In his first year of private practice Attorney Madsen was appointed to represent Shahid. Shahid was charged with Robbery and Conspiracy to Robbery. Before we continue it is important to understand that the police will charge Conspiracy at every opportunity presented to them because they believe they can convict a ham sandwich of conspiracy if its at the wrong place, at the wrong time, and says or doesn’t say the wrong or right things.
Shahid was a 16 year old, with unsupportive parents and poor judgement in choosing friends. Shahid was also a large, imposing presence which and this would be held against him.
Shahid was out with his cousin Tasha, a smaller girl, and some friends one evening, all of whom other than Shahid had previously been arrested. Unbeknownst to Shahid, Tasha and the others had been texting each other earlier that evening and planning on robbing random people on the street.
When Shahid, Tasha and the others ran into another group of youngsters, glances were exchanged, words were said and posturing was done. Tasha, not one back down from a confrontation approached the other group of individuals and told them to “run their pockets.” Shahid, knew his cousin was a hothead but didn’t know her plans to go out robbing that evening. So, as the situation began to escalate Shahid stepped forward, told Tasha to just let it go and tried to defuse the situation. And, indeed the groups did separate once Shahid got involved.
The other group of children reported the altercation to the police shortly thereafter and the police swooped in and arrested Shahid, Tasha and the others. All of them were charged with Robbery and Conspiracy to Robbery.
As trail approached, all of Shahid’s co-defendants plead guilty to Conspiracy to Robbery in order to have the Robbery charges dropped. None of them would testify against Shahid but none of them were allowed to testify on his behalf as part of their plea agreement. Based upon the inaccurate testimony of a cuacasion victim, the text messages between the co-defendants, the admissions of the co-defendants and frankly Shahid’s imposing presence as a large African-American male, Shahid was convicted on something… But what that something was would be at the heart of his appeal.
Knowing When to Double Down
Appeals are always challenging because the Superior Court and the Supreme Court will not overturn a lower court unless there is a clear abuse of discretion or clearly erroneous finding. An additional challenge in this case was that the trial court intended to find Shahid guilty of Conspiracy to Robbery but instead through clerical error found Shahid guilty Robbery itself.
The first challenge specific to Shahid’s case was determining whether or not have the clerical error convicting Shahid of Robbery rather than Conspiracy fixed before filing our appeal.
If we had the error fixed, Shahid would be convicted of a lesser crime but the practical effects on Shahid would be little different. If we let the error stand Shahid would remain, at least temporarily, convicted of a more serious crime but are chances of succeeding on appeal might be substantially better.
We discussed the possible implications of “fixing” Shahid’s court documentation to show a conviction of the lesser charge of Conspiracy rather than allowing it to stay as a Robbery conviction. We discussed the fact that we would have to make that decision prior to filing our appeal and within 30 days. We discussed that that decision could have life long consequences for him. Shahid accepted our unconventional advice and we filed an appeal of the Robbery conviction rather than having his conviction corrected to a Conspiracy charge and then filing.
Our appeal was based solely on the argument that the evidence was insufficient to establish that Shahid had committed a robbery. While most Robberies are “complete” upon an attempt, Shahid’s specific charges required that a Robbery be “completed,” that is to say that “a taking” “from another” actually occurred. Here there was no evidence that robbery actually occurred because there was never any evidence that anything was ever taken.
The first step in any appeal is to file a 1925(b) statement. That statement explains to the trial court what you are alleged the did wrong. The trial court will then write an opinion explaining why it did what it did and that statement will be sent to the Superior Court for review.
In this case we filed a 1925(b) statement alleging that there was insufficient evidence to convict Shahid of Robbery. The trial court, realizing that it had made a clerical error, then attempted to correct that error by changing Shahid’s conviction to Conspiracy rather than Robbery. However, are very act of filing the appeal stripped the trial court of the power to alter anything in the case.
We simply ignored the trial court’s purported amendment of the conviction and continued our appeal with the Superior Court as if the trial court had done nothing. Because, in the eyes of the law, the trial court had done nothing.
We briefed our case for Shahid’s wrongful conviction of Robbery with the Superior Court very thoroughly. The Commonwealth and the trial court however continued to argue an entirely different case. Both the trial court and the District Attorney continued to argue that there was sufficient evidence to convict Shahid of Conspiracy and they were, unfortunately, probably right.
The Superior Court at that point gave all parties the opportunity to argue whether Shahid was, in fact convicted of Robbery or Conspiracy. What then ensued is was, in retrospect, a comedic series of briefs where the Government, both the trial court and the District Attorney argued that Shahid was convicted of a lesser offense, Conspiracy, and we argued that Shahid remained convicted of the more serious offense, Robbery, pending a decision of the Superior Court.
Our brief ended with the following two sentences: “While Appellant agrees with the Government’s position that he is not guilty of Robbery, Appellant cannot, at this time, agree that does not currently stand convicted of such. Should the Commonwealth wish to proceed with its argument that Appellant is not guilty of Robbery once this Honorable Court has properly established that he is currently convicted of Robbery rather than Conspiracy, Appellant will happily concede to the Commonwealth’s position.”
The Superior Court agreed with us that Shahid was indeed convicted of Robbery rather than Conspiracy and ordered the trial court and the District Attorney to brief their position on whether there was sufficient evidence to find Shahid guilty of Robbery. Despite their previous positions only weeks prior that Shahid was not guilty of Robbery, they then argued to the Superior Court that his Robbery conviction should be upheld.
Needless to say, the Superior Court overturned Shahid’s conviction and we happily walked in to court the next day to secure his release from prison.
The Government is not used to losing cases. They have unlimited resources to expend and often have societal bias in their favor. On the other hand, a defendant has only the money in his pocket, the wits or his attorney and, if he’s lucky, the truth on his side. So when the Government loses a case, the don’t go away peacefully.
Despite the Government’s previous arguments that Shahid was not guilty of Robbery, or perhaps because of it, they continued to appeal the case to the Supreme Court.
More briefs were filed but the Government’s credibility in this particular case was already eviscerated. The Supreme Court quickly dismissed their appeal.
Shahid’s conviction was overturned and retrial was barred by double jeopardy and he once again was able to move on in life with no criminal record. Our office is no longer considered for court appointed cases in Lehigh County.