NON-PRECEDENTIAL DECISION - SEE SUPERIOR COURT I.O.P. 65.37
COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA : IN THE SUPERIOR COURT OF
TONY NHEP :
Appellant : No. 3458 EDA 2018
Appeal from the Judgment of Sentence Entered November 1, 2018
In the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County
Criminal Division at No(s): CP-51-CR-0007868-2017
BEFORE: PANELLA, P.J., McCAFFERY, J., and STEVENS, P.J.E.*
MEMORANDUM BY PANELLA, P.J.: FILED: MARCH 15, 2021
Tony Nhep appeals from the judgment of sentence entered on
November 1, 2018, in the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County,
made final by the denial of post-sentence motions on November 8, 2018. The
trial court imposed an aggregate term of five to ten years’ incarceration,
followed by two years’ probation, after a jury convicted him of burglary
(overnight accommodations, person present), criminal conspiracy (burglary),
and possession of an instrument of crime (“PIC”).1 The court also found him
guilty of one count of persons not to possess a firearm (“Section 6105”).2 On
* Former Justice specially assigned to the Superior Court.
1 18 Pa.C.S.A. §§ 3502(a)(1)(i), 903, and 907(a), respectively.
2 18 Pa.C.S.A. § 6105(a)(1). Nhep was ineligible due to a prior conviction.
appeal, Nhep challenges the sufficiency of the evidence supporting his Section
6105 conviction and the verdict was against the weight of the evidence as to
all his convictions. After careful review, we affirm.
Nhep’s convictions stem from a burglary that took place on June 30,
2017. On that date, at approximately 11:00 p.m., the complainant, Yuexiao
Jiang, was in one of the upstairs bedrooms of her South Philadelphia row home
with her mother-in-law, her two young children, and her four-year-old
nephew. Jiang’s son heard the bedroom door open and observed a person’s
head peep inside. The son asked Jiang if his grandfather had come home.
Jiang went into the hallway and looked down the stairs. She saw the back of
an unfamiliar man leaving the house.
Jiang then called her husband and father-in-law, and asked them if they
were recently home and whether they had gone outside. Both men indicated
that they had not been home. Jiang’s husband sent her a clip of video
surveillance footage from inside the home, which revealed that three unknown
men had been in the residence.3 The couple then called the police.
Subsequently, on July 27th, Probation and Parole Agent Starnetta
Streaty viewed surveillance footage of the burglary, and she identified Nhep
as one of the three men inside the home. She knew Nhep personally and had
met him approximately ten times between January and June of 2017. She also
3 The men did not take anything from the residence.
identified two of his tattoos from still shots of the video. Police Officers Chris
Lai and Brian Ho positively identified Nhep’s cohorts, David Men and Vutha
Mok, as the other men in the surveillance video. The video also showed that
Mok had a firearm in his right hand as he walked around the home.
All three men were arrested and charged with numerous crimes
following the burglary. Nhep and Men were tried jointly4 before a jury and
adjudged guilty of burglary, criminal conspiracy, and PIC on August 17, 2018.
Previously agreeing to bifurcate their cases as to the Section 6105 charge and
to waive their right to a jury trial on that offense, Nhep and Men were found
guilty of the gun possession crime. Nevertheless, in finding them guilty, the
court stated the following:
I want to put something on the record about this. The
prosecution theory of guilt on the [Section 6105] charge in this
case rests entirely on the theory of conspiratorial liability for this
possessory offense. The evidence at the trial made it clear, or at
least there was no evidence at the trial that suggested that either
Mr. Men or Mr. Nhep, themselves, possessed a firearm at any time
during the course of this case.
As counsel is aware, under present Pennsylvania law, which
I am constrained to follow, as I charged the jury, the defendants
are criminally liable for the possession of a firearm even though it
was carried by one of their co-conspirators. This is a verdict, which
I must say, I regret to have to enter, because it is contrary to my
view of what the law ought to be and where the law is going. But
I have no choice under the existing law but to find you, Mr. Men,
and you, Mr. Nhep, guilty of the [Section 6105] charges.
N.T., 8/17/2018, at 90.
4 Mok pled guilty to burglary and weapon offenses on July 18, 2018.
On November 1, 2018, the court sentenced Nhep to concurrent terms
of five to ten years for the burglary and conspiracy convictions, following by
two years of probation. The court also imposed a term of two years’ probation
on the Section 6105 offense, to be served concurrently with the probation for
the other crimes. No further penalty was imposed on the PIC conviction.
Nhep filed a post-sentence motion, raising challenges to the sufficiency
of the evidence and the discretionary aspects of sentencing. The trial court
denied the motion on November 8, 2018. This timely appeal followed.5, 6
Following Nhep’s notice of appeal, his counsel filed three extensions of
time to file an appellate brief. After the third request, on September 5, 2019,
this Court issued a per curiam order granting the extension but stating that
no further extensions would be permitted absent extraordinary extensions.
After not receiving an appellate brief by the allotted deadline, this Court
dismissed Nhep’s appeal on November 4, 2019. Nhep subsequently filed an
application to reinstate his appeal, which this Court granted on December 4,
2019. We also directed the appointment of new counsel. The trial court
appointed new counsel, who subsequently filed an appellate brief on March
26, 2020. The matter is now properly before us.
5The trial court directed Nhep to file a concise statement of errors complained
of on appeal pursuant to Pa.R.A.P. 1925(b) on December 6, 2018. Nhep
complied with the order by filing a statement on December 28, 2018.
Thereafter, the trial court issued a Pa.R.A.P. 1925(a) opinion on May 10, 2019.
6 Men also filed a direct appeal, which is docketed at No. 307 EDA 2020.
In Nhep’s first argument, he claims there was insufficient evidence to
support his Section 6105 conviction because the Commonwealth’s evidence
demonstrated that he never held a gun during the incident at issue. See
Appellant’s Brief, at 22. In support of this assertion, he points to the
surveillance video, which showed Mok holding the purported handgun, but
neither Nhep nor Men ever touched the gun. See
id., at 23-24.
Furthermore, the crux of Nhep’s argument is that there was insufficient
evidence to support his Section 6105 conviction based upon the theory of co-
conspirator liability. See
id., at 27-35.
In support of this assertion, Nhep relies
on Commonwealth v. Chambers,
188 A.3d 400
(Pa. 2018). In Chambers,
the defendant and the victim were involved in a physical altercation with other
individuals watching. At one point, one of these individuals sprayed the victim
in the face with mace. The defendant was charged and eventually found guilty
by the trial court of, inter alia, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon,
conspiracy, and PIC. The trial court explained that for both aggravated assault
and PIC, because the defendant never used or possessed the mace, his
convictions were premised upon a theory of conspiratorial liability.
After granting the defendant’s petition for allowance of appeal, the
Pennsylvania Supreme Court explained that the “the principle of conspiratorial
liability [is] a theory in which one conspirator is criminally liable for the
substantive offenses committed by other members of the conspiracy that are
undertaken in furtherance of the conspiracy.”
Id., at 408
The Supreme Court further stated:
This form of vicarious criminal liability is not codified in
Pennsylvania’s Crimes Code. See 18 Pa.C.S. § 306 (outlining the
circumstances in which a person can be liable for conduct of
another, which contains no mention of the concept of
conspiratorial liability); § 903 (setting forth the elements of the
substantive offense of criminal conspiracy, and again, omitting
any reference to an offender’s liability for acts committed by
others in furtherance of the conspiracy). Yet, the maxim routinely
is utilized in courtrooms across Pennsylvania as a basis to convict
one person for the acts of another, and is faithfully applied by this
Chambers, 188 A.3d at 408
(some citations omitted).
The Chambers Court stated that an issue in the case was “whether such
common law liability exists in our statutorily codified system of substantive
Id., at 409.
Nevertheless, the Court did not decide the issue
because it found that before that question could be answered, the Court must
first examine whether the record supported the existence of a conspiracy and
based on the facts in that case, the petitioner was not involved in a conspiracy
pursuant to 18 Pa.C.S.A. § 903. See
id. Turning to the
present matter, Nhep complains that like in Chambers,
conspiratorial liability is no longer viable in this Commonwealth, and therefore,
it should not apply to his case. See Appellant’s Brief, at 32. Nhep pointed to
the trial court’s comments at sentencing as evidence of agreement with this
Id., at 33;
see also N.T., 8/17/2018, at 90.
Lastly, arguing in the alternative, Nhep complains that even if
conspiratorial liability was viable, it could not form the basis for his Section
6105 conviction. See
id. He states the
evidence did not establish that Mok,
who possessed the gun, was disqualified from doing so under Section 6105
and therefore, Nhep should not be convicted of the same crime.
Before we may address the substantive issue, we must address whether
Nhep has properly preserved this argument. Notably, Nhep never alleged in
his concise statement that his Section 6105 conviction was insufficient based
on the notion that the theory of co-conspirator liability is no longer viable or
that because the evidence did not establish that Mok was not disqualified from
doing so under Section 6105, Nhep should not be convicted of the same crime.
Rather, in his concise statement, Nhep set forth the following issues:
1. The verdict was against the weight and sufficiency of the
2. The verdict of gun possession should not be upheld on legal
grounds because [Nhep] was never in possession of firearm.
Appellant’s Concise Statement of Errors Complained of on Appeal in
Accordance with Pa.R.A.P. 1925, 12/28/2018, at 1.7
7 In a footnote to his concise statement, Nhep stated:
In this Statement, Appellant has tried in good faith to strike the
proper balance between providing the court with the required
notice and doing so in a concise manner. Should the court remain
unsure in any respect about the nature of any of the issues that
It is clear from comparing both his concise statement and his appellate
brief that Nhep is now presenting new theories regarding the sufficiency of the
evidence as to his Section 6105 conviction on appeal than he did with the trial
However, it is well-settled that issues not included in a court-ordered
concise statement are deemed waived on appeal. See Pa.R.A.P.
1925(b)(4)(vii); see also Commonwealth v. Jones,
191 A.3d 830
835 (Pa. Super 2018) (waiving defendant’s challenge identification testimony
on appeal under different theories than those previously raised in concise
statement because trial court did not have opportunity to review those
theories). Accordingly, we conclude that to the extent Nhep raises his
sufficiency argument in terms of these newly raised theories, it is waived.
Appellant wishes to pursue on appeal, counsel would be happy to
supplement this Statement upon order of the Court.
Appellant’s Concise Statement of Errors Complained of on Appeal in
Accordance with Pa.R.A.P. 1925, 12/28/2018, at 1 n.1. The court did not
request Nhep to supplement the statement.
Furthermore, it merits mention that in his post-sentence motion, Nhep
set forth the following relevant claims: (1) the evidence was insufficient to
prove his identity as one of the perpetrators; and (2) the evidence was
insufficient to prove him guilty of a Section 6105 offense because he did not
possess a gun during the incident. See Defendant’s Post-Sentence Motion,
11/8/2018, at ¶¶ 2-3.
Therefore, we confine our analysis to the following claim – whether there
was sufficient evidence to support Nhep’s Section 6105 conviction because the
evidence demonstrated that he never held a gun during the incident.
Our standard of review regarding a sufficiency of the evidence claim is
The standard we apply ... is whether viewing all the evidence
admitted at trial in the light most favorable to the verdict winner,
there is sufficient evidence to enable the fact-finder to find every
element of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. In applying the
above test, we may not weigh the evidence and substitute our
judgment for the fact-finder. In addition, we note that the facts
and circumstances established by the Commonwealth need not
preclude every possibility of innocence. Any doubts regarding a
defendant’s guilt may be resolved by the fact-finder unless the
evidence is so weak and inconclusive that as a matter of law no
probability of fact may be drawn from the combined
circumstances. The Commonwealth may sustain its burden of
proving every element of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt by
means of wholly circumstantial evidence. Moreover, in applying
the above test, the entire record must be evaluated and all
evidence actually received must be considered. Finally, the trier
of fact while passing upon the credibility of witnesses and the
weight of the evidence produced, is free to believe all, part or none
of the evidence.
Commonwealth v. Edwards,
229 A.3d 298
, 305-306 (Pa. Super. 2020)
(quotation and internal brackets omitted).
In order to convict an individual pursuant to Section 6105, the
Commonwealth must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the individual
possessed a firearm and that he was convicted of an enumerated offense that
prohibits him from, inter alia, possessing, using, and controlling the firearm.
See 18 Pa.C.S.A. § 6105(a)(1). A “firearm” is defined as any weapon that is
“designed to or may readily be converted to expel any projectile by the action
of an explosive or the frame or receiver of any such weapon.” 18 Pa.C.S.A. §
Here, the trial court indicated that because Nhep “did not physically
possess the gun, the Commonwealth proceeded under a theory of constructive
possession.” Trial Court Opinion, 5/10/2019, at 8.
Regarding constructive possession, we are guided by the following:
Constructive possession is a legal fiction, a pragmatic construct to
deal with the realities of criminal law enforcement. Constructive
possession is an inference arising from a set of facts that
possession of the contraband was more likely than not. We have
defined constructive possession as conscious dominion. We
subsequently defined conscious dominion as the power to control
the contraband and the intent to exercise that control. To aid
application, we have held that constructive possession may be
established by the totality of the circumstances.
Commonwealth v. Brown,
48 A.3d 426
, 430 (Pa. Super. 2012).
In Commonwealth v. Knox,
105 A.3d 1194
(Pa. 2014), the
Pennsylvania Supreme Court opined that where a weapon is utilized in
furtherance of a crime, constructive possession of that weapon is attributable
to a co-conspirator despite who actually possessed it. See
id., at 1197-1198.
Therefore, to impute constructive possession to Nhep, the Commonwealth was
required to prove that Nhep and Mok were involved in a criminal conspiracy.
In order to convict a defendant of criminal conspiracy,
the Commonwealth must prove: (1) the defendant intended to
commit or aid in the commission of the criminal act; (2) that the
defendant entered into an agreement with another to engage in
the crime; and (3) the defendant or one or more of the other co-
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conspirators committed an overt act in furtherance of the agreed
upon crime. As it is often difficult to prove an explicit or formal
agreement, the agreement generally is established via
circumstantial evidence, such as by the relations, conduct, or
circumstances of the parties, or the overt acts on the part of co-
Commonwealth v. Le,
208 A.3d 960
, 969 (Pa. 2019). See also 18 Pa.C.S.A.
Applying those principles, the trial court found that the Commonwealth
had presented sufficient evidence of conspiracy:
[Nhep] was part of a conspiracy to burglarize the complainant’s
home. [Nhep]’s co-conspirator/accomplice, Vutha Mok, visibly
possessed a firearm during the course of the burglary. [Nhep] and
Men were beside Mok when he entered and walked around the
complaint’s home, gun in hand. They were aware of Mok’s illegal
possession of a firearm. Moreover, they benefitted from the
“protection” the gun afforded them in the event they were
confronted by the homeowners.
Trial Court Opinion, 5/10/2019, at 8-9.
We agree with the court’s well-reasoned analysis. Moreover, Nhep does
not dispute that the evidence was sufficient to conclude an armed burglary
transpired, that he took part in the crime, and that Mok did possess a firearm.
Viewed in the light most favorable to the Commonwealth as the verdict winner,
the evidence was sufficient to find that Nhep constructively possessed the gun
at issue as a co-conspirator. Accordingly, his sufficiency claim fails.
In Nhep’s second argument, he claims the verdict was against the
weight of the evidence and so contrary to the evidence that his convictions
shock one’s sense of justice. See Appellant’s Brief, at 35-39. Like with Nhep’s
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sufficiency argument, we must determine whether he has properly preserved
It is well-settled law that a defendant must raise a claim asserting the
verdict is against the weight of the evidence before the trial court, either orally
or in writing, at or before sentencing or in a written post-sentence motion.
See Pa.R.Crim.P. 607. “The purpose of this rule is to make it clear that a
challenge to the weight of the evidence must be raised with the trial judge or
it will be waived.”
Id., Comment. Here, Nhep
did neither.8 Therefore, he
waived any potential weight of the evidence claim. Commonwealth v.
191 A.3d 830
, 834-835 (Pa. Super. 2018) (challenge to weight of
evidence must be raised in timely pre or post-trial motion). Accordingly, we
need not address Nhep’s second argument any further.
Judgment of sentence affirmed. Jurisdiction relinquished.
8 It merits mention that Nhep admitted he did not raise a weight claim in any
post-sentence motion, but presented it for the first time in his concise
statement. See Appellant’s Brief, at 36-38. Nevertheless, he indicates that he
is preserving the waived argument as an ineffective assistance of counsel
claim to be raised on collateral review. See
id., at 38-39;
Commonwealth v. Holmes,
79 A.3d 562
(Pa. 2013) (holding claims of
ineffective assistance of counsel should be deferred until collateral review
pursuant to the Post Conviction Relief Act, 42 Pa.C.S.A. §§ 9541-9546).
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Joseph D. Seletyn, Esq.
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