Appeal from the PCRA Order, March 22, 2012, in the Court of Common Pleas of Venango County Criminal Division at No. CP-61-CR-0000424-2010.
Joseph D. Seletyn, Esq.
BEFORE: FORD ELLIOTT, P.J.E., DONOHUE AND PLATT, JJ. [*]
FORD ELLIOTT, P.J.E.
Charles Edward Motter appeals from the order, which denied in part his first petition, brought pursuant to the Post Conviction Relief Act ("PCRA"). We affirm.
On October 25, 2010, appellant pled guilty to kidnapping, 18 Pa.C.S.A. § 2901(a)(3), and firearms not to be carried without a license, 18 Pa.C.S.A. § 6106 in relation to an incident with his wife that occurred on June 23, 2010. The couple began arguing at home and the fight escalated when they were driving in appellant's vehicle along various back roads in Venango County. (Notes of testimony, 10/25/10 at 22-25.) Appellant prevented his wife from leaving the car and then subsequently ordered her out of his vehicle after pulling a handgun out of the glove compartment. At one point, he shot the handgun into the air. Appellant admitted that he did not have a license to carry a concealed weapon and that he intended to terrorize his wife. (Id. at 24.) Michael Antkowiak, Esq., represented appellant. On November 30, 2010, appellant was sentenced to an aggregate term of imprisonment of 8 to 17 years and $500 in fines. On December 8, 2010, appellant filed a motion to modify sentence, which was subsequently denied.
On September 9, 2011, appellant filed a pro se PCRA petition and Pamela Logsdon Sibley, Esq., was appointed. Attorney Sibley filed a letter informing the court that she did not intend to amend appellant's pro se petition. (Docket #26.) Appellant's pro se petition requested permission to withdraw his guilty plea nunc pro tunc claiming that he was innocent and induced to plead guilty by counsel's ineffective assistance. Specifically, appellant argued that Attorney Antkowiak failed to conduct reasonable pre-trial investigation by challenging the method by which appellant's statements were acquired by the police, failed to investigate two defense witnesses (appellant's father and brother), and failed to spend appreciable time with appellant during his proceedings. Appellant also alleged that because of his mental health problems and medications, he was susceptible to the coercion of his attorney who informed him that he must take the guilty plea or spend the rest of his life in prison. (Docket #23.)
A PCRA hearing was held on January 27, 2012 wherein appellant's father, Merle Motter, testified with regard to what he witnessed on the night of the alleged incident and his contact with Attorney Antkowiak. Appellant testified to his innocence, averred that he asked Attorney Antkowiak to withdraw his guilty plea and Attorney Antkowiak failed to do so. Attorney Antkowiak testified regarding the plea negotiations and his contact with appellant.
Thereafter, on March 22, 2012, the PCRA court denied the petition finding that appellant's guilty plea was knowing and voluntary and not induced by counsel's alleged ineffective assistance. Appellant filed a timely appeal on April 9, 2012. Instantly, the following issue has been presented for our review:
IS [APPELLANT'S] GUILTY PLEA KNOWING AND VOLUNTARY WHEN IT IS INDUCED BY HIS ATTORNEY[']S FAILURE TO FULLY INVESTIGATE HIS DEFENSES[?]
Appellant's brief at 4.
Our standard of review of a PCRA court's denial of a petition for post-conviction relief is well settled. We must examine whether the record supports the PCRA court's determination, and whether the PCRA court's decision is free of legal error. Commonwealth v. Hall, 867 A.2d 619, 628 (Pa.Super. 2005), appeal denied, 86 Pa. 756, 895 A.2d 549 (2006). The PCRA court's findings will not be disturbed unless there is no support for the findings in the certified record. Commonwealth v. Carr, 768 A.2d 1164, 1166 (Pa.Super. 2001). Our scope of review is limited by the parameters of the PCRA. Commonwealth v. Heilman, 867 A.2d 542, 544 (Pa.Super. 2005), appeal denied, 583 Pa. 669, 876 A.2d 393 (2005).
"A criminal defendant has the right to effective counsel during a plea process as well as during trial." Commonwealth v. Rathfon, 899 A.2d 365, 369 (Pa.Super. 2006) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). Furthermore, "[c]laims challenging the effectiveness of trial counsel's stewardship during a guilty plea are cognizable under 42 Pa.C.S.A. § ...