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Commonwealth v. Heaster

Superior Court of Pennsylvania

September 18, 2017

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA
v.
SKYLAR SHELDON HEASTER Appellant

         Appeal from the Judgment of Sentence March 28, 2017 In the Court of Common Pleas of Somerset County Criminal Division at No(s): CP-56-CR-0000873-2016

          BEFORE: OLSON, DUBOW, JJ., and STEVENS, P.J.E. [*]

          OPINION

          STEVENS, P.J.E.

         This is an appeal from the judgment of sentence entered in the Court of Common Pleas of Somerset County following Appellant Skylar Sheldon Heaster's guilty plea to the charge of robbery, 18 Pa.C.S.A. § 3701(a)(1)(ii). After a careful review, we affirm.

         The relevant facts and procedural history are as follows: Appellant was arrested in connection with the robbery of a Family Dollar store involving a knife, and on February 7, 2017, Appellant, who was represented by counsel, entered a guilty plea to the charge of robbery. In exchange, the Commonwealth withdrew additional charges. Moreover, the Commonwealth and Appellant agreed as part of the plea negotiations that Appellant had "possessed, " as opposed to "used, " a deadly weapon for purposes of applying the deadly weapon enhancement. N.T., guilty plea, 2/7/17, at 3- 4. The trial court acknowledged that, as part of the plea agreement, the "deadly weapon possessed matrix would apply but not the deadly weapon used matrix."[1] Id. at 4.

         On March 28, 2017, Appellant proceeded to a sentencing hearing, at which the trial court had in its possession a pre-sentence investigation report. At sentencing, "having forgotten the stipulation concerning the proper matrix to be used, [the trial court] sentenced [Appellant]...based on the [deadly weapon enhancement] used matrix which was included as part of the [p]re-[s]entence [r]eport." Trial Court Opinion, filed 5/25/17, at 3 n.2 (emphasis in original). See N.T., sentencing hearing, 3/28/17, at 8 (trial judge stating that "on the offense of robbery...involving the use of a deadly weapon, it is ordered that the defendant is sentenced as follows....") (emphasis added)). The trial court sentenced Appellant to four and one-half years to nine years in prison.[2]

         Appellant raised no objection during the sentencing hearing, and at the conclusion of the hearing, the trial court provided Appellant with his post-sentence and appellate rights. Appellant did not file a post-sentence motion; however, on April 10, 2017, he filed a timely, counseled notice of appeal. The trial court directed Appellant to file a Pa.R.A.P. 1925(b) statement, Appellant timely complied, and the trial court filed a Pa.R.A.P. 1925(a) opinion.

         In his first issue, Appellant contends the trial court abused its discretion in imposing an excessive sentence without considering Appellant's individual, rehabilitative needs. He further contends that, contrary to the parties' plea agreement, the trial court abused its discretion in improperly applying the "use, " as opposed to the "possession, " of a deadly weapon sentencing enhancement matrix.

         Generally, upon the entry of a guilty plea, a defendant waives all claims and defenses other than those sounding in the jurisdiction of the court, the validity of the plea, and what has been termed the "legality" of the sentence imposed. See Commonwealth v. Eisenberg, 626 Pa. 512, 98 A.3d 1268 (2014) (holding that the proper entry of a guilty plea acts to extinguish virtually all legal challenges that could have been brought upon the trial or appeal of the case). However, where a defendant pleads guilty without any agreement as to sentence, (i.e. an open plea), the defendant retains the right to petition this Court for allowance of appeal with respect to the discretionary aspects of sentencing. Commonwealth v. Brown, 982 A.2d 1017, 1019 (Pa.Super. 2009). Conversely, where a defendant enters into a negotiated plea agreement that includes the terms of the sentence, the defendant may not seek a discretionary appeal relating to those agreed-upon terms. See id.

         Instantly, Appellant entered a "hybrid" guilty plea; that is, the parties did not bargain for a specific sentence but negotiated as to a certain aspect of the sentence (application of the deadly weapon possession enhancement matrix). A hybrid plea agreement does not preclude appellate review of those discretionary aspects of the sentence that were not agreed upon in the negotiation process. See id.

         With regard to Appellant's specific claim that the trial court abused its discretion in imposing an excessive sentence without considering Appellant's individual, rehabilitative needs, we note that this presents a challenge to the discretionary aspects of sentencing. See Commonwealth v. Rhoades, 8 A.3d 912 (Pa.Super. 2010). When an appellant challenges the discretionary aspects of his sentence, we must consider his brief on this issue as a petition for permission to appeal. Commonwealth v. Yanoff, 690 A.2d 260, 267 (Pa.Super. 1997). Prior to reaching the merits of a discretionary sentencing issue,

[this Court conducts] a four[-]part analysis to determine: (1) whether [A]ppellant has filed a timely notice of appeal, see Pa.R.A.P. 902 and 903; (2) whether the issue was properly preserved at sentencing or in a motion to reconsider and modify sentence, see Pa.R.Crim.P. [720]; (3) whether [A]ppellant's brief has a fatal defect, Pa.R.A.P. 2119(f); and (4) whether there is a substantial question that the sentence appealed from is not appropriate under the Sentencing Code, 42 Pa.C.S.A. § 9781(b).

Commonwealth v. Moury, 992 A.2d 162, 170 (Pa.Super. 2010) (citation omitted). Here, Appellant filed a timely notice of appeal; however, as the Commonwealth argues, Appellant did not preserve his claim that the trial court failed to consider his individual, rehabilitative needs in imposing sentence.

         As we indicated above, "issues challenging the discretionary aspects of a sentence must be raised in a post-sentence motion or by presenting the claim to the trial court during the sentencing proceedings. Absent such efforts, an objection to a discretionary aspect of a sentence is waived." Commonwealth v. Lamonda, 52 A.3d 365, 371 (Pa.Super. 2012) (en banc) (citation omitted). In the case sub judice, despite being advised of his post-sentence rights, Appellant did not file a post-sentence motion. Moreover, Appellant did not present an objection on this basis during his sentencing hearing. Accordingly, we deem this issue to be waived.[3] See id.

         With regard to Appellant's specific claim that, contrary to the parties' plea agreement, the trial court abused its discretion in applying the "use, " as opposed to the "possession, " of a deadly weapon sentencing enhancement matrix, we note the following:

Following the acceptance of a negotiated plea, the trial court is not required to sentence a defendant in accordance with the plea agreement. Such a sentence is legal, so long as it does not exceed the statutory maximum. However, a criminal defendant who is sentenced to more than was agreed upon in a negotiated plea ...

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