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[U] Commonwealth v. Freeman

Superior Court of Pennsylvania

February 28, 2014



Appeal from the Order Entered May 20, 2013 In the Court of Common Pleas of Northumberland County Criminal Division at No(s): CP-49-CR-0001247-2009




Appellant, James Nicholas Freeman, appeals pro se from the May 20, 2013 order dismissing his first petition for relief filed pursuant to the Post Conviction Relief Act (PCRA), 42 Pa.C.S.A. §§ 9541-9546. After careful review, we dismiss this appeal.

We summarize the relevant facts and procedural history of this case as follows. On November 10, 2010, a jury found Appellant guilty of one count of indecent exposure.[1] On February 28, 2011, the trial court imposed a sentence of one to two years' imprisonment. Appellant filed a timely notice of appeal and this Court affirmed the judgment of sentence on November 14, 2011. Commonwealth v. Freeman, 38 A.3d 918 (Pa. Super. 2011) (unpublished memorandum). Appellant did not file a petition for allowance of appeal with our Supreme Court.

On January 4, 2012, Appellant filed a timely pro se PCRA petition.[2]The Commonwealth filed its answer on June 21, 2012. On July 5, 2012, the PCRA court entered an order notifying Appellant of its intention to dismiss his PCRA petition without a hearing pursuant to Pennsylvania Rule of Criminal Procedure 907. Appellant did not file a response, and the PCRA court entered its final order dismissing his PCRA petition on May 20, 2013. On June 17, 2013, Appellant filed a timely pro se notice of appeal.[3]

We begin by noting our well-settled standard of review. "On appeal from the denial of PCRA relief, our standard and scope of review is limited to determining whether the PCRA court's findings are supported by the record and without legal error." Commonwealth v. Edmiston, 65 A.3d 339, 345 (Pa. 2013) (citation omitted), cert. denied, Edmiston v. Pennsylvania, 134 S.Ct. 639 (2013). "[Our] scope of review is limited to the findings of the PCRA court and the evidence of record, viewed in the light most favorable to the prevailing party at the PCRA court level." Commonwealth v. Koehler, 36 A.3d 121');"> 36 A.3d 121, 131 (Pa. 2012) (citation omitted). "The PCRA court's credibility determinations, when supported by the record, are binding on this Court." Commonwealth v. Spotz, 18 A.3d 244, 259 (Pa. 2011) (citation omitted). "However, this Court applies a de novo standard of review to the PCRA court's legal conclusions." Id.

We also note that a PCRA petitioner is not automatically entitled to an evidentiary hearing. "A PCRA court's decision denying a claim without a hearing may only be reversed upon a finding of an abuse of discretion." Commonwealth v. Walker, 36 A.3d 1, 17 (Pa. 2011) (citation omitted).

[T]he right to an evidentiary hearing on a post-conviction petition is not absolute. It is within the PCRA court's discretion to decline to hold a hearing if the petitioner's claim is patently frivolous and has no support either in the record or other evidence. It is the responsibility of the reviewing court on appeal to examine each issue raised in the PCRA petition in light of the record certified before it in order to determine if the PCRA court erred in its determination that there were no genuine issues of material fact in controversy and in denying relief without conducting an evidentiary hearing.

Commonwealth v. Wah, 42 A.3d 335, 338 (Pa. Super. 2012) (internal citations omitted). "[A]n evidentiary hearing … is not … a fishing expedition for any possible evidence that may support some speculative claim of ineffectiveness." Commonwealth v. Keaton, 43 A.3d 1050, 1094 (Pa. 2012).

Before we can proceed further in this appeal, we must first address the deficiencies in Appellant's brief. Generally, appellate briefs are required to conform to the Rules of Appellate Procedure. See Pa.R.A.P. 2101. "This Court may … dismiss an appeal if the appellant fails to conform to the requirements set forth in the Pennsylvania Rules of Appellate Procedure." In re Ullman, 995 A.2d 1207, 1211 (Pa. Super. 2010) (citation omitted), appeal denied, 20 A.3d 489 (Pa. 2011). This Court is willing to construe pro se materials liberally, but "pro se status confers no special benefit on an appellant." Id. at 1211-1212. "[A]ny layperson choosing to represent himself in a legal proceeding must, to some reasonable extent, assume that his lack of expertise and legal training will be his undoing." Commonwealth v. Adams, 882 A.2d 496, 498 (Pa. Super. 2005) (citation omitted). Additionally, "[t]his Court will not act as counsel and will not develop arguments on behalf of an appellant." Commonwealth v. Kane, 10 A.3d 327, 331 (Pa. Super. 2010) (citation omitted), appeal denied, 29 A.3d 796 (Pa. 2011).

In the case sub judice, Appellant's brief does not contain a statement of jurisdiction, the order being appealed from, a statement of our standard and scope of review, a statement of the questions involved, or a summary of the argument, all of which are required by the Rules of Appellate Procedure. See Pa.R.A.P. 2111(a), 2114-2116, 2118. Furthermore, Appellant's statement of the case consists of two sentences that state his conviction, sentence, and the fact that he had previously filed a direct appeal to this Court. This falls woefully short of what Rule 2117 requires. See id. at 2117 (requiring the statement of the case to contain "[a] statement of the form of action, followed by a brief procedural history of the case[; a] brief statement of any prior determination of any court … [; t]he names of the judges … whose determinations are to be reviewed[; a] closely condensed chronological statement, in narrative form, of all the facts which are necessary to be known in order to determine the points in controversy … [; and a] brief statement of the order … under review[]").

Additionally, although it appears that Appellant is attempting to raise three distinct issues on appeal, his argument for all three issues combined totals approximately two and one-half pages. Within those two and one-half pages, Appellant does not discuss our standard of review, or cite to any pertinent Pennsylvania caselaw. In fact, Appellant's second issue consists of eight lines of argument with no citations to any legal authority. See Pa.R.A.P. 2119(a) (stating, "[t]he argument shall be divided into as many parts as there are questions to be argued; … followed by such discussion and citation of authorities as are deemed pertinent[]). Other than two individual citations to United States Supreme Court decisions, the bulk of Appellant's authority is from the United States Courts of ...

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