ONE VICTIM, ONE SENTENCE (even for multiple Homicide convictions).
The PA Superior Court has decided the case of Commonwealth v. McCamey, No. 321 WDA 2016 (January 13, 2017), holding that it was error for the trial court to impose separate sentences for each of three murder convictions when the convictions involved only one victim.
McCamey was charged with charged with murder for allegedly killing the victim while robbing him and burglarizing his home, along with a co-defendant. Specifically, the Commonwealth charged McCamey with second-degree murder (robbery), second-degree murder (burglary), third-degree murder, robbery, conspiracy (robbery), burglary, and conspiracy (burglary).
McCamey was found guilty of all charges and sentenced to life imprisonment for second-degree murder (robbery); life imprisonment for second-degree murder (burglary); ten to twenty years of imprisonment for third-degree murder; and, five to twenty years of imprisonment for conspiracy (robbery). The conspiracy (burglary) merged with conspiracy (robbery), and robbery and burglary merged with the second-degree murder convictions. All sentences were ordered to run concurrently.
McCamey filed a timely appeal to the Superior Court, claiming the trial court erred when denying him Motion for a mistrial based on juror misconduct. Although the Superior Court found no error regarding that issue, it raised and addressed the above issue of sentencing legality, sua sponte.
Specifically, the Superior Court raised the issue of the trial court’s sentence running afoul of the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution (as made applicable to the states by the Fourteenth Amendment) and PA law as they relate to double jeopardy and merger. The Fifth Amendment protects against 1) a second prosecution for the same offense after acquittal; 2) a second prosecution for the same offense after conviction; and, 3) multiple punishments for the same offense. And, PA law states that “[n]o crimes shall merge for sentencing purposes unless the crimes arise from a single criminal act and all of the statutory elements of one offense are included in the statutory elements of the other offense” and “[w]here crimes merge for sentencing purposes, the court may sentence the defendant only on the higher graded offense.”
After reviewing the standards for merger and double jeopardy in Pennsylvania in conjunction with persuasive authority from other states, the Superior Court concluded that the three murder convictions in McCamey’s case merged for purposes of sentencing. In other words, the two second-degree murder convictions and the third-degree murder conviction merged for purposes of sentencing.
McCamey’s sentences were therefore vacated and remanded for re-sentencing at all counts because it had the potential to disrupt the trial court’s entire sentencing scheme.
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