Com. v. Bennett

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
Writing for the CourtCappy
Citation930 A.2d 1264
Decision Date23 August 2007
PartiesCOMMONWEALTH of Pennsylvania, Appellee v. Tony L. BENNETT, Appellant.
930 A.2d 1264
COMMONWEALTH of Pennsylvania, Appellee
v.
Tony L. BENNETT, Appellant.
Supreme Court of Pennsylvania.
Submitted January 19, 2006.
Decided August 23, 2007.

[930 A.2d 1265]

Mitchell S. Strutin, Philadelphia, for Tony L. Bennett.

Hugh J. Burns, Jr., Philadelphia District Attorney's Office, Philadelphia, for Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

Before CAPPY, C.J., CASTILLE, SAYLOR, EAKIN, BAER, BALDWIN, FITZGERALD, JJ.

OPINION

Chief Justice CAPPY.


The issue before the Court is whether Appellant is entitled to reinstatement of his Post Conviction Relief Act ("PCRA")1

930 A.2d 1266

appeal rights nunc pro tunc in a second PCRA petition, filed more than one year after the date his judgment of sentence became final, when his original PCRA appeal was dismissed because of PCRA counsel's failure to file a brief. The Superior Court quashed Appellant's appeal as untimely. For the following reasons, the order of the Superior Court is vacated and this matter is remanded to the PCRA court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

The relevant facts are as follows: Appellant and four accomplices, Kevin Wyatt, Paul Johnson, Michael Mayo, and Kecia Ray, robbed a jewelry store in 1990. During the robbery, a salesperson was shot to death. Appellant supplied the gun, but did not enter the store, remaining in the getaway car with Wyatt. Mayo and Ray pled guilty to murder. Appellant, Wyatt, and Johnson were jointly tried for murder and related crimes in 1993. Following a jury trial, Appellant, Wyatt, and Johnson were convicted of first-degree murder and the related crimes. On June 1, 1993, the trial court sentenced Appellant to life in prison on the murder charge, and to an aggregate sentence of twenty to forty years in prison on the remaining charges. Appellant did not file a direct appeal to the Superior Court. Therefore, his judgment of sentence became final 30 days after June 1, 1993. See 42 Pa.C.S. § 9545(b)(3).

Appellant filed a timely pro se PCRA petition on April 5, 1995 under the prior version of the PCRA and the PCRA court appointed counsel to represent him.2 Appellant then filed an amended PCRA petition on April 9, 1997. Appellant listed multiple claims of error, including that trial counsel erred in failing to object to the trial court's instructions relating to accomplice liability. See Amended Petition under the Post Conviction Hearing Act, 4/9/1997, at 2. The amended petition also included a claim that trial counsel was ineffective for failing to file a notice of appeal following his conviction. Id. On February 19, 1999, the PCRA court dismissed Appellant's PCRA petition for lack of merit. In the opinion that followed, the PCRA court explained that Appellant was not entitled to reinstatement of his direct appeal rights, since Appellant "did not allege let alone prove that he requested counsel to file a direct appeal on his behalf." PCRA court slip opinion, 10/6/1999, at 4.

PCRA counsel did not file an appeal on Appellant's behalf, but Appellant filed a timely pro se appeal in the Superior Court. In his pro se statement of matters complained of on appeal under Pa.R.A.P. 1925(b), Appellant raised the claim related to trial counsel's failure to challenge the trial court's instructions as to accomplice liability.3 See Statement of Questions Raised on Appeal, 3/19/1999.

On April 7, 1999, the PCRA court appointed prior trial counsel, whose stewardship was at issue on collateral review, to represent Appellant on his PCRA appeal. On August 14, 2000, the Superior Court dismissed Appellant's appeal without prejudice for counsel's failure to file a brief. The Superior Court did not retain jurisdiction and Appellant did not seek review in this Court.

On October 27, 2000, Appellant filed a second pro se PCRA petition, requesting

930 A.2d 1267

reinstatement of his PCRA appeal rights nunc pro tunc and claiming that all prior counsel were ineffective. On September 28, 2001, the PCRA court granted Appellant's PCRA petition, restoring his right to file an appeal nunc pro tunc from the February 19, 1999 order dismissing his first PCRA petition. New counsel was appointed and on December 14, 2001, Appellant filed a PCRA appeal nunc pro tunc in the Superior Court from the PCRA court's February 19th order dismissing his first PCRA petition. The Superior Court quashed Appellant's appeal, concluding that Appellant's second PCRA petition, from which his appellate rights were reinstated nunc pro tunc, was untimely and the PCRA court therefore had no jurisdiction to grant relief. Commonwealth v. Bennett, 842 A.2d 953 (Pa.Super.Ct.2004).

This Court granted allowance of appeal to consider whether the Superior Court erred in quashing Appellant's appeal.

It is well settled that the PCRA provides the "sole means for obtaining collateral relief" on claims cognizable under the PCRA. 42 Pa.C.S. § 9542; see also Commonwealth v. Chester, 557 Pa. 358, 733 A.2d 1242, 1250 (1999) (offering that the PCRA subsumes the remedy of habeas corpus with respect to remedies offered under PCRA). To this end, the PCRA envisions that persons convicted of a crime be permitted one review of their collateral claims. 42 Pa.C.S. § 9543; Commonwealth v. Peterkin, 554 Pa. 547, 722 A.2d 638, 643 (1998) (stating that the purpose of the PCRA is "to provide a reasonable opportunity for those who have been wrongfully convicted to demonstrate the injustice of their convictions"); cf. Commonwealth v. Judge, 591 Pa. 126, 916 A.2d 511, 520 (2007) (quoting same language from Peterkin). These claims are most often raised as claims of ineffectiveness, but can take on a myriad of forms. See 42 Pa.C.S. § 9543(a)(2). The PCRA process includes appellate review of the claims.

Under 42 Pa.C.S. § 9545, as amended in 1995, any PCRA petition, including a second or subsequent one, must be filed within one year of the date the judgment of sentence becomes final. This limitation is jurisdictional in nature. See Peterkin, 722 A.2d at 641. As we have previously explained, "jurisdictional time limits go to a court's right or competency to adjudicate a controversy." Commonwealth v. Fahy, 558 Pa. 313, 737 A.2d 214, 222 (1999). Jurisdictional time limitations are not subject to equitable exceptions and a court has no authority to extend them except as the statute permits. Id. By placing strict time limitations on the process, it is clear that the Legislature intended that there be finality to the collateral review process. See Peterkin, supra.

This preference for finality, however, is tempered by the insertion of three exceptions to the one-year time limitation at subsections (b)(1)(i)-(iii). These exceptions extend the one-year time limitation under limited circumstances, reflecting that the Legislature also recognized that situations might arise when the one-year time limitation must yield. The exceptions are triggered by an event that occurs outside the control of the petitioner, including when "the facts upon which the claim is predicated were unknown to the petitioner and could not have been ascertained by the exercise of due diligence." 42 Pa.C.S. § 9545(b)(1)(ii).4 The PCRA limits the reach of the exceptions by providing that the exceptions must be pled within sixty

930 A.2d 1268

days of the date the claim could have been presented. 42 Pa.C.S. § 9545(b)(2).

With this framework in mind, we now turn to Appellant's arguments. Appellant urges this court to consider his petition under the exception to the one-year time limitation set forth in subsection (b)(1)(ii). As we have not previously had the opportunity to consider the exception in circumstances like Appellant's, we will turn to the construction of 42 Pa.C.S. § 9545(b)(1)(ii).

As a threshold matter, we must examine whether Appellant waived application of the exception by not raising it in his second or second amended PCRA petition. Instead, he raised it for the first time before this Court. Normally, the PCRA requires a petitioner to allege and prove an exception to the one-year time limitation in his petition. 42 Pa.C.S. § 9545(b); see also Commonwealth v. Wharton, 584 Pa. 576, 886 A.2d 1120 (2005). In this case, however, at the time Appellant filed his PCRA petition, the Superior Court followed the "extension theory." Under the "extension theory," the Superior Court construed in limited circumstances an untimely, serial PCRA petition as if it were an "extension" of a timely, but previously dismissed, first PCRA petition. Commonwealth v. Leasa, 759 A.2d 941 (Pa.Super.2000); Commonwealth v. Peterson, 756 A.2d 687 (Pa.Super.2000). The practice was common in cases like Appellant's, in which an appeal was taken from the denial of the first petition, but the Superior Court dismissed the appeal without prejudice when PCRA counsel failed to file a brief. Appellant relied on and took advantage of this process by alleging and proving the extension theory in his original and amended petitions. The PCRA court agreed that Appellant was entitled to relief and reinstated his appellate rights nunc pro tunc.

While Appellant's appeal was pending before the Superior Court, the extension theory was explicitly rejected by this Court in Commonwealth v. Robinson, 575 Pa. 500, 837 A.2d 1157 (2003). Accordingly, the Superior Court dismissed Appellant's second petition for lack of jurisdiction under Robinson. Thus, the question is whether Appellant's failure to raise the exception at subsection (b)(1)(ii) at the time he filed this second petition precludes this Court from applying it to his case.

This Court has been faced with this type of question in the context of the PCRA on more than one occasion and we have allowed PCRA petitioners some leeway in the preservation of claims in their petitions when we determined that the circumstances demanded it. For example, we provided for liberal amendment of PCRA petitions following our decision in Commonwealth v. McGill, 574 Pa. 574, 832 A.2d 1014 (2003), which announced the...

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307 practice notes
  • Evans v. *sec'y Pa. Dep't of Corr., No. 09–2657.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (3rd Circuit)
    • May 16, 2011
    ...been ascertained by the exercise of due diligence.” 42 Pa. Cons.Stat. Ann. § 9545(b)(1)(ii); see Commonwealth v. Bennett, 593 Pa. 382, 930 A.2d 1264, 1270 (2007) (construing the so-called “after-discovered evidence” exception). The Superior Court correctly noted that Evans's judgment of sen......
  • Commonwealth of Pa. v. Lesko, Nos. 518 CAP
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
    • February 24, 2011
    ...assistance of trial counsel, and, therefore, the ineffectiveness claims were not waived. See Commonwealth v. Bennett, 593 Pa. 382, 930 A.2d 1264, 1274 (2007) (recognizing general rule that counsel cannot raise his own ineffectiveness); [15 A.3d 360] Commonwealth v. Hughes, 581 Pa. 274, 865 ......
  • Commonwealth v. Masker
    • United States
    • Superior Court of Pennsylvania
    • December 15, 2011
    ...has a [34 A.3d 846] corresponding statutory right to effective assistance of counsel. See e.g. Commonwealth v. Bennett, 593 Pa. 382, 930 A.2d 1264, 1273–1274 (2007); Commonwealth v. Pursell, 555 Pa. 233, 724 A.2d 293, 303 (1999); Commonwealth v. Albrecht, 554 Pa. 31, 720 A.2d 693, 699–700 (......
  • Bennett v. Superintendent Graterford SCI, No. 16-1908
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Third Circuit
    • March 26, 2018
    ...v. Bennett (Bennett I) , 842 A.2d 953, 954 (Pa. Super. 2004) (en banc), vacated by Commonwealth v. Bennett (Bennett II) , 593 Pa. 382, 930 A.2d 1264 (Pa. 2007). In an opinion by now-Pennsylvania 886 F.3d 277Supreme Court Justice Todd, the en banc Superior Court expressed its opinion of the ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
310 cases
  • Evans v. *sec'y Pa. Dep't of Corr., No. 09–2657.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (3rd Circuit)
    • May 16, 2011
    ...been ascertained by the exercise of due diligence.” 42 Pa. Cons.Stat. Ann. § 9545(b)(1)(ii); see Commonwealth v. Bennett, 593 Pa. 382, 930 A.2d 1264, 1270 (2007) (construing the so-called “after-discovered evidence” exception). The Superior Court correctly noted that Evans's judgment of sen......
  • Commonwealth of Pa. v. Lesko, Nos. 518 CAP
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
    • February 24, 2011
    ...assistance of trial counsel, and, therefore, the ineffectiveness claims were not waived. See Commonwealth v. Bennett, 593 Pa. 382, 930 A.2d 1264, 1274 (2007) (recognizing general rule that counsel cannot raise his own ineffectiveness); [15 A.3d 360] Commonwealth v. Hughes, 581 Pa. 274, 865 ......
  • Commonwealth v. Masker
    • United States
    • Superior Court of Pennsylvania
    • December 15, 2011
    ...has a [34 A.3d 846] corresponding statutory right to effective assistance of counsel. See e.g. Commonwealth v. Bennett, 593 Pa. 382, 930 A.2d 1264, 1273–1274 (2007); Commonwealth v. Pursell, 555 Pa. 233, 724 A.2d 293, 303 (1999); Commonwealth v. Albrecht, 554 Pa. 31, 720 A.2d 693, 699–700 (......
  • Bennett v. Superintendent Graterford SCI, No. 16-1908
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Third Circuit
    • March 26, 2018
    ...v. Bennett (Bennett I) , 842 A.2d 953, 954 (Pa. Super. 2004) (en banc), vacated by Commonwealth v. Bennett (Bennett II) , 593 Pa. 382, 930 A.2d 1264 (Pa. 2007). In an opinion by now-Pennsylvania 886 F.3d 277Supreme Court Justice Todd, the en banc Superior Court expressed its opinion of the ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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