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Commonwealth v. Stultz

Superior Court of Pennsylvania

April 28, 2015


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Appeal from the PCRA Order May 2, 2014. In the Court of Common Pleas of Lebanon County. Criminal Division at No(s): CP-38-CR-0000700-2010.



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Jose Alejandro Stultz, a/k/a, David Brown, appeals pro se from the denial of his first petition filed pursuant to the Post-Conviction Relief Act (" PCRA" ), 42 Pa.C.S. § § 9541-9546. We affirm.

At approximately 3:15 a.m., on February 14, 2010, Officer Benjamin Lauver witnessed Appellant driving the wrong way

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on Ninth Street, a one-way street in Lebanon City, Lebanon County. Officer Lauver turned his vehicle around and activated his lights and siren and began to pursue Appellant's car. Appellant did not immediately pull over, driving approximately forty miles per hour (" mph" ) in a twenty-five mph zone, but eventually came to a stop at a red light. Officer Lauver reported that Appellant's vehicle never left his sight. Upon encountering Appellant, Officer Lauver placed him under arrest for fleeing and detected the odor of alcohol emanating from Appellant. Appellant was transported to a hospital for blood testing, which revealed a blood alcohol content (" BAC" ) of .134 percent. In addition, while at the hospital, the officer had Appellant perform field sobriety tests, which Appellant failed. A search of Appellant's car at the scene led to the discovery of heroin and suboxone.

The Commonwealth charged Appellant with a felony of the third degree fleeing or attempting to elude a police officer,[1] two counts of driving under the influence (" DUI" ) of alcohol, and four summary traffic offenses[2] as well as violations of the Controlled Substance, Drug, Device, and Cosmetic Act. Appellant filed a motion to suppress, challenging the validity of the traffic stop and the search of his vehicle. The court granted in part and denied in part that motion. It suppressed several statements made by Appellant to police as well as the drugs located in his vehicle. However, it upheld the traffic stop and the blood test results. Thereafter, the Commonwealth withdrew the drug charges.

Appellant proceeded to a jury trial on June 7, 2011. The jury found Appellant guilty of the fleeing while DUI count. The court adjudicated Appellant guilty of the DUI and summary offenses. Thereafter, the court sentenced Appellant on July 27, 2011, to a sentence of one to five years imprisonment for the fleeing charge. The court sentenced Appellant on one of the DUI charges to a concurrent sentence of forty-eight hours to six months incarceration. The other DUI charge merged.

Appellant filed a timely post-sentence motion, which the court denied. A timely direct appeal ensued. Appellant challenged the trial court's denial of his suppression motion, the sufficiency of the evidence with respect to the fleeing count, a jury instruction, and the weight of the evidence. We affirmed on December 11, 2012. Commonwealth v. Stultz, 64 A.3d 16 (Pa.Super. 2012). Appellant did not seek allowance of appeal with our Supreme Court but filed the underlying PCRA petition on January 28, 2013.

The court appointed counsel filed an amended petition reiterating Appellant's claims. However, at Appellant's request and after conducting the requisite colloquy, the PCRA court permitted him to continue pro se. The PCRA court conducted an evidentiary hearing. Following the hearing, the court denied Appellant's petition on May 2, 2014, and issued an opinion in support thereof. This timely appeal followed. The PCRA court directed Appellant to file and serve a Pa.R.A.P. 1925(b) concise statement of errors complained of on appeal. Appellant complied, and the PCRA court indicated that the reasons for its decision could be found in its earlier opinion. The matter is now

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ready for this Court's consideration. Appellant raises the following issues for our review.

I. Whether the PCRA court erred or abused its discretion in denying Post-Conviction relief on the Claim whethe[r] Petitioner was prosecuted/sentence[d] in a tribunal that lack's [sic] subject matter jurisdiction?
II. Whether the PCRA court erred or abused its discretion in denying Post-Conviction relief on the claim of whether counsel was [i]neffective?
A) Counsel did not object to leading questions to O[f][f]icer Lauver during the preliminary hearing. (Page 16, lines 6-7 and 12-13).
B) Counsel did not ask for a continuance or [f]ile another [s]uppression [h]earing when collecting discovery [m]aterial [u]ntimely.
C) Counsel did not argue the suppression hearing properly when [he] should have questioned the arrest not the stop.
D) Counsel did not ask [f]or an [e]xpert in order to fight the DUI.
E) Counsel [f]ailure [sic] to challenge the lack of Miranda warnings of the videotape.
III. Whether the PCRA court erred or abused its discretion in denying Petitioner[']s claim that [his] sentence is illegal or unlawful [f]or lack of statutory authorization?
IV. Whether the PCRA court violated Appellant[']s [d]ue [p]rocess and [e]qual [p]rotection [c]onstitutionally guaranteed and [p]rotected [r]ight by not allowing adequate time for Appellant to rebuttal [sic] the Commonwealth['s] [b]rief?

Appellant's brief at viii-ix.

In conducting review of a PCRA matter, we consider the record " in the light most favorable to the prevailing party at the PCRA level." Commonwealth v. Henkel, 2014 PA Super 75, 90 A.3d 16, 20 (Pa.Super. 2014) ( en banc ). Our review is limited to the evidence of record and the factual findings of the PCRA court. Id. This Court will afford " great deference to the factual findings of the PCRA court and will not disturb those findings unless they have no support in the record." Id. Thus, when a PCRA court's ruling is free of legal error and is supported by record evidence, we will not disturb its decision. Id. Of course, if the issue pertains to a question of law, " our standard of review is de novo and our scope of review is plenary." Id.

We begin by noting that Appellant is no longer eligible for relief with respect to his DUI convictions, having completed serving his sentence for the DUI count for which he was incarcerated. 42 Pa.C.S. § 9543(a)(1)(i); Commonwealth v. Turner, 622 Pa. 318, 80 A.3d 754 (Pa. 2013); Commonwealth v. Ahlborn, 548 Pa. 544, 699 A.2d 718 (Pa. 1997); Commonwealth v. Williams, 2009 PA Super 121, 977 A.2d 1174 (Pa.Super. 2009); Commonwealth v. Pagan, 2004 PA Super 483, 864 A.2d 1231 (Pa.Super. 2004); Commonwealth v. Hayes, 408 Pa.Super. 68, 596 A.2d 195 (Pa.Super. 1991) ( en banc ). Thus, to the extent his claims relate solely to the DUI charges, he is not entitled to relief.

Appellant's initial challenge is to the trial court's subject matter jurisdiction. Claims relating to subject matter jurisdiction present questions of law. Commonwealth v. Elia, 2013 PA Super 323, 83 A.3d 254, 265 (Pa.Super. 2013). Appellant does not level a subject matter jurisdiction argument on the basis of the location of where his offenses

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occurred. Rather, Appellant maintains that the trial court lacked jurisdiction based on four separate grounds.[3]

First, Appellant avers that, because the 1968 Pennsylvania Constitution contains no savings clause, he was prosecuted under criminal statutes that were legally inoperative upon ratification of that constitution. Next, Appellant posits that since there is no express state constitutional provision providing authority to enact a state crimes code, the trial court lacked jurisdiction. Third, Appellant asserts that he was prosecuted under criminal rules of procedure and rules of evidence adopted by the judicial branch in violation of the federal constitution pursuant to Article 1, § 1, Article 4, § 4, Article 6, § 2, and Article 7 of that charter.[4] Lastly, Appellant submits that he was prosecuted under statutes that lacked an enacting clause. We address each of Appellant's arguments seriatim and find them meritless. Article 6, § 2 is the Supremacy Clause, and Article 7 relates to ratification.

Appellant's initial argument appears to be that the Pennsylvania Crimes Code was repealed by the 1968 Pennsylvania Constitution because the amendments to the 1874 Constitution failed to include a savings clause.[5] In essence, Appellant seems to suggest that' because the 1968 Pennsylvania Constitution contained no savings clause, all criminal statutes are null and void. In ...

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