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Commonwealth v. Bankhead

Superior Court of Pennsylvania

August 23, 2019

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA
v.
RODNEY BANKHEAD Appellant

          Appeal from the PCRA Order Entered March 27, 2018 In the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County Criminal Division at No(s): CP-51-CR-0012317-2009, CP-51-CR-0014137-2012

          BEFORE: LAZARUS, J., McLAUGHLIN, J., and STEVENS [*] , P.J.E.

          OPINION

          McLAUGHLIN, J.

         Rodney Bankhead appeals from the order dismissing as untimely his Petition filed under the Post Conviction Relief Act ("PCRA"), 42 Pa.C.S.A. §§ 9541-9546. We affirm.

         Bankhead was convicted by a jury of one count of aggravated assault and two counts of criminal solicitation.[1] The underlying facts of these crimes are not relevant to our disposition. The court sentenced Bankhead in 2014 to serve an aggregate of 25 to 50 years' incarceration. We affirmed Bankhead's judgment of sentence in 2015, and the Pennsylvania Supreme Court denied Bankhead's petition for allowance of appeal on April 11, 2016. Bankhead did not file a petition for a writ of certiorari in the Supreme Court of the United States.

         Bankhead filed the instant PCRA Petition, his first, as of November 10, 2017.[2] The petition alleged, inter alia, that the Commonwealth had knowingly solicited false testimony from the complaining witness at trial, as evidenced by her admissions that she had lied to the police during their investigation. He also claimed that her testimony about the assault was contradicted by medical records that the prosecution withheld, and that he was denied effective assistance of counsel at trial.

         The PCRA court appointed counsel, who filed a no-merit letter pursuant to Commonwealth v. Finley, 550 A.2d 213 (Pa.Super. 1988), and a motion to withdraw. In the Finley letter, counsel advised Bankhead that his petition was untimely under the PCRA. Counsel stated that although Bankhead had asserted that several lockdowns at the prison had prevented him from accessing the prison library, and that this might render the petition timely under the governmental interference exception, counsel's research indicated these lockdowns occurred after the one-year deadline for filing the petition.

         The PCRA court issued notice under Rule 907, advising Bankhead that his Petition would be dismissed without a hearing. See Pa.R.Crim.P. 907. Bankhead filed a pro se response, asserting his PCRA counsel was ineffective for failing to research or promote his substantive PCRA claims. Bankhead's pro se response to the Rule 907 notice did not address the timeliness of his Petition.

         The court thereafter dismissed the petition, but took no action on counsel's request to withdraw. Bankhead filed a timely, pro se notice of appeal.[3] Counsel thereafter filed a Rule 1925 Statement of Errors on Bankhead's behalf. See Pa.R.A.P. 1925(b).

         Bankhead then filed a pro se motion in this Court, asking to represent himself on appeal. We remanded the matter to the PCRA court to hold a hearing to ensure that Bankhead's waiver of his right to counsel was knowing, intelligent, and voluntary. The PCRA court held a hearing, and found Bankhead had duly waived his right to counsel. Counsel thereafter filed a request to withdraw in this Court; we granted counsel's request to withdraw and allowed Bankhead to proceed pro se.

         Bankhead presents the following question, which we reproduce verbatim:

The question of whether a person may be said to actually have the time stated by legislative intent, specifically the one-year jurisdictional time bar of the PCRA, is subjective. Arguments have been thrown out which cited the difference between an uneducated Pro-Se defendant and one represented by counsel due to the general reasoning that the benefits of a legal education and a lawyer[']s resources are counter-balanced by a defendant's ability to research and prepare arguments on his own behalf. Perfect equality, after all, is not tolling not being applicable to PCRA litigation, the wholesale prejudice suffered due to Governmental Interference with legal matters, however, indifferent is untenable.
To permit the DOC to enact gratuitous lockdowns which prejudice the legal interest of all inmates, in effect punishing people (like Appellant), had nothing to do with the cause of the lockdowns constitutes a gross miscarriage of justice. Would tolling not be permitted if the courts were closed due to a natural disaster? Lockdowns have already been referred to as a state of emergency (as has the Drug abuse which caused them). Thus, those ...

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