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Commonwealth v. Carson – Case Brief Summary (Pennsylvania)

In Commonwealth v. Carson, 405 Pa. Super. 492, 592 A.2d 1318, 1322-23 (Pa. Super. Ct.), appeal denied, 600 A.2d 533 (Pa. 1991), the victim parked his car across the street from his home at 10:30 p.m. Id. at 1320. At 1:30 a.m., the sound of screeching tires woke the victim from sleep. Id.

When he went to the window, the victim saw that his car was no longer parked on the street and immediately called the police. Id.

Within minutes after the vehicle was reported as stolen, police officers, who were in an unmarked car, spotted the vehicle parked on the sidewalk a few streets away from the site of the theft. Id.

When a marked patrol car arrived on the scene, the appellant, Christopher Carson, and two other men exited the vehicle, looked in the direction of the officers, and fled. Id.

Carson had gotten out of the car from the front passenger seat. Id. One of the officers, who never lost sight of Carson, chased and arrested him a short distance from the vehicle. Id. The steering column in the car had been broken, and the right vent window was smashed. Id.

At trial, Carson denied having any connection with the stolen vehicle and claimed that he was not in the vehicle on the night of his arrest. Id. Carson was convicted of unauthorized use of a motor vehicle and receiving stolen property. Id.

The trial court, however, ruled that under the receiving stolen property charge, the Commonwealth had "failed to prove Carson's guilty knowledge and his possession of the car." Id. at 1321.

Thus the court held that the evidence was insufficient to support that conviction. Id. at 1320.

On appeal, the Superior Court of Pennsylvania explained that, to convict Carson of receiving stolen property, "it was necessary for the Commonwealth to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the vehicle was stolen, that Carson was in possession of it and that he had 'guilty knowledge;' that is, he knew or had reason to know that it was stolen." Id. at 1321.

The court then identified several factors that it found to be relevant in determining whether an individual has guilty knowledge:

While it is clear that mere possession without more is insufficient to show that the defendant knew or should have known that the property was stolen, other facts can make the inference of guilty knowledge reasonable, even compelling. Such circumstances include but are not limited to the unexplained possession of recently stolen property, flight from the police or other evidence indicating an attempt to avoid capture and the condition of the property indicating a theft. Id.

Upon its review of the evidence, the court determined that "all of the above additional circumstances were present" in Carson. Id.

The court observed that, "as soon as the patrol car and the unmarked police car approached the stolen vehicle, Carson and his companions exited the vehicle, looked at the officers and fled. This evidence of flight corroborates the inference of guilty knowledge." Id. at 1321-22 .

With the addition of the broken vent window on the passenger side of the car and a broken steering column, the court concluded that "these circumstances taken together clearly support the inference that Carson had guilty knowledge that the car was stolen and satisfies the mens rea under the receiving stolen property charge." Id. at 1322.