Court rejects new appeal
Gibson’s latest attempt ruled ‘frivolous’
The Pennsylvania Superior Court has rejected a new appeal by a man who won a previous appeal of a sentence a year ago.
Last year, the Superior Court vacated a sentence imposed by a Clearfield County judge who had ordered a Sandy Township man to clean up his yard as part of a probationary sentence that was imposed after he was found guilty of harassment during a domestic dispute.
The state appeals court in August 2019 ruled that Judge Fredric J. Ammerman erred when he ordered Russell Philip Gibson, 61, to remove “excess scrap, garbage and other debris” from the yard while serving a sentence of 90 days probation on the harassment charge.
Superior Court Judge James G. Colins, who wrote the opinion last August, explained that conditions added by a judge when sentencing a defendant are proper — if they have some reasonable relationship to the charge for which he was convicted.
The order to clean up his yard was added to Gibson’s probationary sentence on the harassment charge because he was also under order by Sandy Township’s code enforcement department to clean up his yard.
The attempt by the judge to combine the two cases into one sentencing order was improper, and the sentence was vacated.
On Sept. 10, 2019, Judge Ammerman resentenced Gibson to the same 90 days of probation, but this time he added a condition that Gibson provide 200 hours of community service.
Gibson appealed again, but a panel of the Superior Court that included judges Mary P. Murray, Maria McLaughlin and Correale F. Stevens, upheld the new order, explaining that community service with a public or nonprofit agency was specifically authorized under Pennsylvania’s sentencing code.
It dismissed Gibson’s latest appeal, characterizing the issues he raised this time around as “frivolous,” and allowing Gibson’s attorney, Steven M. Johnston of the Clearfield County Public Defender’s office, to withdraw from the case.
Gibson complained that he had already served his 90 days of probation, but the Superior Court opinion, written by Murray, stated, “The certified record belies appellant’s argument.”
She pointed out that Ammerman, upon learning on Jan. 9, 2019, that Gibson had filed an appeal to the Superior Court involving the initial order, stayed the sentence pending the outcome of the appeal.
And, the opinion noted that during the second sentencing hearing, Gibson was given credit for the money he had already paid as the result of the first sentence.
Gibson’s second issue was a challenge to the 200 hours of community service.
The Superior Court opinion stated that probation is to be “unique and individualized.”
It stated, “When conditions are placed on probation orders, they are formulated to ensure or assist a defendant in leading a law-abiding life.”
The Common Pleas Court judge was free to impose conditions on the appellant’s probation that are specifically authorized in the Sentencing Code, or those that are sufficiently connected to the conviction, the opinion concluded.
Gibson’s charges stemmed from a domestic dispute with his girlfriend that occurred Dec. 7, 2017.
He was charged with terroristic threats, simple assault and harassment, a summary offense.
A jury found him not guilty of terroristic threats and simple assault, but the judge found him guilty of harassment.