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Commonwealth v. Tejada

Superior Court of Pennsylvania

December 12, 2017

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA
v.
RICKY TEJADA Appellant COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA
v.
RICKY TEJADA Appellant COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA
v.
RICKY TEJADA Appellant COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA
v.
RICKY TEJADA Appellant COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA
v.
RICKY TEJADA Appellant

         Appeal from the Order December 18, 2015 In the Court of Common Pleas of Erie County Criminal Division at No(s): CP-25-CR-0002407-2015

         Appeal from the Order January 11, 2016 In the Court of Common Pleas of Erie County Criminal Division at No(s): CP-25-CR-0002407-2015

         Appeal from the Order December 17, 2015 In the Court of Common Pleas of Erie County Criminal Division at No(s): CP-25-CR-0002407-2015

         Appeal from the Order March 9, 2016 In the Court of Common Pleas of Erie County Criminal Division at No(s): CP-25-CR-0002407-2015

          BEFORE: BOWES, J., SOLANO, J., AND FORD ELLIOTT, P.J.E.

          OPINION

          BOWES, J.

         Ricky Tejada appeals from the judgment of sentence of four to eight years incarceration imposed following his convictions for two counts of aggravated harassment by a prisoner. Appellate counsel has filed a petition to withdraw from representation and a brief pursuant to Anders v. California, 386 U.S. 738 (1967), and Commonwealth v. Santiago, 978 A.2d 349 (Pa. 2009). We deny the petition, and order the filing of a merits brief.

         The factual history of Appellant's crimes is straightforward. Appellant, while incarcerated in SCI Albion, threw urine at corrections officers on two separate occasions, and was charged with two counts of aggravated harassment by a prisoner. He was found guilty of both counts following a jury trial held in absentia, and received the aforementioned sentence. The facts pertinent to our disposition of this matter largely concern what occurred prior to trial, and we therefore review those facts in some detail.

         First, Appellant elected to represent himself at trial. Appellant appeared for a scheduled jury trial on January 11, 2016, and the proceedings commenced with the trial court asking, "it's my understanding you are representing yourself; is that correct?" N.T., 1/11/16, at 3. Appellant confirmed that he intended to act as his own attorney.[1] Following a waiver colloquy, the trial court concluded that Appellant validly waived his right to counsel.

         At that juncture, Appellant argued that he was entitled to a continuance, stating that the Commonwealth had failed to provide discovery pursuant to a pre-trial order directing the Commonwealth to send discovery to Appellant.[2] The Commonwealth represented that it had complied with the earlier order and had sent discovery to SCI Albion. Based solely on that representation, the trial court denied the continuance and suggested Appellant's recourse was to challenge any deviations from the discovery on appeal. "[Y]ou had time to prepare. The Commonwealth has sent your discovery. And as I said, if that is inconsistent with the evidence presented at trial, you can challenge it on appeal." N.T., 1/11/16, at 14.[3]

         Appellant then claimed that he was incompetent to proceed and demanded a competency hearing, which the trial court denied on the basis that Appellant's behavior did not indicate any incompetency. Following that discussion, the trial court informed Appellant that jury selection would proceed "as soon as we get a jury panel available." Id. at 15.

         Following a recess the trial court asked, "[Appellant], I need to know if you are going to stay for your trial?" Id. Appellant claimed that he was "not the defendant" and argued that the court "has no jurisdiction to proceed." Id. at 16. Appellant does not appear to have been otherwise disruptive of the proceedings, as reflected by the fact that the trial court stated, "I'm going to allow you to remain, but if you disrupt the proceeding, in any way, you will be removed and the trial will go on without you." Id. at 17.

         The jury panel then entered the room. Appellant requested to admit into evidence the voir dire sheets, claiming that the sheets were "illegible and incomprehensible because of the writing." Id. at 18. Significantly, Appellant followed that statement with the following request:

The defense also makes it known for the record he requires counsel. I told you numerous times I don't understand. You're trying to push the trial on me. I got a 6th Amendment right to counsel. It's not filled out and I told you, I'm asking for my constitutional 6th amendment right since you're forcing the trial on me improperly.
THE COURT: Mr. Tejada, you waived your right to counsel.
MR. TEJADA: And I got a constitutional right to get it reinstated.
THE COURT: Excuse me. Mr. Tejada, I'm speaking. I didn't interrupt you and don't interrupt me. You waived your right to counsel approximately one hour ago before this [c]ourt. I went over the rights waiver in detail with you. You answered the questions appropriately and waived your right to counsel. . . .

Id. at 18-19. Appellant interjected, "The constitution doesn't put no restraints on when I can reinstate that right. I'm timely reinstating it." Id. at 20. Following more discussion, the trial court stated, "[Y]our outbursts will not be tolerated, you will be removed from this courtroom, you will be tried in absentia." Id. at 21. Finally, the trial court stated that Appellant could communicate with the court so long as he followed the rules, to which Appellant replied, "Then appoint standby counsel to communicate with the [c]ourt." Id. The trial court repeated that outbursts would not be tolerated. The following exchange occurred:

MR. TEJADA: So are you saying I'm denied the right to standby counsel? If not, appoint me counsel. Is that what you're saying for the record?
THE COURT: I'm saying that we are going to begin voir dire.
MR. TEJADA: If you conduct voir dire, then I need ...

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