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Commonwealth v. Woods

Superior Court of Pennsylvania

June 12, 2017

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA
v.
HERMAN T. WOODS Appellant

         Appeal from the PCRA Order November 4, 2016 In the Court of Common Pleas of Mercer County Criminal Division at No(s): No. 523 Criminal 1980

          BEFORE: LAZARUS, RANSOM, JJ., and STEVENS, P.J.E. [*]

          OPINION

          STEVENS, P.J.E.

         Appellant Herman T. Woods appeals the Order entered in the Court of Common Pleas of Mercer County on November 4, 2016, dismissing as untimely his serial petition filed pursuant to the Post Conviction Relief Act (PCRA).[1] Because this petition is untimely without an applicable exception, we affirm.

         Given our disposition, a detailed recitation of the facts is unnecessary in this matter. Appellant was convicted of second degree murder in 1981 following a jury trial. Appellant was eighteen years, thirty-six days old when he committed the crime on November 22, 1980, as his date of birth was October 17, 1962. On October 28, 1981, Appellant was sentenced to a mandatory term of life imprisonment, and he filed a timely notice of appeal the next day.[2] On September 2, 1983, this Court affirmed Appellant's judgment of sentence. Commonwealth v. Woods, Jr., 466 A.2d 709 Pa.Super. 1983) (unpublished memorandum). The Pennsylvania Supreme Court denied Appellant's petition for allowance of appeal on January 18, 1984. The conclusion of direct review was May 14, 1984, when the United States Supreme Court denied his petition for writ of certiorari. Woods v. Pennsylvania, 466 U.S. 977, 104 S.Ct. 2359, 80 L.Ed.2d 831 (1984).

         Because Appellant's judgment of sentence became final prior to the 1995 amendments to the PCRA, which added certain time restrictions, Appellant was permitted to file his first PCRA petition by January 16, 1997. See Commonwealth v. Peterkin, 554 Pa. 547, 554-55, 722 A.2d 638, 641 (1998) (holding where conviction became final on or before effective date of Act, to be timely PCRA petition must be filed within one year of effective date and must be first petition to be eligible for one-year grace period). Notwithstanding, Appellant did not file his first PCRA petition until July 27, 1998, making it untimely. Counsel was appointed and later filed a petition to withdraw wherein he averred private counsel had entered his appearance for Appellant in the action. In an Order entered on October 13, 1998, the trial court granted appointed counsel's petition to withdraw; however, the official docket entries do not indicate that privately retained counsel took any further action regarding the PCRA petition, nor do they contain an Order entered by the trial court on the merits thereof.

         On August 27, 2012, Appellant filed a second PCRA petition pro se wherein he generally alleged ineffectiveness of prior counsel and that "mandatory life without parole violates the Eighth Amendment Art 5 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as well as Art. I #3 of the Pennsylvania Constitution for someone under the age of 25." See Motion for Post Conviction Collateral Relief, filed 8/27/12, at 3. Counsel was appointed on September 12, 2012, and in an Order entered on October 16, 2012, the trial court directed counsel to file an Amended PCRA Petition and/or a no-merit letter on or before November 1, 2012, although an amended petition was not forthcoming. Instead, on July 13, 2015, Appellant filed pro se his "Motion for Leave to Amend Petition for Habeas Corpus Relief under Article I, Sections 5, 6 & 14 of the Pennsylvania Constitution and for Post Conviction Relief Under the Post Conviction Relief Act et Seq." In its Order entered on July 16, 2015, the trial court denied the same without prejudice because Appellant was represented by counsel.

         The trial court also scheduled a status conference to be held on August 17, 2015, to address Appellant's Habeas Corpus petition and the status of his previously filed PCRA petition. In its Order entered on that date following the conference, the trial court directed PCRA counsel to file either a motion to withdraw as counsel or a motion to schedule an evidentiary hearing and/or argument on the pending PCRA petition on or before October 15, 2015.

         On September 10, 2015, counsel filed a motion to withdraw along with a "no merit letter" pursuant to Commonwealth v. Turner, 518 Pa. 491, 544 A.2d 927 (1988), and Commonwealth v. Finley, 550 A.2d 213 (Pa.Super. 1988). Therein, he noted Appellant was challenging the legality of his sentence based upon the United States Supreme Court's ruling in Miller v. Alabama, ___ U.S. ___, 132 S.Ct. 2455, 183 L.Ed.2d 407 (2012) wherein the Court had held that mandatory sentences of life imprisonment without parole are unconstitutional for juvenile offenders. In its September 11, 2015, Order, the trial court granted counsel's petition to withdraw and dismissed Appellant's PCRA petition without a hearing. The trial court further indicated Appellant may proceed pro se or with the assistance privately retained counsel.

         On February 17, 2016, Appellant again filed a petition of Habeas Corpus relief pro se challenging his conviction under the United States Supreme Court's recent decision in Montgomery v. Louisiana, ___ U.S. ___, 136 S.Ct. 718, 193 L.Ed.2d 599 (2016) (filed on January 25, 2016, as revised on January 27, 2016) wherein the Court held the application of Miller is retroactive. In its Order entered on February 22, 2016, the trial court denied Appellant's Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus Relief and in doing so found, inter alia, that the retroactive application of the Supreme Court's holding in Miller which pertained to juvenile offenders is inapplicable to Appellant because he was eighteen years old at the time of the murder.

         On March 18, 2016, Appellant filed pro se the PCRA petition presently before us. Therein, Appellant again averred he was entitled to relief under Montgomery and Miller, supra, as well as under Alleyne v. United States, ___ U.S. ___, 133 S.Ct. 2151, 186 L.Ed.2d 314 (2013) and their progeny.[3] The trial court appointed counsel to represent Appellant in an Order entered on April 19, 2016;[4] notwithstanding, Appellant filed a pro se supplemental PCRA petition on May 23, 2016. In its Order entered on July 1, 2016, the trial court directed counsel to file either an amended PCRA petition, a "no-merit letter" or a motion requesting an evidentiary hearing on or before August 31, 2016.

         Counsel filed a "no-merit letter" on September 27, 2016, and in its Order entered on that same date, the trial court granted counsel leave to withdraw and Appellant leave to proceed pro se. In the meantime, Appellant had filed another supplemental PCRA petition. On October 31, 2016, Appellant filed his "Response and Answer to PCRA Court's Notice and Order to Dismiss Pro Se Petition for Post Conviction Relief Pursuant to the Post Conviction Relief Act, 42 Pa.C.S. § 9542." On November 7, 2016, the trial court denied Appellant's PCRA petition and advised him of his right to file an appeal with this Court within thirty (30) days. Appellant filed his notice of appeal on November 28, 2016, along with his "Statement of Questions

         Raised on Appeal."[5]

         In his brief, Appellant presents the following three questions for ...


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