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Commonwealth v. Medina

Superior Court of Pennsylvania

May 28, 2014


Argued: August 13, 2013.

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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Appeal from the Order of the Court of Common Pleas, Philadelphia County, Criminal Division, No(s): CP-51-CR-1210801-1991. Before RAU, J.

Peter Carr, Assistant District Attorney, Philadelphia, for Commonwealth, appellant.

Norman O. Scott, Philadelphia, for appellee.



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The Commonwealth appeals from the August 2, 2011 order, granting Appellee, Jose Medina's petition filed pursuant to the Post Conviction Relief Act (PCRA), 42 Pa.C.S.A. § § 9541-9546. After careful review, we affirm.

The PCRA court summarized the relevant facts and procedural history of this case, in its 217-page opinion, as follows.

In November 1992, 19 year-old [Appellee] was convicted of murder and sentenced to life without parole for the stabbing death of William Bogan. [Appellee] was convicted based on the emotional testimony of a 12-year-old boy named Michael Toro who intermittently claimed that he witnessed and did not witness the stabbing. Michael's 11-year-old brother, Hector Toro, also testified at trial that when he was just 10 years old[,] he had seen a drunken [Appellee] earlier in the evening of the murder, brandishing a knife and stating that he would kill someone that night. [Appellee] presented a defense that he was visiting the neighborhood from Reading in order to attend a friend's daughter's birthday party and presented evidence of his good character. The friend testified confirming the existence of his daughter's birthday and party. The police officer who arrested [Appellee] not long after the stabbing found him not drunk and in possession of a birthday card, a few dollars, and his white sweatshirt. No physical evidence was ever found linking [Appellee] to the crime, including the stolen wallet, the knife used in the stabbing or any blood stains on the white sweatshirt that [Appellee] was wearing. No evidence was presented of [Appellee] and William Bogan ever having met nor was there any evidence of a motive for the killing. [Appellee] had no prior convictions and has for nearly twenty years steadfastly maintained his innocence.

PCRA Court Opinion, 8/2/11, at 1-2 (footnotes omitted).

On November 12, 1992, the jury found Appellee guilty of first-degree murder, robbery, and possessing an instrument of a crime (PIC).[1] On November 5, 1993, the trial court imposed an aggregate sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. On direct appeal, this Court concluded that Appellee's argument that trial counsel was ineffective for not challenging Michael Toro's competency as a witness may have had merit. Commonwealth v. Medina, 447 Pa.Super. 631, 668 A.2d 1194 (Pa. Super. 1995) (unpublished memorandum at 20). As a result, on August 31, 1995 we vacated the judgment of sentence and remanded for an evidentiary hearing on this claim. Id. On February 16, 2001, this Court ultimately affirmed the judgment of sentence. Commonwealth v. Medina, 776 A.2d 1007 (Pa. Super. 2001) (unpublished memorandum). Appellee did not file a petition for allowance of appeal with our Supreme Court.

On December 11, 2001, Appellee filed a timely PCRA petition, alleging various errors of ineffective assistance of counsel. On September 27, 2002, the PCRA court dismissed Appellee's petition. On September 17, 2003, this Court affirmed the PCRA court's order. Commonwealth v. Medina, 835 A.2d 833 (Pa. Super. 2003) (unpublished memorandum), appeal denied, 576 Pa. 721, 841 A.2d 530 (2003).

On January 13, 2004, Appellee filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in the

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United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. On June 2, 2005, the District Court granted the writ on the basis that trial counsel was ineffective for not challenging Michael Toro's competency to testify. Medina v. Diguglielmo, 373 F.Supp.2d 526, 543-544 (E.D.Pa. 2005), reversed, 461 F.3d 417 (3d Cir. 2006), cert. denied, 551 U.S. 1115, 127 S.Ct. 2934, 168 L.Ed.2d 265 (2007). On August 31, 2006, the Court of Appeals reversed. Although it agreed with the District Court that trial counsel was ineffective, it disagreed that Appellee had demonstrated prejudice. Medina v. Diguglielmo, 461 F.3d 417, 432 (3d. Cir. 2006), cert. denied, 551 U.S. 1115, 127 S.Ct. 2934, 168 L.Ed.2d 265 (2007). The Supreme Court denied Appellee's petition for a writ of certiorari on June 11, 2007. Id.

On December 5, 2006, Appellee filed the instant PCRA petition, alleging after-discovered evidence. Attached to both petitions are the affidavits of Michael Toro and Hector Toro, wherein they recant their trial testimony. The PCRA court appointed counsel who filed an amended petition on November 10, 2008. A subsequent amended PCRA petition was filed on March 5, 2010. After conducting extensive evidentiary hearings, on August 2, 2011, the PCRA court entered an order granting Appellee's PCRA petition and ordered a new trial. On August 9, 2011, the Commonwealth filed a timely notice of appeal.[2]

On October 31, 2012, a divided panel of this Court affirmed the PCRA court's order granting Appellee a new trial. On November 13, 2012, the Commonwealth filed a timely petition for reargument en banc. On January 4, 2013, this Court entered an order granting the Commonwealth's petition and withdrawing the October 31, 2012 panel memorandum.

On appeal, the Commonwealth raises three issues for our review.

I. Was [Appellee]'s second PCRA petition untimely where he filed it more than one year after his judgments of sentence became final and failed to prove that his new evidence could not have been obtained previously with the exercise of reasonable diligence?
II. Did the [PCRA] court contravene precedent in finding a reasonable probability that a recantation by one of [Appellee]'s fellow inmates, who had provided only corroborative testimony at trial, would have changed the outcome of the trial?
III. Did the [PCRA] court err in deeming another, more central, witness incompetent to testify at the PCRA hearing where the evidence was grossly inadequate to overcome the presumption of competency?

Commonwealth's Brief at 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). " [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, 614 Pa. 159, 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, 610 Pa. 17, 18 A.3d 244, 259 (Pa. 2011) (citation

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omitted). " However, this Court applies a de novo standard of review to the PCRA court's legal conclusions." Id.

Additionally, courts " will not entertain a second or subsequent request for PCRA relief unless the petitioner makes a strong prima facie showing that a miscarriage of justice may have occurred." Commonwealth v. Marshall, 596 Pa. 587, 947 A.2d 714, 719 (Pa. 2008) (citation omitted). " Appellant makes a prima facie showing of entitlement to relief only if he demonstrates either that the proceedings which resulted in his conviction were so unfair that a miscarriage of justice occurred which no civilized society could tolerate, or that he was innocent of the crimes for which he was charged." Commonwealth v. Allen, 557 Pa. 135, 732 A.2d 582, 586 (Pa. 1999)

The Commonwealth first avers that the PCRA court lacked jurisdiction to consider Appellee's second PCRA petition as it was untimely filed. We note the timeliness of a PCRA petition implicates the jurisdiction of this Court and the PCRA court. Commonwealth v. Williams, 2011 PA Super. 275, 35 A.3d 44, 52 (Pa. Super. 2011) (citation omitted), appeal denied, 616 Pa. 467, 50 A.3d 121 (2012). " Pennsylvania law makes clear no court has jurisdiction to hear an untimely PCRA petition." Id. The PCRA " confers no authority upon this Court to fashion ad hoc equitable exceptions to the PCRA time-bar[.]" Commonwealth v. Watts, 611 Pa. 80, 23 A.3d 980, 983 (Pa. 2011) (citation omitted). This is to " accord finality to the collateral review process." Id. " A petition for relief under the PCRA, including a second or subsequent petition, must be filed within one year of the date the judgment becomes final unless the petition alleges, and the petitioner proves, that an exception to the time for filing the petition, set forth at 42 Pa.C.S.A. § 9545(b)(1)(i), (ii), and (iii), is met." Commonwealth v. Harris, 2009 PA Super. 78, 972 A.2d 1196, 1199-1200 (Pa. Super. 2009). The act provides, in relevant part, as follows.

§ 9545. Jurisdiction and proceedings
(b) Time for filing petition.--
(1) Any petition under this subchapter, including a second or subsequent petition, shall be filed within one year of the date the judgment becomes final, unless the petition alleges and the petitioner proves that:
(i) the failure to raise the claim previously was the result of interference by government officials with the presentation of the claim in violation of the Constitution or laws of this Commonwealth or the Constitution or laws of the United States;
(ii) the facts upon which the claim is predicated were unknown to the petitioner and could not have been ascertained by ...

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