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[U] Commonwealth v. Rapoport

Superior Court of Pennsylvania

March 6, 2014

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, Appellee
v.
DAVID ADAM RAPOPORT, Appellant

NON-PRECEDENTIAL DECISION

Appeal from the PCRA Order July 30, 2013 in the Court of Common Pleas of Lehigh County Criminal Division at No(s): CP-39-CR-0001953-2011

BEFORE: ALLEN, STABILE, and STRASSBURGER, [*] JJ.

MEMORANDUM

STRASSBURGER, J.

David Adam Rapoport (Appellant) appeals from an order dismissing his petition filed pursuant to the Post Conviction Relief Act (PCRA), 42 Pa.C.S. §§ 9541-9546. We affirm.

On December 8, 2011, Appellant pled guilty to the first degree murder of Jennifer Snyder and to the first degree murder of the fetus which she was carrying, [1] after Appellant shot Ms. Snyder three times, wrapped her body in trash bags, and disposed of it in the woods.

In exchange for the Commonwealth's agreement to withdraw its notice of aggravating factors, thus foregoing the possibility of the death penalty, Appellant agreed to waive all direct and collateral appeal rights. The sentencing court conducted an extensive oral colloquy to confirm that Appellant's decision to plead guilty was knowing and voluntary, and also incorporated into the record two written colloquies signed by Appellant: one as to the guilty plea generally, and one specific to waiver of his rights to direct and collateral review. Thereafter, Appellant was given consecutive life sentences without the possibility of parole.

On December 6, 2012, Appellant filed a pro se PCRA petition. Counsel was appointed and, on March 13, 2012, filed an amended petition. On July 30, 2013, the PCRA court held a hearing to determine whether Appellant knowingly and voluntarily waived his collateral review rights. The Commonwealth presented the testimony of Appellant's trial counsel and offered as an exhibit the written colloquy Appellant executed regarding the waiver of his appeal rights; Appellant offered no testimony or other evidence.

At the conclusion of the hearing, the PCRA court denied Appellant's request for relief and dismissed his petition. Appellant timely filed a notice of appeal. Appellant and the PCRA court complied with Pa.R.A.P. 1925.

Appellant presents one question for this Court's review: "Did the [PCRA] court err in dismissing the PCRA petition based upon a waiver of appeal rights where there was no showing on the record that the waiver was knowing and voluntary?" Appellant's Brief at 4 (some capitalization omitted).

On appeal from the denial of PCRA relief, our standard of review calls for us to determine whether the ruling of the PCRA court is supported by the record and free of legal error. The PCRA court's findings will not be disturbed unless there is no support for the findings in the certified record. The PCRA court's factual determinations are entitled to deference, but its legal determinations are subject to our plenary review.

Commonwealth v. Nero, 58 A.3d 802, 805 (Pa.Super. 2012) (quotations and citations omitted).

We begin by noting that a "well-reasoned decision to plead guilty in order to avoid the death penalty does not render the plea invalid." Commonwealth v. Barnes, 687 A.2d 1163, 1167 (Pa.Super. 1996). Rather, "[a] plea of guilt that is motivated by a fear that the prosecution may obtain the death penalty is valid as long as the guilty plea is entered knowingly and voluntarily." Id. See also Commonwealth v. Saranchak, 810 A.2d 1197, 1199 (Pa. 2002) ("Most jurisdictions permit a capital defendant to waive direct appellate review and/or post-conviction proceedings, and Pennsylvania is no exception.").

In the instant case, Appellant executed a written colloquy that provided as follows, in relevant part.

6. I further agree, in consideration of the District Attorney's agreement not to seek the death penalty, to the following:
(a) I agree never to seek or file or have filed on my behalf any direct or collateral appeals of my conviction, sentence, or this agreement to the appellate courts of Pennsylvania, including the Superior Court or Supreme Court, or to any federal court. Direct appeals include, but are not limited to, appeals that must be filed with the appellate courts within the time limits explained in Pa.R.Crim.P. 720, and Pa.P.A.P. 903. I understand that in the absence of this agreement, I would have the right to file a direct appeal to the Superior Court, and could thereafter request the Supreme Court to review this matter within the time limits set by Pa.R.A.P. 1113. I also understand that I could then ask the United States Supreme Court to review my case. Collateral appeals include any requests for relief under the state Post Conviction Relief Act or a request for a writ of habeas corpus from a federal court. I know that I am now giving up these rights forever.
(b) I understand that collateral appeals are filed after direct appeals. In the absence of this agreement, I would initially have the right to file a collateral appeal with the trial court, and if denied I would have the right of appeal to the Superior Court. I would then have the right to ask the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania to review this matter, and then request review by the United States Supreme Court. I know that I am giving up these rights forever.
(c) I understand that in the absence of this agreement, and after the exhaustion of state remedies, I could ordinarily request habeas corpus review by a federal judge; that if the federal judge does not grant me relief that I could appeal to the federal court of appeals and ask them to review my case; and I thereafter would have the right to ask the United ...

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