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[U] Commonwealth v. Knouse

Superior Court of Pennsylvania

February 11, 2014



Appeal from the PCRA Order June 27, 2013 In the Court of Common Pleas of Snyder County Criminal Division at No(s): CP-55-CR-0000198-2010.

Joseph D. Seletyn, Esq.




Rhonda L. Knouse appeals from the order of the Court of Common Pleas of Snyder County dismissing her petition brought pursuant to the Post-Conviction Relief Act ("PCRA").[1] We affirm based on the opinion of the Honorable Michael H. Sholley.

On June 1, 2006, Knouse, who was 45 years old at the time, was determined eligible to receive attendant care services through the Community Services Program for Persons with Physical Disabilities (the Program). She suffers from multiple sclerosis, Cushing's Disease, cancer and other medical conditions.

In 2010, Knouse was charged with multiple offenses arising out of the submission of false time sheets to the Program for three of her attendants. On January 11, 2011, Knouse pled nolo contendere to one count of Medicaid fraud.[2] On April 1, 2011, the court sentenced her to seven years' probation and restitution. The court also ordered that she not apply for or receive any type of public assistance without first disclosing it to her probation officer.

On April 24, 2012, counsel for Knouse filed a timely PCRA petition raising ineffective assistance of trial counsel. In an amended petition filed September 5, 2012, Knouse asserted:

[B]ut for trial counsel's failure to inform [Knouse] of potential defenses and allowing [her] to enter a plea of nolo contendere, where he knew or should have know [sic] that [she] believed herself to be innocent of the crimes charges, no such pleas would have been entered.

Amended PCRA Petition, 9/5/12, at 9. Knouse also sought an evidentiary hearing. By order dated September 6, 2012, Judge Sholley granted Knouse's request, and scheduled an evidentiary hearing for November 12, 2012.

On November 9, 2012, due to the unavailability of Judge Sholley, Judge Louise Knight issued an order noting "there may be no need for an evidentiary hearing, " and continuing the matter for rescheduling before Judge Sholley "if he deems it appropriate."

On May 28, 2013, Judge Sholley issued a notice of intention to dismiss pursuant to Pa.R.Crim.P. 907, and an opinion in support thereof. Knouse filed a response on June 6, 2013, and by order filed June 28, 2013, the court dismissed the PCRA petition.

Knouse filed a notice of appeal on July 25, 2013, and pursuant to court order she filed a Pa.R.A.P. 1925(b) statement of errors complained of on appeal. On August 16, 2013, Judge Sholley issued a Rule 1925(a) opinion relying on his May 28, 2013 opinion.

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

A PCRA claim may be denied a hearing where the claims set forth are patently frivolous and the issues have no trace of support either in the record of from other evidence. Here, there is evidence, and therefore arguable merit to Knouse's claims, that Knouse's trial counsel failed to discuss and/or investigate Knouse's possible defenses. Did the trial court improperly deny Rhonda Knouse's PCRA petition without the benefit of an evidentiary hearing?

Appellant's Brief, at 4.

When reviewing a PCRA court's decision to dismiss a petition without a hearing we apply an abuse of discretion standard. Commonwealth v. Rush, 838 A.2d 651, 659 (Pa. 2003). In his Rule 1925(a) opinion, Judge Sholley thoroughly explains why Knouse's claims of ineffective assistance of counsel could be adequately reviewed based on the existing record, which includes a thorough written and oral plea colloquy. We agree with the PCRA court's determination that Knouse failed to establish a basis for relief, and accordingly find no abuse of discretion by the court in dismissing Knouse's petition.

After careful review of the parties' briefs, the record and the relevant law, we agree with Judge Sholley's analysis and affirm on the basis of his opinion. We instruct the parties to attach a copy of Judge Sholley's decision in the event of further proceedings.

Order affirmed.

Judgment Entered.


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