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Scope and Standard of Review

When appealing from the decisions of lower courts in the many counties of Pennsylvania, including Lycoming, Northumberland, Union, Snyder, Montour, Tioga, Clinton, and Center County Courts of Common Pleas and the Superor Court of teh Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, a Scope and Standard of Review is required. Please find below the Scope and Standard of review of the following issues, as described in West’s Criminal Practice Vol.16B §33:24.

Questions of Law:  When an appeal presents a pure question of law the standard of review is de novo and the scope is plenary.

Abuse of Discretion:  Occurs when the course pursued by the trial court represents not merely and error of judgment but a judgment that is manifestly unreasonable.

Trial Court Review of District Attorney’s Denial of Private Complaint:  Upon affirmance of a district attorney’s decision to disapprove a private complaint the standard is whether the trial court abused it’s discretion.

Trial Court Denial of Admission into ARD:  The standard of review is whether a trial court abused it’s discretion.

Trial Court Decisions on Disqualification and Conflict of Interest:  The standard of review is whether the trial court committed an abuse of discretion.

Habeas Corpus Petition Generally:  A denial of a petition for writ of habeas corpus is limited to an abuse of discretion and will only be reversed if law was misapplied or discretion was exercised in a way that lacked reason.

Pre-Trial Habeas Corpus Petition:  Reversal of denial to grant this petition may only be performed when a manifest abuse of discretion was committed.  The scope of review used in a pre-trial habeas corpus case is whether a prima fascia case was established by the Commonwealth.

Contempt:  Appellate court is confined to a determination as to whether the facts uphold the trial court’s decision and can only reverse when a plain abuse of discretion is recognized.

Suppression Rulings- Appeals by the Commonwealth:  The standard of review is whether the record supports the suppression court’s factual findings and whether an error of law has been committed. The scope is restricted to evidence presented by the defense and so much of the evidence for the prosecution which remains un-contradicted when read in context of the record as a whole.

Suppression Rulings- Appeals by the Defendant:  The standard is the same as that of the previous submission however the scope is restricted to evidence presented by the prosecution’s witnesses and any evidence for the defense that, when read in context of the record as a whole, remains un-contradicted

Motions in limine:  The standard of review is whether the court committed a clear abuse of discretion.  The scope which is appropriate for the particular evidentiary matter at issue will be used however, as a general rule, an appellate reversal is interlocutory and the Supreme Court may entertain discretionary review of an order granting the reversal of a lower court’s granting of a suppression order.

Trial de Novo:  The standard of review is whether an abuse of discretion has occurred and the scope used is limited to a determination as to whether the trial court’s findings of fact are supported by competent evidence and/or whether the trial court committed an error of law.

Rule 600:  In evaluating Rule 600 issues, the standard of review is abuse of discretion and the scope in determining the propriety of a court’s decision is limited to the evidence of the record of the Rule 600 evidentiary hearing and the findings of the lower court. These facts will be reviewed in a light favorable to the prevailing party.

Witness- Competency:  The standard of review is very limited and the decision may only be reversed if a flagrant abuse of discretion is present.

Witnesses- Credibility:  The standard of review is limited to whether the court’s determination of credibility was clearly erroneous.

Witnesses- Expert Testimony:  Without a clear abuse of discretion or error of law any decision regarding Expert Testimony will be upheld.  When reviewing the court’s factual findings the court is limited to determining whether those findings rest on legally competent and sufficient evidence.

New Trial:  The standard of review is that of abused discretion by the trial court.  The scope is determined by whether the trial court has stated specific reasons as being the only reasons for granting a new trial or whether these reasons are left open as not being the sole reasons for granting a new trial.  If specific reasons are stated than the reviewing court must look solely at those reasons and whether the record as a whole supports those reasons. If the reasons are left open and unspecified then a broad view of the entire record will be conducted.

Admissibility of evidence:  The standard of review is again that of abused discretion in the sense that the trial court has employed a course that not only represented an error in judgment but a judgment manifestly unreasonable, whether a trial court failed to apply the law or whether the record shows that the trial court’s action was a result of partiality, prejudice, bias or ill will.

Sufficiency of the Evidence:  A claim challenging the sufficiency of evidence is a question of law and the standard of review in a criminal case is whether the evidence is sufficient enough to prove every element of the case beyond a reasonable doubt.  The scope is the entire record viewed in a light most favorable to the Commonwealth as the verdict winner, and accepting all evidence as true and all reasonable inferences therefrom upon which, if believed, the fact finder could have based its verdict.

Weight of Evidence:  The standard of review is whether the trial court abused discretion and the scope is the trial court’s findings and reasons, not the underlying question of whether the verdict is against the weight of the evidence.  The appellate courts give great deference to a trial court’s determination that the verdict is against the weight of the evidence.

Challenges to Jury Instructions:  The standard of review is whether the jury instructions were open to erroneous interpretation is whether the jury applied the challenged instruction in a way that prevents the consideration of constitutionally relevant evidence.

Sentencing- Drug Amounts for Purpose of Mandatory Sentence:  The standard of review is whether the judge’s determination of whether the amount of drugs in question meets the requirements for application of the mandatory minimum sentence was clearly erroneous.

Forfeiture, Grant or Denial of Petition:  The standard of review is whether the court abused its discretion when granting or denying the petition.  The scope is whether the record, examined in its entirety, supports the reasons set forth by the trial court in making its decision.  When the question on Forfeiture is a question of law the standard is plenary.

Ineffective Assistance of Counsel:  The standard of review is a presumption by the appellate court that counsel was effective and the burden is placed on the defendant to prove counsel rendered ineffective assistance.  First the arguable merit of the claim is evaluated and if this has merit the appellant must further establish that the course of action chosen by counsel had no reasonable basis in the clients’ interests and that but for the counsel’s unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different.  PCRA has no effect on the standard of review and the same is used in such cases.

Constitutional challenges to Statutory Enactments:  When the question is raised as to whether a trial court committed an error of law in concluding that a statute was unconstitutional the scope of review is plenary.  The exacting standard of review applied is whether the statute clearly, palpably, and plainly violates constitutional rights.

Double Jeopardy:  The standard of review is whether an error of law has been committed and the scope is plenary.

Claims based on 18 Pa.C.S.A. § 110:  Due to the embodiment of the same basic principles as Double Jeopardy the scope and standard are the same.

Orders Denying Post-Conviction Relief:  The standard and scope are whether the evidence of record supports the determination of the PCRA court and whether the ruling is free from legal error.

License Suspension Appeals:  The standard and scope are defined as whether the factual findings of the trial court are supported by competent evidence and whether the trial court committed an error of law or abused discretion.

Review of Adjudications by the Board of Probation and Parole:  This is governed by Section 704 of the Administrative Agency Law.   The appellate court must affirm unless it finds that (1) the adjudication is in violation of constitutional rights, (2) the provisions of Subchapter A of Chapter 5 have been violated in the proceedings before the agency, (3) any finding of fact made by the agency and necessary to support its adjudication is not supported by substantial evidence.

Grants of Decertification:  Decisions of whether to grant decertification will not be overturned absent a gross abuse of discretion.

If you believe you have an appeallable issue, please contact the law offices of Rudinski Orso and Lynch for a detailed explaination of the Scope and Standard of Review associated with you particular issue.