SUPERIOR COURT VACATES ILLEGAL SENTENCE IMPOSED FOR MAN ACCUSED OF INVOLUNTARY DEVIATE SEXUAL INTERCOURSE AND RELATED SEX OFFENSES
December 23, 2020
After being convicted by a jury of committing various sex offenses against a minor, the sentencing court imposed a term of imprisonment of ten to twenty years on a single count, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, pursuant to a mandatory sentencing provision. On appeal, Attorney Noel argued that the mandatory sentencing provision at issue had been declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania in 2016, and that the sentence imposed was therefore illegal.
The Superior Court agreed with Attorney Noel that the sentencing court imposed sentence pursuant to an irremediably unconstitutional statute, vacated the entirety of the order of sentence, and remanded for resentencing.
SUPREME COURT OF PENNSYLVANIA REVERSES CONVICTION AND ORDERS NEW TRIAL FOR MAN CONVICTED OF RAPE BASED UPON IMPROPERLY ADMITTED EXPERT TESTIMONY
October 30, 2020
After being convicted of rape and related offenses and sentenced to nearly 30 to 60 years in prison, Attorney Noel’s client appealed to the Superior Court of Pennsylvania. On appeal, Attorney Noel argued that highly prejudicial testimony from a detective, which took the form of expert opinion evidence and which tended to impermissibly bolster the credibility of the accuser, was admitted against her client without the detective being properly qualified by the Commonwealth as an expert witness. Finding that the testimony was not expert in nature, the Superior Court upheld the convictions.
Undeterred, Attorney Noel filed a petition for allowance of appeal, requesting that the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania accept discretionary review of and answer the following questions: (1) whether testimony from a detective about victim responses and behaviors, when based on that detective’s training, experience and specialized knowledge, constitutes expert testimony, and (2) if so, whether such expert testimony is inadmissible under the well-established precedents of the Supreme Court, which prohibit expert testimony on matters involving the credibility of witnesses.
The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania granted Attorney Noel’s petition for allowance of appeal and, in a unanimous opinion, reversed her client’s convictions for rape and related sex offenses. The Supreme Court held that the at-issue testimony was indeed expert testimony and, because the Commonwealth failed to qualify the witness as an expert, the testimony was improperly admitted. Further, the Supreme Court reviewed its own prior precedents and found that, although some expert testimony concerning victim responses and behaviors is admissible, it may not touch upon matters of witness credibility because to do so would invade the jury’s role as arbiter of credibility.
SUPERIOR COURT OF PENNSYLVANIA ORDERS RESENTENCING IN DRUG CASE ON DOUBLE JEOPARDY GROUNDS AND IMPROPER CALCULATION OF PRIOR RECORD SCORE
July 2, 2019
Attorney Noel’s client pled guilty to delivering heroin laced with fentanyl to an undercover police officer. At sentencing, the trial judge applied an incorrect prior record score based on the client’s two prior juvenile adjudications and also imposed separate sentences for the delivery charges – one for delivering heroin and one for delivering fentanyl.
Attorney Noel appealed the client’s sentence arguing that the trial judge’s imposition of separate sentences for delivering heroin and delivering fentanyl constituted a double jeopardy violation because the criminal conduct consisted of a single criminal act and both substances were contained in an inseparable mixture. Attorney Noel also argued that the trial judge miscalculated her client’s sentencing guidelines by counting both of her client’s juvenile adjudications when, in fact, only one should have been counted.
In a published opinion, the Superior Court adopted both of Attorney Noel’s arguments in full, vacated her client’s sentence and remanded his case for resentencing. At resentencing, the trial court correctly calculated the sentencing guidelines and Attorney Noel’s client was sentenced to time served, achieving a significant reduction in his overall sentence.
SUPREME COURT OF PENNSYLVANIA GRANTS TWO PETITIONS FOR ALLOWANCE OF APPEAL FILED BY ATTORNEY NOEL
In 2019 alone, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania granted two petitions for allowance of appeal filed by Attorney Noel on behalf of her clients. This is notable because, unlike the Superior Court of Pennsylvania, to which defendants have a right to appeal, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania accepts only about 30 non-capital criminal cases per year on a discretionary basis. An attorney must demonstrate special and important reasons for the Supreme Court to exercise discretionary review over a case. These special and important reasons may include that the question presented is one of first impression or is of such substantial public importance as to require prompt and definitive resolution by the state’s highest court. Indeed, the Supreme Court considers itself a policy making court – addressing issues that are likely to impact citizens statewide – rather than an error correcting court.
SUPREME COURT OF PENNSYLVANIA GRANTS PETITION FOR ALLOWANCE OF APPEAL FOR MAN CONVICTED OF KIDNAPPING, ATTEMPTED RAPE AND RELATED SEX OFFENSES
February 13, 2019
In seeking a new trial for her client based on evidence improperly admitted against him, Attorney Noel successfully petitioned the Supreme Court to address what is known as the harmless error doctrine, an important procedural device that comes in to play in almost all criminal appeals. The Supreme Court’s decision will have an enormous impact on appellate procedure for criminal cases heard across the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
SUPREME COURT OF PENNSYLVANIA GRANTS PETITION FOR FOR ALLOWANCE OF APPEAL FOR MAN CONVICTED OF RAPE
April 30, 2019
Attorney Noel once again earned the attention of Pennsylvania’s highest court, this time after filing a petition for allowance of appeal on behalf of a client convicted of rape and related sex offenses. On appeal, Attorney Noel sought a new trial for her client on the grounds that expert testimony was improperly admitted against him. The Supreme Court’s decision will clarify for litigants across the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania the scope of expert opinion testimony and provide meaningful guidance on the distinction between and the admissibility of opinion testimony by experts and laypeople.
SUPERIOR COURT OF PENNSYLVANIA ORDERS RECUSAL OF TRIAL JUDGE IN RAPE CASE FOR DEMONSTRATING A PATTERN OF BIAS AGAINST SEX OFFENDERS
November 28, 2018
Attorney Noel provided representation to a client who had been convicted of rape and related sexual offenses. The client appealed his conviction and sentence to the Superior Court of Pennsylvania, which remanded the case to the trial court for resentencing. During the ensuing resentencing hearing at which Attorney Noel provided representation, the trial judge conducted a constitutionally inadequate resentencing hearing. In connection with the client’s appeal of the resentencing order, Attorney Noel filed a motion to recuse the trial court judge, citing an apparent bias against sex offenders as a class. The trial judge denied Attorney Noel’s motion to recuse and an appeal soon followed.
On appeal, Attorney Noel argued that the trial judge was biased against sex offenders and their attorneys and that the trial judge failed to conduct a full and fair resentencing hearing. In an unusually strongly worded and precedential opinion, the Superior Court agreed with each of Attorney Noel’s arguments and ordered the removal of the trial judge from her client’s case.
SUPERIOR COURT OF PENNSYLVANIA ORDERS NEW TRIAL FOR MAN CONVICTED OF FLEEING AND ELUDING, FINDING THAT TRIAL JUDGE PREVENTED HIM FROM ASSERTING A STATUTORY DEFENSE
June 5, 2018
Attorney Noel’s client was charged with fleeing or attempting to elude the police after fleeing from a traffic stop. During the course of the traffic stop, the conduct of the police – namely, becoming belligerent toward Attorney Noel’s client, punching his car window and reaching for their firearms – caused Attorney Noel’s client to feel very threatened and to flee from the traffic stop in his car. At his jury trial, Attorney Noel’s client attempted to assert a statutory defense to the fleeing and eluding charge that his flight was the result of a good faith concern for his personal safety, but was prevented from doing so because the trial court judge did not believe his version of events. Specifically, Attorney Noel’s client was prevented from testifying that he was afraid of the police due to their actions during the traffic stop and that is why he fled. Attorney Noel’s client, who had no prior criminal record, was convicted of a felony offense.
Attorney Noel appealed her client’s conviction arguing that the trial court wrongly prevented him from asserting the statutory personal safety defense and, accordingly, deprived him of his constitutional rights to due process, to a fair trial, to testify in his defense and to present a defense.
In a published opinion, the Superior Court agreed with Attorney Noel that the trial judge was wrong to substitute its own credibility determinations for that of the jury and that the trial judge deprived Attorney Noel’s client of his constitutional right to present a defense by refusing to allow him to testify at trial regarding his fear when he fled from police. Accordingly, the Superior Court vacated her client’s conviction and remanded for a new trial. On remand, the Commonwealth opted not to retry Attorney Noel’s client.
NEW TRIAL ORDERED FOR MAN CONVICTED OF AGGRAVATED ASSAULT BASED ON INEFFECTIVE ASSISTANCE OF COUNSEL
April 30, 2018
Attorney Noel’s client was convicted of aggravated assault and sentenced to 7 to 14 years in state prison. Attorney Noel’s client used force to defend himself against his brother, who, at the time of the incident, was on parole for the robbery and murder of a man he beat to death.
Attorney Noel filed a Petition for Post-Conviction relief on her client’s behalf alleging multiple instances of ineffective assistance of counsel by her client’s trial attorneys. Attorney Noel argued, among other things, that her client’s trial attorneys were ineffective for (1) failing to assert self-defense as a defense to the aggravated assault charge; (2) failing to introduce evidence of the “victim’s” parole status, where such evidence was relevant to undermine his testimony about who the initial aggressor was; (3) failing to introduce evidence of the “victim’s” prior convictions for robbery and third-degree murder, where such evidence was relevant to demonstrate her client’s fear of his brother and was relevant to demonstrate the “victim’s” propensity for violence, a pertinent character trait; and (4) failing to introduce evidence of the “victim’s” prior conviction for robbery, a crime of dishonesty under Pennsylvania law.
The PCRA Court agreed with Attorney Noel that the trial attorneys’ poor performance deprived her client of a fair trial, vacated the conviction of Attorney Noel’s client, and ordered a new trial to occur.
SUPERIOR COURT ORDERS RESENTENCING OF WOMAN CONVICTED OF DRIVING UNDER THE INFLUENCE ON DOUBLE JEOPARDY GROUNDS
July 27, 2017
Attorney Noel appealed her client’s sentence following her convictions for three counts of driving under the influence and related summary violations of the Motor Vehicle Code. The Commonwealth charged Attorney Noel’s client with three counts of DUI – DUI-general impairment, DUI-general impairment and refusing breath/blood alcohol testing, DUI-general impairment where an accident resulting in damage to a vehicle occurred – all based on a single instance of drunk driving.
On appeal, Attorney Noel argued that the trial court violated the prohibition on double jeopardy by convicting and sentencing her client on three separate DUI offenses stemming from a single episode of criminal conduct where the refusal and accident enhancements are merely sentencing factors, not separate crimes. Attorney Noel further argued that the three separate convictions posed significant collateral consequences, including unwarranted enhancement of her client’s prior record score (or prior DUI offense history) in subsequent criminal proceedings and unjustified impediments to restoration of her driving privileges.
In a published opinion, the Superior Court adopted Attorney Noel’s arguments point by point, vacated two of her client’s DUI convictions and remanded for appropriate resentencing on one count of DUI. The Superior Court also provided guidance to District Attorneys Offices statewide that charging schemes such as the ones used in the present case were constitutionally infirm and must be rectified.
SUPERIOR COURT OF PENNSYLVANIA REMANDS CASE OF MAN CONVICTED OF POSSESSING FIREARMS AND SEVERAL POUNDS OF MARIJUANA DUE TO SPEEDY TRIAL VIOLATION; CHARGES DISMISSED ON REMAND
July 10, 2017
Attorney Noel successfully appealed the convictions of a man convicted of illegally possessing firearms and several pounds of marijuana on the grounds that he was not brought to trial in a speedy manner. Attorney Noel’s client fled from the arresting officer, was not charged until two years later, and was not brought to trial until over four years later despite the fact that his identity was known. Attorney Noel’s client filed a pretrial motion alleging violation of his right to a speedy trial, which the trial court denied. The trial court reasoned that the Commonwealth did not have to exercise due diligence in bringing Attorney Noel’s client to trial because he fled from the arresting officer.
Attorney Noel argued on appeal that the Commonwealth was not relieved of its duty to exercise due diligence in bringing her client to trial in a timely manner. The Superior Court agreed and remanded the case for a due diligence hearing. Attorney Noel provided representation at the remand hearing and successfully argued for all charges against her client to be dismissed.
SUPERIOR COURT OF PENNSYLVANIA REVERSES CONVICTION OF MAN CONVICTED OF DISORDERLY CONDUCT FOR GIVING HIS EX-WIFE THE MIDDLE FINGER
October 31, 2016
Attorney Noel’s client was convicted of disorderly conduct for giving his ex-wife the middle finger. On appeal, Attorney Noel argued that her client’s conduct was speech protected by the First Amendment and, therefore, the evidence was insufficient to support her client’s conviction under Pennsylvania’s disorderly conduct statute. The Superior Court agreed and reversed her client’s conviction.
SUPERIOR COURT OF PENNSYLVANIA ORDERS NEW TRIAL FOR WOMAN CONVICTED OF ENDANGERING THE WELFARE OF CHILDREN
February 19, 2016
Attorney Noel’s client was convicted of endangering the welfare of a child for allegedly failing to report sexual abuse perpetrated by her husband. The accuser had previously made three false sexual assault allegations against other people and the trial court prevented Attorney Noel’s client from introducing evidence of the accuser’s prior false allegations on the grounds that such evidence was barred by Pennsylvania’s Rape Shield Law.
On appeal, Attorney Noel contended that the Rape Shield Law did not apply to non-sex offense charges, such as endangering the welfare of children. In support of this contention, Attorney Noel advanced a technical statutory construction argument. Attorney Noel further argued that even if the Rape Shield Law applied to her client’s case, it still would not have barred the introduction of evidence concerning the accuser’s prior false allegations because such evidence fell outside the scope of evidence barred by the Rape Shield Law and was admissible to demonstrate that the accuser was being untruthful about the present allegations. In a published opinion, the Superior Court adopted each of Attorney Noel’s arguments in full, vacated her client’s conviction and ordered a new trial.
Attorney Noel represented her client at the re-trial. Her client, who had no prior criminal record, was found not guilty of all charges.