Appeal from the Order entered on 12/30/2013 in the Court of Common Pleas, Criminal Division of Philadelphia County at Nos. CP-51-CR-0417523-1992, CP-51-CR-0417792-1992 and CP-51-CR-0418063-1992.
CASTILLE, C.J., SAYLOR, EAKIN, BAER, TODD, McCAFFERY, STEVENS, JJ. MR. JUSTICE BAER. Mr. Chief Justice Castille, Messrs. Justice Saylor and Eakin, Madame Justice Todd and Messrs. Justice McCaffery and Stevens join the opinion. Mr. Chief Justice Castille files a concurring opinion.
MR. BAER, JUSTICE
Before this Court is a Motion to Quash the Commonwealth's appeal from an order of the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County granting Appellee Christopher Williams' petition for relief under the Post Conviction Relief Act, 42 Pa.C.S. § § 9541-9546 in this capital case. Appellee argues that this Court lacks jurisdiction to hear the appeal because the Commonwealth failed to file timely its notice of appeal with the Philadelphia County Clerk of Courts in accordance with Pa.R.A.P. 903(a) ( " the notice of appeal . . . shall be filed within 30 days after the entry of the order from which the appeal is taken." ). For the reasons that follow, we find the Commonwealth's appeal to be timely, and therefore deny Appellee's Motion to Quash.
The relevant procedural history shows that Appellee was convicted of first degree murder and subsequently sentenced to death for the murders of three men in September of 1989. This Court affirmed the judgment of sentence on direct appeal. Commonwealth v. Williams, 554 Pa. 1, 720 A.2d 679 (Pa. 1998). Appellee, thereafter, pursued relief under the Post Conviction Relief Act (" PCRA" ). 42 Pa.C.S. § § 9541-9546. The PCRA court initially granted Appellee relief on a basis unrelated to this appeal. This Court subsequently reversed the PCRA court and remanded for disposition of Appellee's remaining claims. Commonwealth v. Williams, 594 Pa. 366, 936 A.2d 12');"> 936 A.2d 12 (Pa. 2007). On remand, the PCRA court, by memorandum opinion and order dated December 30, 2013, granted Appellee a new trial, finding that trial counsel rendered ineffective assistance by failing to investigate medical and forensic evidence and finding that appellate counsel likewise rendered ineffective assistance by failing to argue on appeal that the trial court erred when it limited cross-examination of the Commonwealth's expert witnesses.
On January 29, 2014, thirty days after the PCRA court entered its order granting Appellee a new trial, the Commonwealth electronically filed with the Philadelphia County Clerk of Courts (hereinafter " the Clerk" ) a notice of appeal and jurisdictional statement appealing the grant of a new trial to this Court. The Clerk sent the
Commonwealth an electronic confirmation indicating that the notice of appeal was received on January 29, 2014. Nonetheless, the Clerk refrained from time-stamping the notice of appeal on that date. Instead, the following day, the Clerk informed the Commonwealth that its notice of appeal was defective because it was missing two docket numbers and/or because the Clerk's office preferred a separate notice for each of the three docket numbers contained therein. The Commonwealth filed an amended notice of appeal on January 30, 2014, which the Clerk accepted and time-stamped upon receipt.
On February 11, 2014, Appellee filed with this Court a Motion to Quash the Commonwealth's appeal arguing that the appeal was untimely because the Commonwealth failed to file it within thirty days of the PCRA court's order, as required by Pa.R.A.P. 903(a). In so asserting, Appellee proceeded under the assumption that the Commonwealth filed its notice of appeal on January 30, 2014, the date the Clerk time-stamped the appeal. Taking the position that the Commonwealth failed to file its notice of appeal on or before January 29, 2014, the thirtieth day following the PCRA court's order, Appellee contended that the appeal was untimely and that this Court, therefore, lacked jurisdiction over the appeal. See Motion at 4 (citing Commonwealth v. Bey, 437 Pa. 134, 262 A.2d 144, 145 (Pa. 1970) (absent extraordinary circumstances, " timeliness of an appeal and compliance with the statutory provisions which grant the right of appeal go to the jurisdiction of our Court and its competency to act." )).
In reply, the Commonwealth averred that it filed a timely notice of appeal on January 29, 2014. To substantiate its claim, the Commonwealth attached the electronic confirmation from the Philadelphia County Clerk of Courts indicating that the notice of appeal was received on January 29, 2014. The Commonwealth argued that pursuant to Rule 902 of the Rules of Appellate Procedure, its January 29 filing was timely regardless of whether the Clerk deemed the filing defective. See Pa.R.A.P. 902 (holding that failure of an appellant to take any step other than the timely filing of a notice of appeal does not affect the validity of the appeal" ). The Commonwealth further relied on Superior Court case law for the proposition that a defective but timely notice of appeal is nevertheless timely. See Commonwealth v. Willis, 2011 PA Super 203, 29 A.3d 393, 395-96 (Pa.Super. 2011) (holding that a prothonotary, and likewise a clerk of courts, lacks the authority to reject, as defective, a timely notice of appeal); Commonwealth v. Alaouie, 2003 PA Super 464, 837 A.2d 1190, 1192 (Pa.Super. 2003) (same); Nagy v. Best Home Servs.., 2003 PA Super 271, 829 A.2d 1166, 1168 (Pa.Super. 2003) (finding an appeal
perfected notwithstanding " the Prothonotary's failure to time-stamp and docket the timely-filed, albeit flawed, notice of appeal" ).
On April 1, 2014, this Court directed the parties to provide briefing on the following issue:
Whether the Philadelphia Clerk of Courts should have accepted the Commonwealth's timely, but defective, filing of the Notice of Appeal on January 29, 2014. See Commonwealth v. Willis, 2011 ...