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COMMONWEALTH PENNSYLVANIA v. CHARLIE WILL CLEMMONS (06/28/84)

decided: June 28, 1984.

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, APPELLANT,
v.
CHARLIE WILL CLEMMONS, APPELLEE



No. 57 M.D. Appeal Dkt. 1983, Appeal from the Order of the Superior Court dated March 11, 1983, at 35 Harrisburg, 1981, Remanding the case for an Evidentiary Hearing and Vacating the Judgment of Sentence of the Dauphin County Court of Common Pleas dated November 10, 1980 at No. 918 C.D. 1980, Pa. Super. , Nix, C.j., and Larsen, Flaherty, McDermott, Hutchinson, Zappala and Papadakos, JJ. Nix, C.j., and Larsen, J., concur in the result. Zappala, J., files a dissenting opinion.

Author: Mcdermott

[ 505 Pa. Page 359]

OPINION

The appellee, Charlie Will Clemmons, was found guilty of murder in the first degree following a jury trial in the Court of Common Pleas of Dauphin County. Following the denial of his posttrial motions, appellee was sentenced to a life

[ 505 Pa. Page 360]

    term imprisonment. Represented by new counsel, appellee filed a direct appeal to the Superior Court challenging the sufficiency of the evidence and raising numerous ineffectiveness of counsel claims.

Reaching the merits of the sufficiency of evidence claims, the Superior Court, 312 Pa. Super. 475, 459 A.2d 1, found that the Commonwealth's evidence adequately supported appellee's first degree murder conviction.

As for the ineffectiveness of counsel claims, the Superior Court, without examining the colorableness of these allegations, vacated appellee's judgment of sentence and ordered an evidentiary hearing on these claims. Taking exception to this ruling, the Commonwealth petitioned this Court for allowance of appeal which was granted. For reasons elucidated below we reverse the order of the Superior Court.

The Commonwealth argues that it was incumbent upon the Superior Court to attempt to examine the merits of each ineffectiveness of counsel claim before ordering an evidentiary hearing. Had the Superior Court done so, the Commonwealth argues, it would have found an evidentiary hearing was not necessary, since the ineffectiveness of counsel allegations were devoid of merit. We agree.

In Commonwealth v. Turner, 469 Pa. 319, 365 A.2d 847 (1977), we stated:

[ 505 Pa. Page 361]

Where the record on appeal clearly shows that there could have been no reasonable basis for the damaging decision or omission by trial counsel, then of course the judgment must be vacated and appropriate relief, such as allowing the filing of post trial motions or the ordering of a new trial, granted. Where, on the other hand, it is impossible to tell from the record whether or not the action of trial counsel could have had a rational basis, the appellate court will vacate the judgment, at least for the time being, and remand for an evidentiary hearing at which trial counsel may state his reasons for having chosen the course of action taken. Neither of these remedies, however, is appropriate if from the record it is apparent that the actions claimed to constitute ineffectiveness Page 361} were in fact within the realm of trial tactics or strategy. (Emphasis supplied.)

Id., 469 Pa. at 324, 365 A.2d at 849.

Consistent with these statements we today hold that where it is clear that allegations of ineffectiveness of counsel are baseless or meritless then an evidentiary hearing is unnecessary and the unfounded allegations should be rejected and dismissed. Cf. Commonwealth v. Wade, 480 Pa. 160, 389 A.2d 560 (1978) (Plurality opinion in which all but one claim of ineffectiveness of ...


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