Opinion Summaries for the

Welcome to Sullivan | Simon’s summaries of last week’s precedential appellate decisions from the Pennsylvania and New Jersey state courts, as well as the Third Circuit. Click on a case name, and you will be redirected to the court’s entire opinion.


Commonwealth v. Rivera (Miranda, Harless Error)

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court considered the harmless error standard in the context of post-arrest silence. At the trial in this case, the prosecutor asked the arresting officer a series of questions about whether the defendant denied the charges against him. Over a defense objection, the officer told the jury, four separate times, that the defendant, upon his arrest, stood mute and denied none of the charges. The Superior Court ruled that this testimony was admitted in error but found it harmless. The Supreme Court reversed, finding that the error was not harmless and reiterating that different harmless error standards apply when evaluating testimonial references to a defendant’s post-arrest versus pre-arrest silence.

Read Justice Wecht’s concurring opinion.

Read Justiced Mundy’s concurring and dissenting opinion.

Commonwealth v. Dunn (Expert Testimony, Discovery Violation)

The issue in this appeal involved the notice requirement for the admission of expert testimony under 42 Pa.C.S. § 5920 (permitting expert testimony concerning victim responses and behaviors to sexual abuse in certain criminal proceedings) as it relates to Pa.R.Crim.P. 573 (concerning pretrial discovery and inspection in criminal proceedings). The Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that Rule 573 applies to Section 5920 and that the trial court erred as a matter of law in concluding the Commonwealth’s last-minute disclosure of an expert witness report did not violate Rule 573. The Supreme Court evenly divided as to the proper remedy on whether the Commonwealth’s error prejudiced Appellant. Thus, the Court affirmed the Superior Court’s order denying relief.

Read Chief Justice Todd’s opinion in support of affirmance.

Read Justice Mundy’s opinion in support of affirmance.

Read Justice Donohue’s opinion in support of reversal.

Read Justice Wecht’s opinion in support of reversal.

In re K.T. (Family Law, Custody)

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court gave a detailed analysis of the factors a trial court must consider when ruling on a petition to terminate parental rights. The Supreme Court remanded this case because the trial court erroneously applied the 23 Pa.C.S. §2511(b) factors.

Read Justice Wecht’s dissent.

Commonwealth v. Gindraw (DUI, Suppression)

The ​​Pennsylvania Superior Court affirmed the denial of defendant’s suppression motion. The Court ruled that the evidence satisfied all three elements of the Livingstone public servant exception to the warrant requirement: specific, objective, and articulable facts that would reasonably suggest to an experienced officer that a citizen needs assistance; the independence of the police’s caretaking action from the detection, investigation, and acquisition of criminal evidence; and the degree of intrusiveness was commensurate with the perceived need for assistance. 

Commonwealth v. Faison (Rule 600, Prior Bad Acts)

The Pennsylvania Superior Court affirmed defendant’s convictions for attempted rape and other crimes. Defendant unsuccessfully challenged: (1) the trial court’s denial of his Pa.R.Crim.P. 600 motion to dismiss; (2) the court’s admission of a multitude of prior bad acts evidence concerning defendant’s past abuse of the victim; (3) the sufficiency of the evidence supporting his conviction of attempted rape; (4) the discretionary aspects and legality of his sentence; and (5) the constitutionality of his sexual offender registration requirements.

Commonwealth v. Ross (Suppression, “Mission-related Questions”)

The Pennsylvania Superior Court reversed the trial court’s order that granted defendant’s suppression motion. The Court ruled that the valid traffic stop was ongoing when the officer asked whether defendant possessed a gun because he had not concluded the stop with a warning or citation or indicated that defendant could leave. Defendant unsuccessfully argued that the officer unlawfully prolonged the traffic stop.

Commonwealth v. Berrios (Lewdness, Sufficiency)

The Pennsylvania Superior Court affirmed defendant’s conviction for lewdness. The Court ruled that “her public, sexually explicit misconduct of exposing her breasts to inmates at a county jail from the street below their cell windows violated the open-lewdness statute.”

Velazquez v. Miranda (Family Law, Custody)

The Pennsylvania Superior Court affirmed the trial court’s determination that Appellant’s children were not eligible for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status.

Garrity v. PPL Corp. (Disposition of Abandoned and Unclaimed Property Act)

The Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court granted the Treasurer’s Application for Partial Summary Relief in the Nature of a Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings, requesting determinations of law, specifically that: (1) Treasurer possesses the statutory authority to direct the production of unclaimed property records in electronic format, (2) Treasurer possesses the statutory authority to verify the accuracy of PPL Corporation’s shareholder records using software analytics, and (3) federal law does not preempt Treasurer’s authority to compel production of PPL’s shareholder records and audit them to ensure their accuracy.

Miller v. The Borough of Indian Lake (Motion for Fees, Waiver)

The Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court affirmed the dismissal with prejudice of petitioners’ Motion for Fees under Section 710 of the Eminent Domain Code (Code), 26 Pa. C.S. § 710. The Court ruled that the motion was untimely and waived.

City of Philadelphia v. Healey (Employment Law, Workers’ Compensation)

The Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court affirmed the workers’ compensation judge’s order that granted claimant’s petition for workers’ compensation benefits. The Court ruled that substantial evidence supported the WCJ’s conclusion that claimant proved his entitlement to WC benefits pursuant to City of Phila. Fire Dep’t v. Workers’ Comp. Appeal Bd. (Sladek), 195 A.3d 197, 207 (Pa. 2018).


State v. Cohen (Suppression, Automobile Exception)

The New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that a trooper unlawfully searched the defendant’s engine compartment and the trunk, thereby exceeding the automobile exception’s scope. Although the trooper smelled marijuana in the passenger compartment of the car, his initial search yielded no results and provided no justification to extend the zone of the search further than the persons of the occupants or the interior of the car.

State v. Erazo (Miranda)

Defendant voluntarily went to a police station to give a witness statement, where defendant was interviewed twice. The New Jersey Supreme Court determined that during his first interview, defendant was not in custody and, therefore, not yet owed Miranda warnings. And before police interviewed him the second time, they properly administered Miranda warnings. Then with his rights in mind, defendant executed a knowing, intelligent, and voluntary waiver before confessing. Thus, “neither the Fifth Amendment nor state common law called for suppression of defendant’s statements.”

Branco v. Rodrigues (Estate Law, Inter Vivos Gift)

In this issue of first impression, the New Jersey Appellate Division ruled that the deceased executed a legal inter vivos transfer of a fee simple estate into a joint tenancy, where the donor pre-deceased the donee, and the donee was unaware of the donor’s transfer of the interest in the estate to her.


The Third Circuit did not release any precedential opinions as the Court considered its plans for the Fourth of July holiday.

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