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[U] Commonwealth v. Crowson

Superior Court of Pennsylvania

February 7, 2014



Appeal from the PCRA Order March 1, 2013 In the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County Criminal Division at No(s): CP-02-CR-0016152-2007




Matthew Lyle Crowson appeals from the March 1, 2013 order denying PCRA relief. After thorough review, we affirm .

On October 15, 2007, Appellant pled guilty to involuntary manslaughter, homicide by vehicle while driving under the influence, homicide by vehicle, accidents involving death/ personal injury, accidents involving damage to attended vehicle/ property, immediate notice of accident, reckless driving, and two counts of driving under the influence. The charges stemmed from his July 4, 2007 collision with a vehicle being driven by Renee Michelle Parkinson, a twenty-six-year-old teacher, on Interstate 79 northbound in Marshall Township. From the factual basis for the guilty plea articulated by the Commonwealth, we glean the following additional facts. Numerous eyewitnesses told police that Appellant was driving erratically by weaving in and out of traffic at a high rate of speed. He rear-ended Ms. Parkinson's vehicle, causing it to flip over a number of times. Ms. Parkinson was ejected from the vehicle, and she died at the scene. Appellant did not stop or render aid. He was arrested after he stopped at a gasoline station in Warrendale to ask for directions to the nearest hospital. He admitted to police that he was the operator of the vehicle involved in the accident and stated that he was talking on his cell phone at the time. He displayed slurred speech, glassy bloodshot eyes, and slowed movement consistent with intoxication. Appellant's blood alcohol reading taken within two hours of the accident was .152% .

The Commonwealth proffered that Pennsylvania State Police Corporal D'Andrea, whose first name does not appear in the record, would have provided expert accident reconstruction testimony that Appellant's vehicle was traveling at a speed of 101 miles per hour at impact. The Commonwealth also would have introduced letters Appellant wrote to the victim 's family admitting his guilt.

The sentencing was held on September 15, 2008. The Commonwealth presented impact statements from three members of the victim's family and two exhibits. The first exhibit contained photographs of the victim and information about her life. The second exhibit contained numerous letters from the victim 's family, her students, their parents and members of the faculty and staff of the school where she taught. Appellant addressed the court but did not introduce any character witnesses. At the conclusion of the hearing, the court imposed an aggregate sentence of seven to fourteen years imprisonment.

Appellant engaged new counsel who filed a timely post-sentence motion challenging the sentence as excessive and alleging that the trial court failed to state adequate reasons on the record for the sentences imposed. The court also granted permission for the filing of an amended post-sentence motion and extended the time for ruling on the motion. No amended post-sentence motion was filed, and by order dated May 12, 2009, the pending motion was denied by operation of law. Appellant did not file a direct appeal.

On March 26, 2010, Appellant filed a counseled PCRA petition, which was am ended on April 22, 2010. The thrust of the petition was that trial counsel was ineffective for failing to call character witnesses on Appellant's behalf at the sentencing. Appended thereto were statements from twenty-eight persons who were willing and able, had they been contacted, to provide testimony of Appellant's good character. On June 24, 2010, the court filed a Pa.R.Crim.P. 907 notice of intent to dismiss without a hearing and, on July 29, 2010, the PCRA petition was dismissed.

Counsel timely appealed on August 25, 2010. This Court found arguable merit in Appellant's claim that counsel was ineffective in failing to discuss or call character witnesses, which deprived Appellant of mitigating evidence at sentencing. Commonwealth v. Crow son, 60 A.3d 557 (Pa.Super. 2012) (unpublished memorandum). Without an evidentiary hearing, however, this Court was unable to determine whether Appellant was denied effective assistance of counsel. Thus, we vacated the trial court's order dismissing the PCRA petition and remanded for a hearing to determine if counsel was ineffective for failing to discuss and/ or call character witnesses at the sentencing hearing.

An evidentiary hearing was held on November 20, 2012, and on March 1, 2013, the PCRA court denied the petition. The court stated that, while trial counsel was deficient for failing to call character witnesses at sentencing, there was no prejudice as "petitioner's sentence would remain the same even if character witnesses would have testified." Trial Court Order, 3/ 1/ 13, at 1.

Appellant timely appealed, com plied with the court's order to file a Pa.R.A.P. 1925(b) concise statement of errors complained of on appeal, and the court issued its Rule 1925(a) opinion. Appellant raises one issue for our consideration:

1. Did the trial court err in denying Appellant's PCRA petition since, even though the trial court acknowledged that plea/ sentencing counsel Johnson was ineffective for failing to present reputation/ character witnesses at Appellant's sentencing hearing, the trial court still determined that Appellant's lengthy 7-14 year sentence of imprisonment was appropriate; Appellant avers that the character/ reputation witnesses who testified at the 11/20/ 12 PCRA hearing, and others who submitted affidavits (attached to Appellant's 3/ 26/ 10 PCRA petition), and ...

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