held that these sections were not severable from the parts of the act that the State Supreme Court held unconstitutional and thus enjoined their application and enforcement. Those sections included one that required notice to public, but not private water systems in the event of a spill and another that concerned the obligations of the energy companies to disclose contents of their chemicals to physicians when treating people as a result of exposure of those chemicals. The one section that was held to be severable was one which set limitations on local oil and gas ordinances.

Section 28: Prohibition Against Denial or Abridgment of Equality of Rights because of Sex

Beattie v. Line Mountain School Dist., --- F.Supp.2d ---- 2014 WL 131637 (United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania. January 13, 2014): per Brann, Matthew W., District Judge, the court held that the Pennsylvania Constitution's Equal Protection clause requires a showing that gender classifications "must not rely on overbroad generalizations about the different talents, capabilities, or preferences of Males and Females." For that reason, the school board must show genuine justification explaining why prohibiting a girl from competing on boy's wrestling team is not based purely on gender classifications and substantially  related to an important government interest. The court finds that the proposed government interests fail to meet this standard and grants an injunction prohibiting the school board from interfering with the child's joining of the wrestling team.

Article VI. Public Officers 

Section 7: Removal of Civil Officers

In re Humane Society of Harrisburg Area, Inc., --- A.3d ---, 2014 WL 2534923 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2014): per Leadbetter, J., held that a DUI offence by Humane Society police officer committed five years before he was appointed was not an "infamous crime" under Article VI, Section 7 of the Pennsylvania Constitution. Judge Leadbetter held that the DUI conviction was not "a felony, a crimen falsi offense, or a like offense involving the charge or falsehood that affects the public administration of justice."