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Commonwealth v. Lankford

Superior Court of Pennsylvania

May 30, 2017

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA Appellee
v.
TYLER LANKFORD Appellant

         Appeal from the Judgment of Sentence April 5, 2016 In the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County Criminal Division at No(s): CP-02-CR-0003458-2015, CP-02-CR-0003461-2015, CP-02-CR-0003813-2015, CP-02-CR-0003838-2015.

          BEFORE: LAZARUS, J., DUBOW, J., and STRASSBURGER, J. [*]

          OPINION

          LAZARUS, J.

         Tyler Lankford appeals from the judgment of sentence, entered in the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County, following his conviction of multiple offenses stemming from four armed robberies. After careful review, we affirm.

         Lankford was charged with five counts of robbery, 18 Pa.C.S.A. § 3701(a)(1)(i) and (ii), and related offenses[1] for crimes committed on January 17, 2015. On June 8, 2015, Lankford filed a request for a mental health evaluation, which the trial court granted. However, at a plea hearing on August 11, 2015, the trial court discovered Lankford received a competency evaluation conducted for Allegheny County, rather than the previously requested mental health evaluation. The trial court subsequently deemed Lankford competent to stand trial, but acknowledged an indication of serious substance abuse and the need for a full mental health evaluation.[2]Lankford did not contest the trial court's competency ruling, [3] and on August 11, 2015, he pleaded guilty to all charges.

         On December 21, 2015, Lankford again filed a motion requesting a mental health evaluation. The trial court granted his motion, and Dr. Alice E. Applegate, forensic psychologist, conducted Lankford's evaluation. On March 10, 2016, Lankford submitted to the trial court a memorandum in aid of sentencing, which included Dr. Applegate's report detailing his mental health evaluation.[4]

         On April 5, 2016, the trial court sentenced Lankford to an aggregate term of 99 to 220 months' imprisonment, followed by three years of state probation. At his sentencing hearing, Dr. Applegate explained that Lankford was seriously mentally ill, exhibited suicidal thoughts and cognitive confusion and noted that schizophrenia ran in the paternal side of Lankford's family. In fashioning Lankford's sentence, the trial court considered his Presentence Investigation Report (PSI), his memorandum in aid of sentencing and testimony from his stepfather, mother and maternal grandparents.

         Lankford filed a motion for reconsideration of sentence, which the trial court denied without a hearing. Lankford filed a timely appeal, followed by a Pa.R.A.P. 1925(b) concise statement of errors complained of on appeal. On appeal, Lankford raises the following issue for our review:

Did the trial court impose a cruel and unusual punishment when it sentenced [Lankford] to 99 to 220 [months' incarceration] despite his severe and untreated mental health problems?

Brief of Appellant, at 11.

         Lankford claims he is entitled to mental health treatment and that the denial of such treatment is cruel and unusual punishment, and therefore unconstitutional.[5] We disagree.

         Article 1, Section 13 of the Pennsylvania Constitution provides "[e]xcessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel punishments inflicted." P.A. Const. art. I, § 13. "[T]he guarantee against cruel punishment contained in the Pennsylvania Constitution, Article 1, Section 13, provides no broader protections against cruel and unusual punishment than those extended under the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution." Commonwealth v. Spells, 612 A.2d 458, 461 (Pa. Super. 1992). The Eighth Amendment does not require strict proportionality between the crime committed and the sentence imposed; rather, it forbids only extreme sentences that are grossly disproportionate to the crime. See Commonwealth v. Hall, 701 A.2d 190, 209 (Pa. 1997) (citing Harmelin v. Michigan, 501 U.S. 957, 1001 (1991)) (emphasis added).

         In Commonwealth v. Spells, 612 A.2d 458, 462 (Pa. Super. 1992) (en banc), this Court applied the three-prong test for Eighth Amendment proportionality review set forth by the United States Supreme Court in Solem v. Helm, 463 U.S. 277 (1983):

[A] court's proportionality analysis under the Eighth Amendment should be guided by objective criteria, including (i) the gravity of the offense and the harshness of the penalty; (ii) the sentences imposed on other criminals in the same jurisdiction; and (iii) the ...

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