COURTS OF COMMON PLEAS

CRIMINAL PRACTICE

Sentencing • Consecutive Sentences • Involuntary Manslaughter • Firearm Possession • Hunting Accident

Commonwealth v. Manilla, PICS Case No. 11-4450 (C.P. Bucks Nov. 3, 2011) Cepparulo, J. (23 pages).

The court properly ordered defendant to serve consecutive sentences on counts of involuntary manslaughter and possession of firearms where defendant, who shot the victim accidentally while hunting, should have known that, as a convicted felon, he was not permitted to own or use firearms. Affirmance recommended.

Defendant confessed that he accidentally shot the victim while hunting on his farmland property. Defendant had been convicted of felony aggravated assault in 1985 and was prohibited from owning or possessing any firearms. Defendant was hunting with a valid hunting license, but the rifle that he was using when the victim was shot was illegal in Bucks County.

The victim was hunting on adjacent property when defendant alleged that he saw a deer and fired. The shot hit the victim in the heart, killing him almost instantly. Defendant called police after he returned to his property and hid the rifle, telling them that he had found someone on his property who appeared to have been killed during a hunting accident. Defendant ultimately turned over the rifle and was charged with several counts, including involuntary manslaughter, possession of firearm by a former felon and recklessly endangering another person. Defendant pled guilty to all counts.

The court sentenced defendant within the standard range for involuntary manslaughter and possession of the illegal firearm and below the mitigated range for possession of another shotgun. The court ordered defendant to serve the three sentences consecutively.

Defendant moved for reconsideration of his sentence, arguing that a lesser sentence should have been imposed because he was required to serve at least 60 percent of his maximum sentence pursuant to the standards of the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole and because he suffered from serious health problems. The court denied the motion, and defendant appealed.

The court recommended that its decision be affirmed. The court rejected defendant’s argument that the imposition of consecutive sentences was illegal and that the court did so to compensate for a perceived inadequacy in the statutory maximum sentence for involuntary manslaughter.

To the contrary, the court determined, the consecutive sentences reflected “not only the seriousness of the offense of involuntary manslaughter but also the gravity of defendant’s intentional and illegal possession of firearms.” In addition, concurrent sentences on the firearm possession counts would not have sufficiently accounted for the role that defendant’s illegal possession and wanton use of those firearms played in the victim’s death, the court concluded.

Defendant also failed to persuade the court that he did not know that he was not allowed to possess certain firearms. The court also noted that, although defendant would have been permitted to possess certain long-barrel guns before 1995, he should have been aware of changes in the law that no longer allowed him to possess such firearms.

“He provided no credible reason why that, as a grown individual who was an avid hunter and a criminal defense attorney with a successful law practice, he would not have been aware of the change in the law,” the court concluded.

Defendant’s actions immediately following the shooting also contradicted his argument that he did not know that he was not permitted to possess any firearms, the court observed.