NO. 73 Philadelphia, 1981, Appeal from the Order of the Court of Common Pleas of Lycoming County, Criminal Division, at No. 72-10,836, denying Post-Conviction Hearing Relief Act.
James R. Protasio, Assistant Public Defender, Williamsport, for appellant.
Kenneth Brown, District Attorney, Williamsport, for Commonwealth, appellee.
Spaeth, Beck and Lipez, JJ.
[ 303 Pa. Super. Page 260]
This appeal arises from the denial of appellant's application for relief under the Post Conviction Hearing Act ("PCHA").*fn1 Appellant pleaded guilty to murder generally and after a hearing, he was found guilty of murder in the second degree. He was sentenced to incarceration of four to twenty years. No post-verdict motions or direct appeal were filed.
Appellant raises as his first contention that he was denied effective assistance of counsel in that his trial counsel failed to attempt to suppress inculpatory statements, specifically two confessions to the fatal beating of his seventeen month old niece. We initially state our oft cited standard of review where ineffective assistance of counsel is alleged:
[ 303 Pa. Super. Page 261]
In considering appellant's claim of ineffective counsel, we are governed by Commonwealth ex rel. Washington v. Maroney, 427 Pa. 599, 235 A.2d 349 (1967), where we held that a court must independently review the record and examine counsel's stewardship in light of available alternatives. The inquiry ceases and counsel is deemed to have been effective once the court is able to conclude that counsel's actions had a reasonable basis designed to effectuate the client's interests. The test is not whether it appears on hindsight that another course of action would have been more reasonable. Further, counsel is not ineffective in failing to assert a baseless claim.
Commonwealth v. Schroth, 495 Pa. 561, 564, 435 A.2d 148, 149 (1981).
In order to weigh this "ineffectiveness" claim, we must independently evaluate the record. It is clear that appellant's counsel did not move to suppress the inculpatory statements. The inquiry facing us is whether he had a "reasonable basis" for inaction. "[W]e will find a 'reasonable basis' for inaction if the thing not done had no likelihood of success." Commonwealth v. Ford, 491 Pa. 586, 421 A.2d 1040 (1980).
The record reveals the following set of facts. Agent John Bower of the Williamsburg Police Department was directed to go to the home of Larry and Linda Shaffer to investigate the death of their daughter. When he arrived, appellant, who was then seventeen years old, was alone inside the house. Notes of Testimony ("N.T.") (PCHA) at 85. The agent had been informed that "there was an incident that happened on High Street where there was a child injured . . . ." (N.T.) (PCHA) at 87. Appellant knew the agent from previous contacts with the Juvenile Division, and after being asked what happened, appellant told the agent that he had something he wanted to tell him. (N.T.) (PCHA) at 87. The agent drove appellant to the ...