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Commonwealth v. Haun

November 20, 2009

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, APPELLEE
v.
RAYMOND E. HAUN, APPELLANT



Appeal from the PCRA Order November 4, 2008 In the Court of Common Pleas of Centre County Criminal Division at No. CP-14-CR-0001493-2004.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Bender, J.

BEFORE: BENDER, FREEDBERG and POPOVICH, JJ.

OPINION

¶ 1 Raymond E. Haun (Appellant) appeals from the order dismissing his petition for relief filed under the Post Conviction Relief Act (PCRA). See 42 Pa.C.S. §§ 9541-9546. Appellant claims that the PCRA court erred in relying on our decision in Commonwealth v. Lantzy, 712 A.2d 288 (Pa. Super. 1998) (en banc), reversed, 736 A.2d 564 (Pa. 1999). For the reasons that follow, we reverse and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

¶ 2 In 2005, a jury convicted Appellant of multiple counts of indecent assault and related offenses. Appellant's counsel did not file a direct appeal. Appellant subsequently filed the underlying PCRA petition, pro se, and the PCRA court appointed counsel to represent him. Counsel filed an amended petition raising several claims of ineffective assistance of counsel among which was a claim that counsel rendered ineffective assistance by failing to file a direct appeal. Following a hearing, the PCRA court dismissed the petition on the sole basis that Appellant's claims were beyond the scope of the PCRA because Appellant admitted his guilt of the crimes for which he was convicted. Trial Court Opinion (T.C.O.), 11/4/08, at 4 (citing 42 Pa.C.S. § 9542). Appellant then filed this appeal presenting the following question for our review:

Whether the Court of Common Pleas erred in denying post-conviction relief based on the legal doctrine set forth in Commonwealth v. Lantzy, 712 A.2d 288 (Pa. Super. 1998), reversed, 558 Pa. 214, 736 A.2d 564 (Pa. 1999).

Brief for Appellant at 5.

¶ 3 "On appeal from the denial of PCRA relief, our standard of review calls for us to determine whether the ruling of the PCRA court is supported by the record and free of legal error." Commonwealth v. Washington, 927 A.2d 586, 592 (Pa. 2007). In the instant case, the PCRA court found that, based upon Appellant's admissions, he was not convicted of crimes that he did not commit, i.e., he was not innocent. Our review of the record reveals adequate support for this finding. We turn then to the legal question which is at the crux of this case, namely, whether the PCRA court properly relied on our holding in Lantzy and 42 Pa.C.S. § 9542, in its determination that Appellant was not eligible for PCRA relief because he admitted his guilt of the crimes for which he was convicted.

¶ 4 We begin with Section 9542, which states:

§ 9542. Scope of subchapter

This subchapter provides for an action by which persons convicted of crimes they did not commit and persons serving illegal sentences may obtain collateral relief. 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. This subchapter is not intended to limit the availability of remedies in the trial court or on direct appeal from the judgment of sentence, to provide a means for raising issues waived in prior proceedings or to provide relief from collateral consequences of a criminal conviction. Except as specifically provided otherwise, all provisions of this subchapter shall apply to capital and non-capital cases.

42 Pa.C.S. § 9542 (emphasis added). The PCRA court interpreted this provision as limiting the scope of the PCRA so that one who has admitted his or her guilt is not eligible for relief because such a person would be unable to show that he or she was convicted of a crime that he or she did not commit. T.C.O., 11/4/08, at 2.

¶ 5 This Court addressed the meaning of Section 9542 in Lantzy. In Lantzy, the appellant claimed that trial counsel was ineffective for not pursuing a direct appeal, and therefore, he was entitled to re-instatement of his right to file a direct appeal nunc pro tunc. We stated that the PCRA was not intended to provide appellants with a second appeal without limitation. Rather, we concluded that in order for a petitioner to be eligible for relief under the PCRA, he or she must prove his or her innocence.

The Dissent argues that when a defendant is deprived of the right to appeal through counsel's error, the prejudice that the defendant may suffer automatically entitles him to relief under the PCRA. However, as noted above, the purpose of the PCRA is to afford collateral relief only to those individuals convicted of crimes that they did not commit and persons serving illegal sentences. 42 Pa.C.S. ยง 9542. Thus, if we were to permit a petitioner to obtain PCRA relief where the petitioner does not demonstrate that he was innocent or that his sentence was illegal, we would be ignoring the limited scope of the PCRA as defined by our legislature. If a defendant desires to assert that counsel's ineffective assistance deprived him of the right to appeal, causing him prejudice, but not affecting the underlying verdict or ...


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