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[U] Commonwealth v. Haviland

Superior Court of Pennsylvania

February 4, 2014



Appeal from the PCRA Order entered on March 15, 2013 in the Court of Common Pleas of Schuylkill County, Criminal Division, No(s): CP-54-CR-0000218-2011; CP-54-CR-000421-2011




Robert Haviland ("Haviland") appeals from the denial of his Petition filed pursuant to the Post Conviction Relief Act ("PCRA"). See 42 Pa.C.S.A. §§ 9541-9546. We affirm.

On February 2, 2012, Haviland pled guilty, in two unconsolidated cases, to delivery of a controlled substance, possession with intent to deliver a controlled substance, possession of drug paraphernalia and driving under the influence of a controlled substance.[1] The trial court scheduled his sentencing for March 16, 2012. In mid-February 2012, Haviland called his counsel, Andrea Thompson, Esquire, and advised her that he was in a mental health facility, but would not tell her where he was or in which facility. N.T., 2/26/13, at 36-37. In that telephone call, Haviland directed Attorney Thompson to withdraw his guilty pleas. Id. at 37. In response, Attorney Thompson advised Haviland that he needed to appear in court in order to withdraw his guilty pleas. Id. Haviland, however, insisted that he did not have to appear in court in order for his guilty pleas to be withdrawn. Id. On March 14, 2012, Haviland sent a letter, pro se, to the trial court indicating that he was in a mental health facility and requesting the withdrawal of his guilty pleas. N.T., 3/26/12, at 5. The letter did not include a complete return address, as it did not indicate the city or town, and included an incorrect zip code. N.T., 5/1/12, at 3. The trial court forwarded the letter to Attorney Thompson. Id.

On March 26, 2012, the trial court conducted a sentencing hearing, at which Haviland failed to appear. Attorney Thompson advised the trial court that Haviland was in a mental health facility but, when she tried to contact the facility, they could neither confirm nor deny that Haviland was a patient there. N.T., 3/26/12, at 5. Attorney Thompson further indicated that she had received voicemails and letters from Haviland indicating that he wanted to withdraw his guilty pleas, and that she had tried to communicate to him that he needed to be present in court to withdraw his guilty pleas. Id. at 5-6. Attorney Thompson then made an oral Motion to withdraw Haviland's guilty pleas, which the trial court denied on the basis that Haviland was required to appear in person to withdraw his guilty pleas. Id. The trial court then sentenced Haviland, in abstentia, to an aggregate term of four years and three months to eleven and one-half years in prison.

Haviland contacted Attorney Thompson again on March 29, 2012, at which time he directed her to file a motion to withdraw his guilty pleas. N.T., 2/26/13, at 37. On April 4, 2012, Haviland filed a Motion to withdraw his guilty pleas and vacate his sentence ("Motion to Withdraw"), claiming that he was not of sound mind to enter his guilty pleas. On May 1, 2012, the trial court conducted a hearing on the Motion to Withdraw, at which Haviland disclosed that he had voluntarily checked into a mental institution after he entered his guilty pleas, and claimed that he could not remember appearing before the trial court when he entered his guilty pleas. N.T., 5/1/12, at 6, 10. Attorney Thompson stated at the hearing that, although Haviland indicated that he would execute a release for the records from the mental health facility, such records had not yet been received. Id. at 12. The trial court denied Haviland's Motion to Withdraw without prejudice to refile it if medical evidence became available to support it. However, Haviland did not refile his Motion to Withdraw with supporting medical evidence. Instead, Haviland appealed the trial court's denial of his Motion to Withdraw. This Court affirmed Haviland's judgment of sentence, concluding that his guilty pleas were knowing, intelligent and voluntary, and that the appellate record was devoid of any evidence that Haviland suffered from any mental or psychiatric disorders that could have affected his pleas. See Commonwealth v. Haviland, 63 A.3d 842 (Pa.Super. 2012) (unpublished memorandum).

On January 14, 2013, Haviland timely filed, pro se, the instant PCRA Petition. Haviland was appointed new counsel, Mark Barket, Esquire, who filed a Turner/Finley[2] no-merit letter and a separate Petition to withdraw as counsel. In his no-merit letter, Attorney Barket indicated that he had reviewed, inter alia, Haviland's records from the mental health facility before determining that there was no merit to Haviland's PCRA Petition. See PCRA Court Opinion, 3/15/13, at 2. On February 26, 2013, the PCRA court conducted a hearing on Haviland's Petition, receiving testimony from Haviland and Attorney Thompson.

At the hearing, Attorney Thompson testified that she had subpoenaed the records from the mental health facility at which Haviland was treated. N.T., 2/26/13, at 30-31. The records indicated that Haviland had treated at the mental health facility for approximately one month prior to entering his guilty pleas.[3] Id. at 31. The records also indicated that Haviland then re-entered that same facility on February 4, 2012, two days after entering his guilty pleas, and was treated there until March 29, 2012. Id. at 17, 31. The reports from Haviland's admissions indicated that his thought process was clear and coherent, he was oriented, awake, alert, non-delusional and that his short and long term memories were intact. PCRA Court Opinion, 3/15/13, at 6-7; see also N.T., 2/26/13, at 31-32. Attorney Thompson attempted to contact Haviland's treating physician at the mental health facility, but was told that the physician no longer worked there and that no forwarding address could be provided. N.T., 2/26/13, at 33. After reviewing the records from the mental health facility, Attorney Thompson determined that the records did not provide any legal basis to support Haviland's claim of unknowing guilty pleas. Id. at 32.

On March 15, 2013, the PCRA court denied Haviland's PCRA Petition and granted Attorney Barket's Petition to withdraw as counsel. Haviland filed, pro se, a Notice of appeal and a request for appointment of new counsel. The trial court appointed new counsel, who filed an appellate brief on Haviland's behalf.

On appeal, Haviland raises the following issue for our review:
[Whether] the [PCRA] court err[ed] and commit[ed] an abuse of discretion when it denied [Haviland's] PCRA Petition even though the evidence shows that [Haviland's trial] counsel was ineffective for failing to seek or produce mental health evidence?

Brief for Appellant at 4 (some capitalization omitted).

In reviewing the denial of a PCRA Petition, we examine whether the PCRA court's determination "is supported by the record and free of legal error." Commonwealth v. Rainey, 928 A.2d 215, 223 (Pa. 2007) (citations omitted).

Haviland contends that the PCRA court erred in denying his ineffective assistance of counsel claim because no testimony was presented to the PCRA court that Attorney Thompson "even attempted to search for mental health facilities with addresses like the one listed in [his pro se] correspondence" to the trial court. Brief for Appellant at 11. According to Haviland, if Attorney Thompson

had followed-up on any of the information that was provided, it would have led to the discovery of where [Haviland] was seeking treatment and would have allowed her access to his medical records in a more timely manner … in time to present it to the trial court at the hearing on the Motion to Withdraw … and support a finding that [Haviland] did not knowingly or intelligently enter his guilty pleas.

Id. Haviland further argues that, had Attorney Thompson attempted to obtain the records in a more timely manner, she may have had the opportunity to speak to his treating physician. Id. at 11-12. Additionally, Haviland contends that no follow-up was made by Attorney Thompson to look for his treating physician. Id. Haviland also contends that he was prejudiced by the lack of medical information because the records from the mental health facility show that his concentration was impaired both before and after he entered his guilty pleas. Id. at 13-14.[4] Finally, Haviland contends that Attorney Thompson should have filed another motion to withdraw his guilty pleas. Id.

To succeed on an ineffectiveness claim, Haviland must demonstrate by the preponderance of the evidence that

(1) [the] underlying claim is of arguable merit; (2) the particular course of conduct pursued by counsel did not have some reasonable basis designed to effectuate his interests; and (3) but for counsel's ineffectiveness, there is a reasonable probability that the outcome of the proceedings would have been different.

Commonwealth v. Ali, 10 A.3d 282, 291 (Pa. 2010). A failure to satisfy any prong of the test for ineffectiveness will require rejection of the claim. Commonwealth v. Martin, 5 A.3d 177, 183 (Pa. 2010). Counsel is presumed to be effective and the burden is on the appellant to prove otherwise. Commonwealth v. Hanible, 30 A.3d 426, 439 (Pa. 2011).

Here, the PCRA court addressed Haviland's ineffective assistance claims and concluded that they are without merit. See PCRA Court Opinion, 3/15/13, at 6-8. The PCRA court thoroughly reviewed the records from Haviland's treatment at the mental health facility and determined that, despite his mental problems, the records did not support Haviland's claim that his guilty pleas were unknowing and involuntary. Id. at 7. Rather, according to the PCRA court, the records suggested that Haviland's pleas were knowing and voluntary. Id. The PCRA court further determined that Attorney Thompson was not ineffective in failing to present such records to the trial court, as they would not have advanced Haviland's claims. Id. We adopt the PCRA court's sound reasoning for the purpose of this appeal. See id. at 6-8. Accordingly, we conclude that the PCRA court properly denied Haviland's Petition. Order affirmed.

Judgment Entered.

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