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[U] Commonwealth v. Hopkins

Superior Court of Pennsylvania

February 10, 2014



Appeal from the PCRA Order of February 21, 2013 In the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County Criminal Division at Nos.: CP-02-CR-008346-2010, CP-02-CR-0014284-2010, CP-02-CR-0016024-2010




William Hopkins appears from the PCRA court order denying his petition under the Post-Conviction Relief Act ("PCRA"), 42 Pa.C.S. §§ 9541, et seq. We affirm.

On April 11, 2011, Hopkins entered a general guilty plea to four counts of burglary, 18 Pa.C.S. § 3502(c)(1); two counts of receiving stolen property, 18 Pa.C.S. § 3925; one count of access device fraud, 18 Pa.C.S. § 4106(a)(1); three counts of theft by unlawful taking, 18 Pa.C.S. § 3921; and one count of possession of drug paraphernalia, 35 P.S. § 780- 113(a)(32).[1] The Commonwealth had offered Hopkins a negotiated guilty plea with a sentencing recommendation of five to ten years' incarceration. Hopkins declined the offer, and instead entered the above-described general plea. On June 22, 2011, following a sentencing hearing, the trial court imposed an aggregate sentence of twelve to twenty-four years' incarceration. Immediately after the imposition of sentence, plea counsel asked the court to allow her to withdraw, because she anticipated that Hopkins would allege that she had rendered ineffective assistance.

The trial court granted trial counsel's request to withdraw and appointed new counsel for purposes of post-sentence practice. On July 5, 2011, new counsel filed post-sentence motions asserting that the sentence was excessive and reserving the right to supplement the motion upon receipt of the sentencing transcript. Shortly thereafter, counsel filed a motion for leave to file a supplemental motion for post-trial relief. She attached to that motion a motion to withdraw guilty plea, in which she averred that Hopkins imprudently had declined the Commonwealth's offer of a negotiated plea on the flawed advice of trial counsel. On November 9, 2011, the trial court denied Hopkins' post-sentence motions.

On November 21, 2011, Hopkins filed a direct appeal from his judgment of sentence. This Court affirmed his judgment of sentence on September 21, 2012.

On October 16, 2012, Hopkins filed a timely pro se petition under the PCRA. The PCRA court appointed new counsel, who filed an amended petition on November 30, 2012. Therein, Hopkins asserted the following claim for relief:

Trial counsel rendered ineffective assistance of counsel because she pursued a strategy against sentencing law and advised [Hopkins] to reject an offer of 5 to 10 years[' incarceration] and proceed with a general plea to request a County sentence even though his guidelines at each count provided a mitigated sentence requiring state incarceration. See Commonwealth v. Kersteter, 877 A.2d 466, 470 (Pa Super. 2005).

Post-Conviction Relief Act Petition at 6 ¶33 (citation modified). On February 21, 2013, the PCRA court held a hearing, at which trial counsel testified regarding her discussions with Hopkins during plea negotiations. She testified that she advised Hopkins to take the five- to ten-year sentence offered by the Commonwealth, but that he insisted that he would receive a more favorable sentence if he proceeded with a general plea. The PCRA court, finding trial counsel's testimony credible, denied relief by order entered February 21, 2013. This appeal followed.[2]

Before this Court, Hopkins raises the following two issues:

1. Whether the trial court's credibility determinations were supported by the evidence of record?
2. Whether the trial court erred in finding counsel effective when evidence of record shows that she advised [Hopkins] to pursue a county sentence even though his guidelines and sentencing law mandated that he serve his sentence in a state correctional facility?

Brief for Appellant at 3. Although Hopkins states and argues these as distinct issues, both issues depend upon the same assertion that plea counsel was ineffective in allegedly advising Hopkins not to take the Commonwealth's offer of a negotiated sentence of five to ten years' incarceration.

"On appeal from the denial of PCRA relief, our standard of review is whether the findings of the PCRa court are supported by the record and free of legal error." Commonwealth v. Abu-Jamal, 833 A.2d 719, 723-24 (Pa. 2003). Thus, Hopkins aptly alleges in his argument that the trial court's ruling was based upon unsustainable credibility determinations. However, his argument is unpersuasive.

We have reviewed thoroughly the briefs of Hopkins and the Commonwealth as well as the certified record. We conclude that, for all the reasons set forth in the PCRA court's opinion, that court's findings of fact and credibility determinations are supported by the record and evidence no legal error. Consequently, we adopt the PCRA court's reasoning as our own, and affirm based upon the analysis provided in the PCRA court's Rule 1925(a) opinion. A copy of that opinion is attached for ease of reference.

Order affirmed.

Judgment Entered.

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