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Commonwealth v. Davis

Superior Court of Pennsylvania

June 22, 2018

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA
v.
JERARD STEVENS DAVIS Appellant

          Appeal from the Judgment of Sentence August 21, 2017 In the Court of Common Pleas of Lehigh County Criminal Division at No(s): CP-39-CR-0001247-2014, CP-39-CR-0001254-2014, CP-39-CR-0004149-2014

          BEFORE: PANELLA, J., MURRAY, J., and STEVENS, P.J.E. [*]

          STEVENS, P.J.E.

         Appellant Jerard Stevens Davis appeals from the judgment of sentence entered by the Court of Common Pleas of Lehigh County after Appellant pled guilty to Possession of a Controlled Substance with Intent to Deliver (PWID) and Resisting Arrest. Appellant contends the lower court abused its discretion in denying his motion to withdraw his guilty pleas. Finding Appellant endeavors to manipulate the criminal justice system in attempting to withdraw his guilty pleas, we affirm.

         On February 9, 2015, Appellant pled guilty to two counts of PWID and one count of Resisting Arrest on three separate dockets. In exchange for these pleas, the Commonwealth agreed that Appellant's minimum sentence in the PWID cases would not exceed thirty-eight (38) months, all sentences would run concurrently, and the Commonwealth would not pursue any of the remaining charges. On the day of Appellant's pleas, the Commonwealth was ready to proceed to trial as jurors were present and were waiting for the jury selection process.

         Appellant was scheduled to be sentenced on March 6, 2015, but after he failed to appear in court, a bench warrant was issued for his arrest. It was later discovered that Appellant had been arrested in North Carolina for drug charges on March 5, 2015 and was incarcerated at the time of the sentencing hearing in this case. Pennsylvania authorities placed a detainer on Appellant in North Carolina. When Appellant posted bail in the North Carolina case, he was transported to the Lehigh County Jail on February 18, 2017.

         Appellant was promptly brought before the trial court on February 21, 2017; however, the matter was continued multiple times due to (1) the retirement of the Honorable William E. Ford, the judge who accepted Appellant's plea and (2) the trial court's decision to grant Appellant's counsel, Robert Goldman, Esq. permission to withdraw. On June 9, 2017, the Lehigh County Public Defender's Office filed a Motion to Withdraw Guilty Pleas in which Appellant asserted his innocence, alleged that his plea agreement was predicated on an erroneous prior record score, and contended his pleas were unlawfully induced by the withdrawal of his prior counsel.

         On July 20, 2017, the Honorable Maria L. Dantos held an evidentiary hearing on Appellant's Motion to Withdraw Guilty Pleas. Appellant testified on his own behalf and the Commonwealth presented the testimony of Detective Jason Krasley, a member of the Vice and Intelligence Unity of the Allentown Police Department. After reviewing the record and the testimony elicited at the evidentiary hearing, this trial court made the following findings of fact:

On February 9, 2015, with a jury ready to be selected, [Appellant] indicated that he wished to accept a guilty plea in the within matters.[FN1] The plea entailed, inter alia, capping the minimum sentence at thirty-eight (38) months. Attorney Goldman and the prosecutor believed [Appellant] to have a prior record score of 5…; [FN2] [Appellant], however, thought that his prior record score was only a 4. Nevertheless, [Appellant] made the decision to enter in to a plea deal on all of his three (3) cases. Trial counsel was ready to proceed to trial in Case No. 1247/2014 on February 9, 2015. [FN3] However, [Appellant's] decision to enter into a guilty plea obviated the need for a trial. [FN4]
[FN1: Prior to jury selection, Appellant asked if he could speak with the prosecutor and Detective Krasley to negotiate a guilty plea in the within matters. It was he who approached the Commonwealth to attempt to dispose of these cases via a non-trial disposition. Detective Krasley recalls Appellant indicating that he wanted to get this "over with," and that Appellant apologized to him.]
[FN2: Appellant is thirty-nine years old, and has an extensive criminal history which includes, inter alia, eleven (11) adult arrests with six (6) adult convictions. Appellant's prior convictions include numerous PWID offenses.]
[FN3: Attorney Goldman, via correspondence dated January 27, 2015, indicated to Appellant that he would proceed to trial on the first case, but intended to withdraw his appearance from the other two cases… should they not be resolved by way of a guilty plea.]
[FN4: Appellant had waived his Preliminary Hearing in Case No. 1247/2014.]

         On that date, Judge Ford conducted an extensive guilty plea colloquy[, during which Appellant] acknowledged the terms of his plea agreement; indicated that he read and understood the written plea colloquy; stated that he understood that he did not have to give up his rights but could proceed to trial; affirmed that it was his desire to enter the guilty plea; denied having any drugs, alcohol or other medication that would affect his ability to know what he was doing; posed no questions to the judge or made any indication of his desire not to go through with the guilty plea [FN5]; articulated that no one was forcing or threatening him to plead guilty; testified that no promises were made to him other than the plea agreement; expressed satisfaction with his attorney; and acknowledged the facts as recited by the prosecutor.

[FN5: During the guilty plea colloquy, Judge Ford repeatedly gave Appellant an opportunity to stop with the hearing and to proceed to trial. In addition, after Appellant entered his guilty pleas and prior to releasing the jurors from service, Judge Ford stated the following to Appellant:
THE COURT: Between now and the date of sentencing - how do I say this? If, in case number 1247, which is the one that was called for trial today, if you decide that you want to withdraw the plea in that case, that's one of the possession with intent to deliver cases. … If you indicate that I didn't do this, I'm not guilty, the Commonwealth should prove the case, that's not going to be a sufficient reason… to withdraw the plea. We're ready for trial today. We have jurors here, and in a moment I'm going to release all of these jurors. The point is, ...

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