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Commonwealth v. Stout

July 6, 2009


Appeal from the Order Entered July 30, 2008, in the Court of Common Pleas of Columbia County Criminal Division at No. CP-19-CR-0000348-2006.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ford Elliott, P.J.



¶ 1 This is an appeal from an order denying a writ of habeas corpus filed by appellant, Herbert Brian Stout. We vacate and remand.

¶ 2 On January 8, 2007, appellant entered a plea of guilty to a charge of receiving stolen property.*fn2 Appellant was subsequently sentenced on April 5, 2007, to a period of incarceration of 21 to 72 months. No appeal was filed.

¶ 3 On July 21, 2008, with the statutory period for the filing of a petition for collateral relief under the Post-Conviction Relief Act ("PCRA"), 42 Pa.C.S.A. §§ 9541-9546, having elapsed,*fn3 appellant filed a "Writ of Habeas Corpus Ad Subjiciendum"*fn4 asserting, in addition to various allegations of jurisdictional defect, that he was prosecuted under a state constitution that was adopted without lawful authority. (Docket #13.) On July 29, 2008, the Commonwealth filed a motion to dismiss appellant's writ of habeas corpus. The Commonwealth's motion was promptly acted upon, as the court granted the Commonwealth's motion and dismissed appellant's writ on August 1, 2008. The present, timely appeal followed.

¶ 4 Appellant acknowledges the legal premise that, for the most part, the PCRA has subsumed the writ of habeas corpus as a means for obtaining post-conviction collateral relief from a judgment of sentence. The premise applies to the extent the claim at issue is capable of being redressed under the PCRA. On this issue, our supreme court has stated: we note that both the PCRA and the state habeas corpus statute contemplate that the PCRA subsumes the writ of habeas corpus in circumstances where the PCRA provides a remedy for the claim. Commonwealth v. Peterkin, 554 Pa. 547, 722 A.2d 638 at 640. See also 42 Pa.C.S. § 9542 ('The action established in this subchapter shall be the sole means of obtaining collateral relief and encompasses all other common law and statutory remedies for the same purpose that exist when this subchapter takes effect, including habeas corpus and coram nobis.'); 42 Pa.C.S. § 6503(b) ('[T]he writ of habeas corpus shall not be available if a remedy may be had by post-conviction hearing proceedings authorized by law.').

Commonwealth v. Hackett, 598 Pa. 350, 362-363, 956 A.2d 978, 985-986 (2008). Moreover, in Hackett, the supreme court further commented that, consistent with the above premise: the scope of the PCRA eligibility requirements should not be narrowly confined to its specifically enumerated areas of review. Commonwealth v. Judge, 591 Pa. 126, 916 A.2d 511, 520 (Pa. 2007).

Such narrow construction would be inconsistent with the legislative intent to channel post-conviction claims into the PCRA's framework, id., and would instead create a bifurcated system of post-conviction review where some post-conviction claims are cognizable under the PCRA while others are not. Commonwealth v. Lantzy, 558 Pa. 214, 736 A.2d 564, 569-70 (Pa. 1999).

Instead, this Court has broadly interpreted the PCRA eligibility requirements as including within its ambit claims such as this one, regardless of the 'truth-determining process' language that Appellee invokes from Section 9543(a)(2)(i).

Id. 363, 956 A.2d at 986. Despite acknowledging the fact that the PCRA has largely subsumed the writ of habeas corpus, appellant contends that his claims fall outside of the PCRA and are thus properly the subject of such a writ. We disagree.

¶ 5 In several differing manners, appellant alleges --- in largely incredible fashion --- that the courts of the Commonwealth lacked jurisdiction to prosecute him due to defects in the drafting/adoption of the constitution, and/or enactment of the Crimes Code, or that he was prosecuted under a section of the Crimes Code that was repealed without a saving schedule. Appellant also claims that he was prosecuted "under court rules, criminal procedure and evidence[,] promulgated/drafted/adopted/legislated upon by the state's Judicial Branch, in violation of Article IV, Sec. 4, . . . " (Appellant's brief at 7.) The PCRA's eligibility for relief section states, in relevant part:

§ 9543. Eligibility for relief

(a) General rule.-- To be eligible for relief under this subchapter, the petitioner must plead and prove by a preponderance of ...

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