Superior Court Hears Appeal in Charlotte Avenue Arson
Joseph Glass was sentenced to 10 to 24 years in state prison following a fire at his Charlotte Avenue home in Dec. 2009. The Superior Court of Pennsylvania recently heard arguments in an appeal filed on his behalf.
The Superior Court of Pennsylvania recently heard the appeal of an Upper Southampton man convicted of arson.
A three-judge panel, comprised of Judge Anne Lazarus, Judge Correale Stevens and Judge Robert Coville, heard arguments in the appeal filed on behalf of Joseph Glass in Founders Court Room in Philadelphia earlier this month.
Commonwealth v. Joseph Glass
In early 2011, a jury found Joseph Glass guilty of arson and reckless endangerment following a four-day trial in Bucks County Court in Doylestown.
The panel found that Glass deliberately set a fire in the basement of his Charlotte Avenue home on Dec. 20, 2009, after a night spent drinking and then arguing with his wife over his extra-marital affair.
Burton Rose, the Philadelphia-based attorney currently representing Glass, said he filed the appeal on behalf of his client based on three issues: one that occurred during the trial and two that occurred during sentencing.
Rose said the defense had planned to cross-examine a witness on her mental health history, “not to blast her character, but to speak to her ability to remember events and even to testify in court.”
However, the Bucks County judge who presided over Glass' trial, Judge Diane Gibbons, did not allow for this line of questioning.
Rose argued these questions would have provided the opportunity to suggest the account of the events offered by the witness may have not been accurate.
In presenting the Commonwealth's response to the appeal, Bucks County Assistant District Attorney Steve Harris said there was no evidence the witness’ ability to perceive the events that surrounded the arson were altered.
Harris said the witness gave a deposition prior to the trial and said alcohol had no effect on medications she was taking at the time and she had no problems with her recollection.
He said the point was moot, as a second witness corroborated the testimony in question.
“There was only one issue that was disagreed upon,” said Harris. “And that is whether or not he went back into the house to set a fire.”
Harris said at trial Glass testified the basement door was locked, preventing him from re-entering the house, while a fireman testified the door was open when he arrived.
The 10-to-24-year sentence Glass received for his crimes greatly exceeds the 22 to 48 months suggested by Pennsylvania’s sentencing guidelines.
Rose argued that with no priors, no injuries and considering this was an isolated incident, the sentence handed down to Glass was unreasonable.
“If you read the transcript of the sentencing, you can see that [Judge] Gibbons was upset,” said Rose.
“I’m not saying she shouldn’t have been upset,” he said. “But she was angry over Glass being an adulterer. She shouldn’t have focused on that.”
Three separate victims were included in the charge of arson; Rose argued that this makes the sentence illegal as it "overmasters the offense."
According to the statute for Recklessly Endangering Another Person (REAP), each charge has to merge into the mastering offense.
Rose said Glass was charged with one count of REAP for his wife and then an additional count of REAP for his two children.
"He was already charged with endangering his wife and children in the commission of the arson, therefore the charges should have merged," he said.
“He was convicted, charged and then charged again for the same people who were already covered by the other charge,” said Rose in an interview, after his presentation to the court.
Harris told the panel that he disagreed with Rose’s assessment of Gibbons demeanor.
“The sentence was not motivated by Gibbons’ anger,” he said. “She was concerned because he set fire to the house.”
Judge Lazarus asked Harris to speak to the issue of the merging of the sentence, as that was a point of concern for her.
Harris said he wasn't able to find any case law that spoke to the issue, but also admitted to the court that he is “not as talented as some of these younger folks on the computer.”
He said it was his belief that the judge merged one count, but that she was not required to merge all three.
Lazarus said this instruction might have upset Judge Gibbons’ entire sentencing scheme. She suggested the possibility of the need to send the case back to the lower court to be resentenced.
“I don’t object to that suggestion,” said Harris. “But I don’t think that is what needs to be done.”
Rose asked the court to consider throwing out the sentence for the two counts in question, in lieu of sending the case back to the lower court for resentencing.
As of Thursday afternoon, no decision has been made on the appeal.
According to the Superior Court's Office of the Prothonary, there is no hard-and-fast timeline for opinions to be rendered on cases brought before a panel, and a decision could take anywhere from a few weeks to several months, depending on the case.
In the meantime, Glass continues to serve out his sentence at the Pennsylvania State Correctional Institution at Mahanoy in Frackville, Pa.