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[U] Commonwealth v. Lawson

Superior Court of Pennsylvania

February 26, 2014



Appeal from the PCRA Order, October 2, 2012, in the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County Criminal Division at Nos. CP-02-CR-0007953-1973, CP-02-CR-0007963-1973




Appellant appeals the order dismissing his fourth collateral petition and his first brought pursuant to the Post Conviction Relief Act ("PCRA"), 42 Pa.C.S.A. §§ 9541-9546. Finding no error, we affirm.

On September 10, 1974, appellant was found guilty following bench trial of first degree murder in relation to the shooting death of Kelvin Parker on November 27, 1973, during a robbery in Pittsburgh. On March 21, 1975, appellant was sentenced to life imprisonment without parole.

Although no direct appeal was initially filed, appellant's direct appeal rights were restored under a petition filed pursuant to the former Post Conviction Hearing Act ("PCHA"). Subsequently, on October 17, 1979, this court affirmed the judgment of sentence; and on June 16, 1980, the United States Supreme Court denied certiorari.[1] Commonwealth v. Lawson, 423 A.2d 1311 (Pa.Super. 1979) (unpublished memorandum), cert. denied, Lawson v. Pennsylvania, 447 U.S. 926.

On January 30, 1981, appellant filed a second PCHA petition. This was denied on February 23, 1981, as raising matters previously litigated. No appeal was taken.

On March 25, 1982, appellant filed a third PCHA petition raising, among other issues, counsel's ineffectiveness for failing to raise a Rule 1100 speedy trial issue.[2] On March 30, 1982, this petition was denied. On December 31, 1984, this court reversed and remanded for review of the Rule 1100 issue. Commonwealth v. Lawson, 488 A.2d 1165 (Pa.Super. 1984) (unpublished memorandum). On December 5, 1985, the court below granted relief and discharged appellant. Thereafter, this court affirmed the decision. Commonwealth v. Lawson, 520 A.2d 65 (Pa.Super. 1986) (unpublished memorandum). However, on October 17, 1988, the supreme court reversed this court's decision. Commonwealth v. Lawson, 519 Pa. 504, 549 A.2d 107 (1986).

On August 9, 2012, appellant filed the instant PCRA petition. On August 16, 2012, the PCRA court issued notice, pursuant to Pa.R.Crim.P., Rule 907, 42 Pa.C.S.A., of its intention to dismiss the petition without hearing. On October 2, 2012, the petition was dismissed and this timely appeal followed.

Our standard of review for an order denying post-conviction relief is whether the record supports the PCRA court's determination, and whether the PCRA court's determination is free of legal error. Commonwealth v. Franklin, 990 A.2d 795, 797 (Pa.Super. 2010). The PCRA court's findings will not be disturbed unless there is no support for the findings in the certified record. Id.

A PCRA petition must be filed within one year of the date that the judgment of sentence becomes final. 42 Pa.C.S.A. § 9545(b)(1). This time requirement is mandatory and jurisdictional in nature, and the court may not ignore it in order to reach the merits of the petition. Commonwealth v. Taylor, 933 A.2d 1035, 1038 (Pa.Super. 2007), appeal denied, 597 Pa. 715, 951 A.2d 1163 (2008).

Appellant's judgment of sentence became final on June 16, 1980, when the United States Supreme Court denied certiorari. See 42 Pa.C.S.A. § 9545(b)(3). The instant petition, filed August 9, 2012, is manifestly untimely and cannot be reviewed unless appellant invokes a valid exception to the time bar of the PCRA. See 42 Pa.C.S.A. § 9545(b)(1)(i-iii). Appellant specifically invoked the after-recognized constitutional right exception in citing Miller v. Alabama, 132 S.Ct. 2455 (2012). Moreover, appellant filed his petition within 60 days of the date of that decision, June 25, 2012, as he must. See 42 Pa.C.S.A. § 9545(b)(2); Commonwealth v. Baldwin, 789 A.2d 728, 730-731 (Pa.Super. 2001).

In Miller, the United States Supreme Court held that sentencing a person to a mandatory term of life imprisonment without parole for homicide violated the Eighth Amendment's restriction on cruel and unusual punishment where the defendant was a juvenile at the time of the crime. Appellant now argues that his sentence is unconstitutional pursuant to Miller. We find two reasons why Miller is unavailing to appellant.

First, we note from the record that appellant's date of birth is August 31, 1952. Therefore, appellant was 21 years-old on November 27, 1973, the date of the murder. Appellant offers reasons why Miller should be extended to apply to young adults also, but we find them to be meritless. The United States Supreme Court restricted Miller to juveniles because of the special circumstances attendant to juveniles:

Mandatory life without parole for a juvenile precludes consideration of his chronological age and its hallmark features--among them, immaturity, impetuosity, and failure to appreciate risks and consequences. It prevents taking into account the family and home environment that surrounds him--and from which he cannot usually extricate himself--no matter how brutal or dysfunctional. It neglects the circumstances of the homicide offense, including the extent of his participation in the conduct and the way familial and peer pressures may have affected him. Indeed, it ignores that he might have been charged and convicted of a lesser offense if not for incompetencies associated with youth--for example, his inability to deal with police officers or prosecutors (including on a plea agreement) or his incapacity to assist his own attorneys.

Miller, 132 S.Ct. at 2468.

These circumstances simply no longer apply once a person reaches young adulthood. We will not extend Miller and appellant cannot invoke Miller to avoid the time bar of the PCRA.

Second, our supreme court has recently ruled that Miller does not apply retroactively. See Commonwealth v. Cunningham, Pa., 81

A.3d 1 (2013). This court cannot overrule the holdings of our supreme court. Thus, we find that because Miller does not apply retroactively, appellant cannot invoke it to avoid the time bar of the PCRA. Appellant's fourth collateral petition is untimely, and no valid exception to the time bar exists. Consequently, we will affirm the order denying relief.

Order affirmed.

Judgment Entered.

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