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Commonwealth v. Williams

Superior Court of Pennsylvania

September 24, 2013

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA Appellee
v.
CHARLES WILLIAMS, Appellant

NON-PRECEDENTIAL DECISION

Appeal from the PCRA Order February 10, 2012, Court of Common Pleas, Philadelphia County, Criminal Division at No. CP-51-CR-0107261-2005

BEFORE: DONOHUE, WECHT and STRASSBURGER [*] , JJ.

MEMORANDUM

DONOHUE, J.

Charles Williams ("Williams") appeals from the order of court dismissing his petition filed pursuant to the Post Conviction Relief Act ("PCRA"), 42 Pa.C.S.A. §§ 9541-9546. We affirm.

In March 2006, Williams was convicted of sexual assault, sexual abuse of children, promoting prostitution, and corrupting the morals of a minor.[1]He was subsequently sentenced to eight and a half to 17 years of imprisonment. This Court affirmed his judgment of sentence on direct appeal. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court denied Williams' petition for allowance of appeal in August 2009, and the United States Supreme Court denied his petition for certiorari on March 9, 2009.

Williams filed a timely pro se PCRA petition. Although counsel was appointed, Williams petitioned the PCRA court for permission to represent himself. Following a Grazier[2] hearing, the PCRA court granted Williams' request.[3] On November 18, 2010, Williams filed an amended PCRA petition, and on July 25, 2011, he filed a second amended PCRA petition. On November 23, 2011, the PCRA court gave notice of its intent to dismiss Williams' petition without a hearing pursuant to Pa.R.Crim.P. 907, and on February 20, 2012, the PCRA court dismissed Williams' petition. This timely appeal follows.

Williams presents four issues on appeal, which he sets forth as follows:

1. Did the atty. who represented [Williams] at the Rule 600 hearing that he had on May 9, 2005 render [Williams] ineffective assistance of counsel when she failed to argue that the decision that Judge Rosalyn K. Robinson made on 05-09-05 was in opposition to the decisions that were rendered in Com. v. Mayfield [467 Pa. 214], Com. v. Shelton [469 Pa. 8], Com. v. Hawk [528 Pa. 329], Com. v. Ray [360 A.2d 925], Com v. McCutcheon [488 A.2d 281], Com. v. Ellison [378 A.2d 325], Com. v. Payton [673 A.2d 361], Com. v. Evans [375 A.2d 799], Com. v. Silver [357 A.2d 612]. Com. v. Wilson [331 A.2d 792] and Com. v. Riddick [374 A.2d 1347]?
2. Did the judge who presided over [Williams'] PCRA proceeding deny [Williams] due process of the law and/or equal protection of the law when she willfully refused to grant [Williams] a full and fair PCRA hearing even though she knew for a fact that [Williams] submitted her a substantial amount of evidence which would have allowed a reasonable judge to conclude that a number of the issues that [Williams] raised in his Amended PCRA Petition had merit?
3. Did the judge who presided over [Williams'] PCRA proceeding deny [Williams] due process of law and/or equal protection of the law when she willfully refused to grant [Williams] an evidentiary hearing for CP-51-CR-0107261-2005 although she knew for a fact that the issues that [Williams] raised in his Amended PCRA Petition had merit?
4. Did the Judges who presided over [Williams'] direct appeal deny [Williams] due process of law and/or equal protection of the law when they willfully decided to rely on the lower court's opinion in rendering their decision in 925 EDA 2006 instead of conducting an independent investigation into M.C. # 0404-2425 and C.P. # 0501-0726 to find out whether the Commonwealth exercised due diligence in bringing [Williams] to trial within the timing that is documented in Rule 600 of Pa.R.Crim.Proc., Article 1 Section 9 of the Pennsylvania Constitution and the Sixth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution?

Appellant's Brief at 4-7.

Williams' first issue purports to challenge the effectiveness of the counsel that represented him at a pre-trial hearing. To be successful on a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel, the appellant must demonstrate that: (1) the underlying legal issue has arguable merit; (2) counsel's actions lacked an objective reasonable basis; and (3) but for counsel's errors or omissions, there is a reasonable probability that the outcome of the proceedings would have been different. Commonwealth v. Rathfon, 899 A.2d 365, 369 (Pa. Super. 2006). If the claimant fails to establish any one of these three prongs, his challenge must fail. Commonwealth v. O'Bidos, 849 A.2d 243, 249 (Pa. Super. 2004).

Much of Williams' argument on this point is an attack on this Court for rejecting, on direct appeal, his claim that the trial court erred in denying his motion to dismiss filed pursuant to Pa.R.Crim.P. 600 ("Rule 600"). See Appellant's Brief at 10-20. The only argument Williams sets forth with regard to an ineffectiveness claim is that his counsel at the Rule 600 hearing ("trial counsel") was ineffective for failing to argue that the denial of his Rule 600 motion "was in opposition to the decisions that were rendered" that hold that "judicial delay does not constitute a basis for an exclusion of time from the mandatory time period [in which] the Commonwealth is required to bring a criminal defendant to trial." Appellant's Brief at 20-21, 23.

The period at issue was from September 3, 2004 until October 15, 2004, a total of 42 days. Id. at 18; Amended PCRA Petition, 7/25/11, at 8(I). The record reveals that this period of delay occurred because of the unavailability of the lone judge assigned to handle preliminary hearings in cases involving child complainants. N.T., 5/9/05, at 5-6. Williams contends that judicial delay cannot be excludable for purposes of Rule 600, and that trial counsel was ineffective for failing to apprise the trial court of the litany of cases identified by Williams as standing for this proposition. Williams is mistaken. First, trial counsel did argue that the period of time in question should not be excluded because the defense was ready to proceed and the only reason for the continuance was the judge's availability. Id. at 4-5. Second, it is well established that under Rule 600, judicial delay may extend the time in which the defendant must be brought to trial. Commonwealth v. Trippett, 932 A.2d 188, 197 (Pa. Super. 2007) (holding that where delay is caused only by the trial court's unavailability, the time may be properly excludable for Rule 600 purposes). Accordingly, we find no merit to this claim.

In his second and third issues, Williams challenges the denial of his Rule 600 motion and the denial of his motion for a mistrial.[4] We cannot ignore the fact that Williams raised both of these issues on direct appeal and this Court addressed them on their merits. See Commonwealth v. Williams, 951 A.2d 1220 (Pa. Super. 2008) (unpublished memorandum). Our Supreme Court has held that claims previously litigated on direct appeal are not cognizable under the PCRA. Commonwealth v. Spotz, __ Pa. __, __, 47 A.3d 63, 101 (2012). "An issue will be deemed previously litigated pursuant to the PCRA if the highest appellate court in which the petitioner was entitled to review as a matter of right has ruled on its merits." Commonwealth v. Puksar, 597 Pa. 240, 248, 951 A.2d 267, 271 (2008). Because these claims have been previously litigated, we will not review them.

In his final issue on appeal, Williams argues that the panel of this Court that decided his direct appeal erred by failing to undertake "an independent investigation … to find out whether the Commonwealth exercised due diligence in bringing [Williams] to trial … ." Appellant's Brief at 41.

Only certain claims are cognizable under the PCRA. As our Supreme Court has stated:

To be entitled to PCRA relief, a petitioner must establish, by a preponderance of the evidence, his conviction or sentence resulted from one or more of the errors found in 42 Pa.C.S. § 9543(a)(2), his claims have not been previously litigated or waived, and the failure to litigate the issue prior to or during trial, during unitary review or on direct appeal could not have been the result of any rational, strategic or tactical decision by counsel.

Commonwealth v. Keaton, 615 Pa. 675, 693, 45 A.3d 1050, 1060 (2012).

Section 9543(a)(2) provides as follows:

(a) General rule.--To be eligible for relief under this subchapter, the petitioner must plead and prove by a preponderance of the evidence all of the following:
(2) That the conviction or sentence resulted from one or more of the following:
(i) A violation of the Constitution of this Commonwealth or the Constitution or laws of the United States which, in the circumstances of the particular case, so undermined the truth-determining process that no reliable adjudication of guilt or innocence could have taken place.
(ii) Ineffective assistance of counsel which, in the circumstances of the particular case, so undermined the truth-determining process that no reliable adjudication of guilt or innocence could have taken place.
(iii) A plea of guilty unlawfully induced where the circumstances make it likely that the inducement caused the petitioner to plead guilty and the petitioner is innocent.
(iv) The improper obstruction by government officials of the petitioner's right of appeal where a meritorious appealable issue existed and was properly preserved in the trial court.
(v) Deleted.
(vi) The unavailability at the time of trial of exculpatory evidence that has subsequently become available and would have changed the outcome of the trial if it had been introduced.
(vii) The imposition of a sentence greater than the lawful maximum.
(viii) A proceeding in a tribunal without jurisdiction.

42 Pa.C.S.A. § 9543(a)(2).

The claim Williams is attempting to raise does not fall into any of the categories delineated in Section 9543(a)(2); rather, he is challenging this Court's resolution of an issue he raised on direct appeal. Such a challenge would have been appropriately included in his petition for allowance of appeal to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, but it is not cognizable under the PCRA.

Having found no merit to Williams' claims, we affirm the PCRA court's order.

Order affirmed.


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