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Commonwealth v. Rouse

Superior Court of Pennsylvania

June 8, 2018

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, Appellee
v.
DEVIN ROUSE, Appellant

          Appeal from the PCRA Court Order Entered January 13, 2017 In the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County Criminal Division at No(s): CP-51-CR-0713202-2002

          BEFORE: BENDER, P.J.E., LAZARUS, J., and KUNSELMAN, J.

          OPINION

          BENDER, P.J.E.

         Appellant, Devin Rouse, appeals from the order denying his petition for a writ of habeas corpus ("Habeas Petition"), which the lower court treated as an untimely petition filed pursuant the Post-Conviction Relief Act ("PCRA"), 42 Pa.C.S. §§ 9541-9546. After careful review, we affirm.

         The facts underlying Appellant's 2005 conviction for second-degree murder, robbery, carrying a firearm without a license, and possessing an instrument of crime are not germane to this appeal. After Appellant filed a direct appeal, this Court affirmed his judgment of sentence on April 13, 2006, and our Supreme Court subsequently denied his petition for allowance of appeal from our decision. Commonwealth v. Rouse, 902 A.2d 981 (Pa. Super. 2006) (unpublished memorandum), appeal denied, 909 A.2d 304 (Pa. 2006).

         Appellant filed his first PCRA petition on October 10, 2007, and appointed counsel filed an amended petition on his behalf on September 26, 2008. The PCRA court dismissed that petition without a hearing on March 5, 2009. This Court vacated that order, and remanded for an evidentiary hearing. Commonwealth v. Rouse, 38 A.3d 925 (Pa. Super. 2011) (unpublished memorandum). That hearing occurred on January 27, 2014. Subsequently, the PCRA court granted Appellant's PCRA petition, ordering a new trial. The Commonwealth appealed. On January 12, 2016, this Court reversed the PCRA court's order, and our Supreme Court denied Appellant's petition for allowance of appeal from that decision. Commonwealth v. Rouse, 136 A.3d 1029 (Pa. Super. 2016) (unpublished memorandum), appeal denied, 169 A.3d 30 (Pa. 2017).

         The instant matter began when Appellant filed his pro se Habeas Petition on September 13, 2016. Therein, he claimed that the sentencing statute for second-degree murder, 18 Pa.C.S. § 1102(b), is void for vagueness, in violation of his due process rights under the Constitution of the United States and/or of this Commonwealth.[1] Appellant also specifically averred in his Habeas Petition that his claim was not cognizable under the PCRA. Habeas Petition at 1-2.

         The trial court, concluding that Appellant's claim asserted the illegality of his sentence, treated his Habeas Petition as a PCRA petition subject to the PCRA's timeliness provisions. Trial Court Opinion ("TCO"), 5/5/17, at 3-4. On that basis, the PCRA court determined that Appellant's petition was untimely, and that none of the PCRA's timeliness exceptions applied. As such, on November 10, 2016, the court issued notice, pursuant to Pa.R.Crim.P. 907, that it intended to dismiss Appellant's Habeas Petition without a hearing. Appellant did not file a response. On January 13, 2017, the trial court entered an order dismissing Appellant's Habeas Petition.

         Appellant filed a timely notice of appeal. Appellant did not file, and the PCRA court did not order him to file, a Pa.R.A.P. 1925(b) statement. The trial court issued its Rule 1925(a) opinion on May 5, 2017.

         Appellant now presents the following question for our review:

Did the lower court err in construing Appellant's state habeas corpus petition as a 2nd PCRA petition (and thereby time-barring it), when the PCRA statutes do not clearly state whether the issue presented is cognizable under the PCRA; whereas the writ of state habeas corpus may be sought to inquire into the cause of detention "under any pretense whatsoever[?"]

Appellant's Brief at 5.

         This Court's standard of review regarding an order denying a petition under the PCRA is whether the determination of the PCRA court is supported by the evidence of record and is free of legal error. Commonwealth v. Ragan, 923 A.2d 1169, 1170 (Pa. 2007). We must begin by addressing the timeliness of Appellant's Habeas Petition, which was construed by the lower court as a PCRA petition, because the PCRA time limitations implicate our jurisdiction and may not be altered or disregarded in order to address the merits of a petition. Commonwealth v. Bennett, 930 A.2d 1264, 1267 (Pa. 2007). Under the PCRA, any petition for post-conviction relief, including a second or subsequent one, must be filed within one year of the date the judgment of sentence becomes final, unless one of the following exceptions set forth in 42 Pa.C.S. § 9545(b)(1)(i)-(iii) applies:

         (b) Time for filing petition.--

(1) Any petition under this subchapter, including a second or subsequent petition, shall be filed within one year of the date the judgment becomes final, unless the petition alleges and the petitioner proves that:
(i) the failure to raise the claim previously was the result of interference by government officials with the presentation of the claim in violation of the Constitution or laws of this Commonwealth or ...

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