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[U] Commonwealth v. Thomas

Superior Court of Pennsylvania

January 23, 2014

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA Appellee
v.
DAVID THOMAS Appellant COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA Appellee
v.
DAVID THOMAS Appellant

NON-PRECEDENTIAL DECISION

Appeal from the Order Entered March 5, 2012 In the Court of Common Pleas of Potter County Criminal Division at No(s): CP-53-CR-0000160-2008, CP-53-CR-0000156-2008

BEFORE: BENDER, J., LAZARUS, J., and STRASSBURGER, J [*]

MEMORANDUM

LAZARUS, J.

David Thomas appeals from the trial court's order denying his petition, following a hearing, filed pursuant to the Post Conviction Relief Act[1] (PCRA).[2]On appeal, Thomas raises two ineffectiveness of counsel claims; specifically he alleges that counsel was ineffective for failing to suppress his confession where he was intoxicated and coerced by the police at the time of his statement and that counsel should have ordered a mental health examination prior to his guilty plea hearing. After careful review, we affirm.

On July 1, 2009, Thomas tendered a guilty plea to three counts of Rape of a Child, [3] a first-degree felony, and the court sentenced him to serve an aggregate term of 30-60 years in prison. On November 16, 2009, the court granted Thomas leave to withdraw his guilty plea and appointed new counsel, Mr. Robert Kuhl. Attorney Kuhl reserved Thomas the right to file omnibus pretrial motions. Subsequently, Thomas was assigned new counsel, Mr. James T. Rague. After meeting with Attorney Rague and discussing the risks and benefits of going to trial, Thomas entered the same guilty plea as on July 1, 2009.

Under the terms of Thomas' plea agreement, he was referred to the Pennsylvania Sexual Offenders Assessment Board to determine whether he should be classified as a sexually violent predator (SVP). In his clinical assessment report, Dr. John Addis, a psychologist and member of the Sexual Offender Assessment Board, stated that Thomas's cognitive ability was borderline-average. Doctor Addis' report explains that cognitive ability measures an individual's auditory memory, word knowledge, verbal reasoning, and quantitative problem solving. In conclusion, Doctor Addis classified Thomas as an SVP (diagnosis, pedophile), stating that there was no additional evidence that Thomas had any mental illness.[4]

At his March 3rd plea hearing, the trial judge held a full oral colloquy with Thomas, informing him that he is presumed innocent until proven guilty and of his right to a trial by jury. See Pa.R.Crim.P. 590. Thomas expressed complete understanding of the charges filed against him and also informed the trial judge that his participation in the plea process was voluntary and that he was satisfied with his counsel. Thomas made no mention of the police coercion he subsequently raised in his PCRA petition. After Thomas pled guilty to the charged offenses, the original sentence of 30 to 60 years of confinement was reimposed.

On March 11, 2011, Thomas filed the instant PCRA petition; a hearing on Thomas' petition was held on January 16, 2012. After the hearing, the trial court denied Thomas' petition. He now appeals and raises the following issues for our review:

(1) Trial counsel failed to file an omnibus pretrial motion to suppression [sic] where trial counsel's actions were not reasonable and the Appellant's claim to suppress voluntary statements had arguable merit as was prejudicial and would have impacted the trial court's ultimate verdict?
(2) Trial counsel failed to file a request for a mental health examination which would have provided for a possible diminished capacity defense or would have been a mitigating circumstance at sentencing which was prejudicial to the Appellant and would have impacted the trial court's ultimate sentence?

Brief of Appellant, at 18

To prevail on an ineffectiveness claim, a petitioner must plead and prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, three elements: (1) the underlying legal claim has arguable merit; (2) counsel had no reasonable basis for his or her action or inaction; and (3) the petitioner suffered prejudice because of counsel's action or inaction. Commonwealth v. Spotz, 47 A.3d 63, 76 (Pa. 2012) (citation omitted).

Thomas first claims that counsel was ineffective for failing to file a motion to suppress the voluntary statements he made to police officers while in custody for two reasons: (1) he was under the influence of alcohol; and (2) he was pressured into giving a confession as a ...


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