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Commonwealth v. Battles

Superior Court of Pennsylvania

August 21, 2017

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, Appellee
v.
RICKY LYNN BATTLES, Appellant

         Appeal from the Judgment of Sentence December 9, 2016 in the Court of Common Pleas of Crawford County Criminal Division at No(s): CP-20-CR-0000549-1977

          BEFORE BENDER, P.J.E., BOWES, and STRASSBURGER, [*] JJ.

          OPINION

          STRASSBURGER, J.:

         Ricky Lynn Battles (Appellant) appeals from the judgment of sentence of 35 years to life imprisonment following a resentencing hearing in accordance with Miller v. Alabama, 132 S.Ct. 2455 (2012), [1] and Montgomery v. Louisiana, 136 S.Ct. 718 (2016).[2] We affirm.

         A prior panel of this Court summarized the relevant factual and procedural history of this matter as follows.

Pursuant to a plea bargain [Appellant] pled guilty generally to criminal homicide in connection with the shooting death of his uncle, Jerome Nagorski, which occurred in 1977 [when Appellant was sixteen]. A three-judge panel determined the degree of guilt to be murder in the first degree. Post-verdict motions were denied, [a sentence of life imprisonment was imposed in February 1978], and [Appellant] appealed the finding of the panel to the [this Court. This Court] affirmed the [trial] court's judgment of sentence, [] 417 A.2d 779 ([Pa. Super.] 1979). [Appellant] then filed a petition to withdraw his guilty plea nunc pro tunc with the [trial court. Appellant's] petition was denied, [and he appealed, alleging ineffective assistance of counsel and a defective guilty plea].

Commonwealth v. Battles, 496 A.2d 849 (Pa. Super. 1985) (unpublished memorandum at 1). This Court affirmed the order denying Appellant's petition on May 17, 1985. Id. This case saw no further proceedings until 2012 when Appellant untimely filed a pro se PCRA petition, averring he was entitled to a resentencing hearing based upon the United States Supreme Court decision in Miller. The PCRA court ultimately denied the petition and this Court affirmed, based upon our Supreme Court's ruling in Cunningham, that Miller did not apply retroactively to those seeking relief on collateral review. Commonwealth v. Battles, 105 A.3d 41 (Pa. 2014).

         On February 22, 2016, following the United States Supreme Court's decision in Montgomery, Appellant, through counsel, filed a PCRA petition contending that Appellant's sentence should be vacated and he was entitled to a resentencing hearing in accordance with the cases cited supra. The PCRA court agreed.

         On December 9, 2016, Appellant was resentenced to 35 years to life imprisonment with 39 years and 16 days credit. Appellant's post-sentence motion to modify his sentence was denied, and this appeal followed.[3]

         Appellant presents two issues for our review, both of which center on his allegations that his sentence to a maximum term of life imprisonment is illegal under Miller and Commonwealth v. Batts (Batts I), 66 A.3d 286 (Pa. 2013). Appellant's Brief at 10. Specifically, Appellant avers the "sentencing court erred as a matter of law when it imposed a maximum incarceration sentence of life imprisonment[, ]" or in the alternative, the sentencing court abused its discretion when sentencing him to a maximum life term for a murder committed when he was a juvenile. Id. We address these issues sequentially.

With respect to the former claim, we bear in mind the following.
It is [] well-established that [i]f no statutory authorization exists for a particular sentence, that sentence is illegal and subject to correction. An illegal sentence must be vacated. Issues relating to the legality of a sentence are questions of law[.] ... Our standard of review over such questions is de novo and our scope of review is plenary.

Commonwealth v. Cardwell, 105 A.3d 748, 750 (Pa. Super. 2014) (citations and quotations omitted).

         Appellant contends that the sentencing court's imposition of a maximum term of incarceration of life is unconstitutional, and in contravention of well-established case law. Appellant's Brief at 17-18. Specifically, Appellant cites Batts I, in which our Supreme Court recognized "that Miller's rationale-emphasizing characteristics attending youth- militates in favor of individualized sentencing for those under the ...


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