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[U] Commonwealth v. Seidel

Superior Court of Pennsylvania

February 6, 2014

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, Appellee
v.
TRAVIS HENRY SEIDEL, Appellant

NON-PRECEDENTIAL DECISION

Appeal from the PCRA Order March 18, 2013 In the Court of Common Pleas of Berks County Criminal Division at No(s): CP-06-CR-0003088-2011

BEFORE: PANELLA, MUNDY and PLATT [*] , JJ.

MEMORANDUM

PANELLA, J.

Appellant, Travis Henry Seidel, appeals from the order entered on March 18, 2013, which denied his petition for relief filed pursuant to the Post Conviction Relief Act[1] (PCRA). After a careful review, we affirm.

On October 27, 2011, Seidel entered an open guilty plea to third degree murder in connection with the shooting death of his friend, Tyler Dietrich, at a party on June 25, 2011. Seidel was intoxicated when a verbal and physical altercation ensued between him and Dietrich during which Seidel shot an unarmed Dietrich, at close range, in the chest. In exchange for the plea, the Commonwealth agreed to withdraw the charge of first degree murder, which carried with it a mandatory life sentence. At the time of the guilty plea hearing, an oral colloquy was conducted on the record after which the trial court determined that the plea was both knowing and voluntary.

Seidel was subsequently sentenced to a period of ten to twenty years' incarceration followed by twenty years' probation. Seidel filed no post-sentence motions and no direct appeal from the judgment of sentence. On October 3, 2012, Seidel filed a PCRA petition seeking to withdraw his guilty plea due to the deficient investigation and legal advice given to him by plea counsel. The Commonwealth filed its answer on November 30, 2012, after which the PCRA court issued its notice, pursuant to Pa.R.Crim.P. 907, of its intent to dismiss Seidel's PCRA petition. Seidel filed a response thereto and on March 18, 2013, the PCRA court issued an order denying Seidel's PCRA petition. This timely appeal followed.

On appeal, Seidel raises the following issue for our review:

Whether the [l]ower [c]ourt erred in denying the Appellant's PCRA petition without a hearing when the Appellant alleged a number of non-frivolous issues of material fact, which, if proven, could entitle the Appellant to relief?

Appellant's Brief, at 4.

Specifically, Seidel argues that plea counsel was ineffective in failing to file an omnibus pre-trial motion, in failing to explore a mental health defense as he was on medication at the time of his guilty plea and which could have been used as a defense to the homicide charge. Further, Seidel argues that plea counsel failed to fully explain the other types of homicide, including manslaughter. See Appellant's Brief, at 10-14. For these reasons, Seidel contends that his guilty plea was unknowing and involuntary. We disagree.

Our review of the denial of PCRA relief "is limited to determining whether the record supports the findings of the PCRA court and whether the court's order is otherwise free of legal error." Commonwealth v. Williams, 730 A.2d 507, 510 (Pa.Super. 1999) (citation omitted). The findings of the PCRA court "will not be disturbed unless they have no support in the record." Commonwealth v. Patterson, 690 A.2d 250, 252 (1997) (citation omitted).

To prevail on a claim of ineffectiveness of counsel, a defendant "must demonstrate (1) that the underlying claim is of arguable merit; (2) that counsel's course of conduct was without a reasonable basis designed to effectuate his client's interest; and (3) that he was prejudiced by counsel's ineffectiveness." Commonwealth v. Wallace, 555 Pa. 397, 407, 724 A.2d 916, 921 (1999) (citation omitted). It is defendant's burden to prove all three prongs of this standard. See Commonwealth v. Travaglia, 541 Pa. 108, 118, 661 A.2d 352, 357 (1995). To sustain a claim of ineffectiveness, counsel's approach must be "so ...


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