submitted: May 5, 1982.
COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA
MIGUEL RIVERA, APPELLANT
No. 2752 Philadelphia, 1981, APPEAL FROM THE PCHA ORDER OF OCTOBER 20, 1981 IN THE COURT OF COMMON PLEAS OF PHILADELPHIA COUNTY, TRIAL DIV., CRIMINAL SECT., No. 38-40 AUG. TERM, 1973
Peter C. Bowers, Philadelphia, for appellant.
Robert B. Lawler, Assistant District Attorney, Philadelphia, for Commonwealth, appellee.
Spaeth, Rowley and Cirillo, JJ. Spaeth, J., files a dissenting opinion.
[ 309 Pa. Super. Page 36]
On November 13, 1974, appellant Miguel Rivera was convicted by a jury of first degree murder, rape and criminal conspiracy. The charges arose out of the rape of Margaret Handerahan and the murder of Kevin Wolf during the early morning hours of June 27, 1973. These sordid crimes became known throughout the Philadelphia area as the "Art Museum Murder." Post-verdict motions were filed and denied by the Honorable James T. McDermott, who then sentenced the appellant to a term of life imprisonment for the murder conviction and to a consecutive period of imprisonment of ten to twenty years for the rape conviction. On direct appeal, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania affirmed the judgment of sentence. Commonwealth v. Rivera, 470 Pa. 131, 367 A.2d 719 (1976).*fn1
On October 16, 1976, appellant filed a petition seeking relief pursuant to the provisions of the Post Conviction Hearing Act (hereinafter "PCHA").*fn2 After a counseled evidentiary hearing, relief was denied. This is an appeal from that order.
Initially, appellant challenges the propriety of the trial court's instruction on voluntary manslaughter. Secondly,
[ 309 Pa. Super. Page 37]
he contends that the trial court erred in refusing to grant a mistrial after the prosecution read a witness' statement to the jury which referred, in passing, to appellant as a "junkie." Appellant raised these claims on direct appeal, and the Supreme Court found them to be without merit. Rivera, 470 Pa. at 138-139, 367 A.2d 719. Therefore, these issues have been finally litigated and are not cognizable in a PCHA proceeding. 19 Pa.S.A. § 1180-3(d); Commonwealth v. Velasquez, 488 Pa. 244, 412 A.2d 489 (1980); Commonwealth v. Slavik, 449 Pa. 424, 297 A.2d 920 (1972).*fn3
Appellant's remaining contentions deal with the alleged ineffectiveness of his trial counsel. First, he asserts that counsel was ineffective for failing to call an alibi witness to testify at the trial. Next, he argues that counsel was ineffective for failing to object when the trial court imposed sentence without affording him his allocution rights and without stating its reasons for the sentence. Third, appellant alleges that counsel was ineffective for not objecting to the trial court's charge regarding accomplice testimony. Finally, appellant contends that counsel was ineffective for failing to file a petition to dismiss charges pursuant to Pa.R.Crim.P. 1100(f).
The standard of review for ineffectiveness of counsel was established in the case of Commonwealth ex rel. Washington v. Maroney, 427 Pa. 599, 604-5, 235 A.2d 349, 352-53 (1967), where the Supreme Court stated:
We cannot emphasize strongly enough, however,
that our inquiry ceases and counsel's assistance is deemed constitutionally effective once we are able to conclude that the particular course chosen by counsel had
[ 309 Pa. Super. Page 38]
some reasonable basis designed to effectuate his client's interests. The test is not whether other alternatives were more reasonable, employing a hindsight evaluation of the record. Although weigh the alternatives we must, the balance tips in favor of a finding of effective assistance as soon as it is determined that trial counsel's decisions had any reasonable basis. (footnote omitted)
Failure to call an alibi witness does not per se constitute ineffective assistance of counsel. Commonwealth v. Owens, 454 Pa. 268, 312 A.2d 378 (1973); Commonwealth v. Olivencia, 265 Pa. Super. 439, 402 A.2d 519 (1979). Ineffectiveness will not be found where there is a reasonable basis for counsel's decision based on a matter of trial strategy. In addition, the failure to call a possible witness will not be equated with a finding of ineffectiveness absent a positive demonstration that the testimony would have been helpful to the defense. Commonwealth v. Stokes, 294 Pa. Super. 529, 440 A.2d 591 (1982).
Appellant contends that trial counsel was ineffective for neglecting to subpoena Nelson Morales whom he alleges could have established an alibi for him on the night of the crime. Morales and a man named "Freddie" had accompanied appellant to the hospital on that night to assist him in obtaining treatment for a knife wound he sustained in a fight with his wife. From the hospital, they went with appellant to the 9th District Police Station at 20th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue. A police officer testified that he saw appellant and two other men leave the police station at approximately 2:45 a.m. Appellant parted company with the others in the vicinity of the Art Museum shortly before the crimes were committed.
Trial counsel testified that he did not call Morales as an alibi witness because he was unable to account for appellant's whereabouts at the time of the crime.*fn4 Moreover,
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Morales' testimony would only have been cumulative to that of the police officer -- that appellant left the police station at 2:45 a.m. in the company of two other men. Therefore, counsel cannot be deemed ineffective for not calling Morales as a witness. See, Commonwealth v. Robinson, 487 Pa. 541, 410 A.2d 744 (1980); Commonwealth v. Olivencia, supra. Compare, Commonwealth v. Charleston, 251 Pa. Super. 311, 380 A.2d 795 (1977). Furthermore, counsel did not want to jeopardize the defense by subjecting Morales to a potentially rigorous cross examination. Under these circumstances, we cannot say that counsel's judgment on this matter was without reasonable basis. See, Commonwealth v. Logan, 468 Pa. 424, 364 A.2d 266 (1976); Owens, supra.*fn5
Appellant's next contention is that he is entitled to a new sentencing proceeding because trial counsel failed to object when he was denied his right to allocution, and when the lower court imposed sentence on the rape conviction without stating its reasons on the record.*fn6 Both of these claims are without merit. Appellant failed to present any testimony or other evidence at the PCHA hearing on what statement he would have made prior to the imposition of sentence and how this would have benefited him. Appellant's failure to do this constitutes abandonment of this claim. Stokes, supra. This court is not required to consider claims of ineffective counsel in the abstract. Commonwealth v. Pettus, 492 Pa. 558, 424 A.2d 1332 (1981). The PCHA court's finding that appellant failed to present
[ 309 Pa. Super. Page 40]
evidence showing that he is entitled to relief is supported by the record. Therefore, the finding of the PCHA court will not be disturbed. See, Commonwealth v. Lutz, 492 Pa. 500, 424 A.2d 1302 (1981); Commonwealth v. Hauser, 450 Pa. 388, 299 A.2d 218 (1973).
Similarly, appellant's contention that counsel was ineffective for not requesting on-the-record reasons for the rape sentence must also fail. While Commonwealth v. Riggins, 474 Pa. 115, 377 A.2d 140 (1977), now requires such an on-the-record statement, the law at the time of appellant's sentencing was otherwise. Counsel will not be held ineffective for failing to advance a claim or assert a right unsupported in the law. Commonwealth v. Frankhouser, 491 Pa. 171, 420 A.2d 396 (1980); Commonwealth v. Roach, 479 Pa. 528, 388 A.2d 1056 (1978). "We cannot impose upon trial counsel the qualities of a seer . . . ." Commonwealth v. Triplett, 476 Pa. 83, 89, 381 A.2d 877, 881 (1977).
Appellant's next contention is that counsel was ineffective for failing to object to the trial court's jury charge dealing with the evaluation of the testimony of an accomplice that was presented at trial. We have carefully reviewed the trial court's charge in its entirety and find it to be free from legal error. Therefore, counsel was not ineffective for failing to object to the charge. See, Commonwealth v. Sisak, 436 Pa. 262, 259 A.2d 428 (1969); Commonwealth v. Fodero, 273 Pa. Super. 278, 417 A.2d 648 (1979).
We now turn to appellant's final contention, that trial counsel was ineffective for failing to file a motion to dismiss under Pa.R.Crim.P. 1100(f).
The Commonwealth contends that the appellant had fully waived his Rule 1100 rights in his on-the-record colloquy with the trial judge. Appellant, on the other hand, argues that the waiver of his Rule 1100 rights was only for a specified time, until his trial counsel was available, and as
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such was not an absolute waiver of these rights. We agree with the Commonwealth.*fn7
It is well settled in Pennsylvania that counsel will not be deemed ineffective for failing to raise or preserve a meritless claim. Commonwealth v. Sanford, 497 Pa. 442, 441 A.2d 1220 (1982); Commonwealth v. Gratkowski, 287 Pa. Super. 492, 430 A.2d 998 (1981); Commonwealth v. Juliano, 282 Pa. Super. 226, 422 A.2d 1088 (1980); Commonwealth v. Foley, 269 Pa. Super. 71, 409 A.2d 68 (1979); Commonwealth v. Alvarado, 442 Pa. 516, 276 A.2d 526 (1971). We must confine our examination of counsel's actions to the standards as they existed at the time of his actions. Commonwealth v. Hill, 450 Pa. 477, 301 A.2d 587 (1973) (emphasis supplied). Since the standards which existed at the time trial counsel decided not to file a motion under Rule 1100(f) did not limit waivers of Rule 1100 rights to a specific period of time, Commonwealth v. Coleman, supra, then we cannot hold counsel ineffective for concluding that any future claims by the appellant under Rule 1100 would be both futile and meritless.
Appellant also urges that the Commonwealth has not met its burden of proving the validity of the waiver. Commonwealth v. Dunbar, 301 Pa. Super. 223, 447 A.2d 622 (1982). Since we conclude that the record and arguments of the Commonwealth are sufficient to meet this requirement, we need not address this contention any further.
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Lastly, appellant contends that he should be afforded relief since he has raised a cognizable claim under PCHA § 1180-3(c)(12).*fn8
It is uncontroverted that Rule 1100 claims are cognizable under PCHA. See e.g., Commonwealth v. Gratkowski, supra; Commonwealth v. Juliano, supra; Commonwealth v. Foley, supra. However, since we have already concluded that appellant had validly and effectively waived his Rule 1100 rights, such waiver has effectively precluded him from raising a Rule 1100 claim under the Post Conviction Hearing Act. Consequently, appellant is not entitled to any relief under its provisions.
SPAETH, Judge, dissenting:
Appellant has filed a petition for remand, claiming afterdiscovered evidence, and the Commonwealth has joined in the petition. With its opinion filed today the majority has filed an order denying the petition for remand, without prejudice to appellant's right to file a second petition for post-conviction relief "containing claims that have not been waived by failure to raise them in his first PCHA petition." I should instead grant the petition for remand, with a provision in the order of remand that should appellant be denied relief on his after-discovered evidence claims, he could on appeal from that denial renew the arguments that he has made on this appeal. See Commonwealth v. Santiago, 306 Pa. Super. 176, 452 A.2d 272 (1982) (remanded 11/5/82).
The case should be remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.