Com. v. Hall

Decision Date29 April 2005
Citation582 Pa. 526,872 A.2d 1177
PartiesCOMMONWEALTH of Pennsylvania, Appellee v. Darrick HALL, Appellant.
CourtPennsylvania Supreme Court

Cristi A. Charpentier, Thomas J. Wagner, for Darrick Hall, appellant.

Nicholas J. Casenta, Amy Zapp, Harrisburg, for the Com. of PA, appellee.



Chief Justice CAPPY.

This is a direct appeal from the final order of the Court of Common Pleas of Chester County denying Appellant's petition filed pursuant to the Post Conviction Relief Act (PCRA), 42 Pa.C.S. §§ 9541-9546.1 For the reasons that follow, we affirm the order of the PCRA court.

The facts underlying Appellant's conviction, as set forth in this Court's opinion on direct appeal, are as follow:

At approximately 10:00 a.m. on December 18, 1993, Troy Davis, Tyrone Greene and appellant departed Philadelphia by automobile for Coatesville in Chester County, Pennsylvania with the intent of committing a robbery in Coatesville. Appellant and his cohorts arrived in Coatesville at approximately 12:00 noon. Upon arriving in Coatesville, the three men decided to rob a [L]aundromat on Main Street. Appellant and Greene proceeded into the [L]aundromat while Davis waited in the car as the getaway driver. Appellant, armed with a loaded .357 caliber magnum revolver, went to the cashier's area in the rear of the [L]aundromat while Greene, armed with a .22 caliber revolver, stayed near the front entrance to the [L]aundromat. Appellant withdrew his revolver and demanded that the victim give him the money from the [L]aundromat. After the victim refused to give appellant the money, appellant fired a shot which grazed the victim's head. Appellant then fired another shot from a distance of approximately four (4) to ten (10) inches which entered the back portion of the right side of the victim's head and traversed through the victim's brain causing instantaneous death. When appellant fired the fatal shot, his .357 caliber revolver was in double action firing mode, which would require nine pounds of pressure on the trigger to activate the hammer in order to fire a round.
After shooting the victim, appellant backed out of the [L]aundromat waving his revolver at the ten (10) to fifteen (15) people in the [L]aundromat. Appellant then fled in the getaway car to a house in Coatesville where appellant and his cohorts changed clothes and joked about their weapons with the man who resided at the house. The three men eventually left the Coatesville house and returned to Philadelphia where they changed clothes once again at a fast-food restaurant.
Between December 19, 1993 and December 24, 1993, detectives in the Chester County District Attorney's Office interviewed three eye witnesses to the murder. On December 23, 1993, one of the witnesses identified appellant from a photographic array of eight (8) black males prepared by a Chester County detective. On December 24, 1993, a second eyewitness, independently from the first eyewitness, identified appellant from the same photographic array.
On December 27, 1993, an arrest warrant was issued for appellant's involvement in the murder and robbery. At approximately 6:50 a.m. on December 28, 1993, officers of the Philadelphia Police Stakeout Unit arrested appellant at his mother's home in Philadelphia. The Philadelphia police transported appellant to the Philadelphia Police Administration Building where appellant was processed and turned over to the Chester County detectives. After waiving his Miranda rights, appellant was questioned by the Chester County detectives in the Philadelphia Police Administration Building. Appellant then made a statement in which he confessed to his participation in the robbery and murder. Appellant, however, contended that the shooting was an accident which occurred during a struggle with the victim. Appellant's statement was reduced to a typewritten document by a Chester County detective. Appellant ultimately reviewed, corrected, and signed the typewritten document.

Commonwealth v. Hall, 549 Pa. 269, 701 A.2d 190, 195-96 (1997) (footnotes omitted).

Following a jury trial, Appellant was convicted of first degree murder, carrying a firearm without a license, robbery, conspiracy to commit robbery, and recklessly endangering another person. Appellant was acquitted of conspiracy to commit murder. Following the penalty hearing, a sentence of death was imposed.2 Appellant was represented at trial by Robert E. Miller, Esquire.

On appeal to this Court, Appellant was represented by new counsel, Vincent P. DiFabio, Esquire. On February 9, 1995, the trial court filed a Rule 1925(a) opinion in response to Appellant's statement of matters complained of on appeal. On May 22, 1995, the parties filed a joint motion for remand for an evidentiary hearing on allegations of ineffective assistance of trial counsel. This Court granted that motion, and a five-day evidentiary hearing was held in the trial court. On January 26, 1996, the trial court issued its findings of fact. On September 17, 1997, this Court affirmed the judgment of sentence. Commonwealth v. Hall, 549 Pa. 269, 701 A.2d 190 (1997). On April 20, 1998, the United States Supreme Court denied certiorari. Hall v. Pennsylvania, 523 U.S. 1082, 118 S.Ct. 1534, 140 L.Ed.2d 684 (1998).

On May 26, 1998, Appellant filed a timely pro se PCRA petition.3 At that same time, Appellant through counsel, Robert Dunham, Esquire, requested that the court appoint the Center for Legal Education, Advocacy & Defense Assistance (CLEADA) to represent Appellant and that the court issue a stay of the execution previously issued by Governor Thomas Ridge. While the Commonwealth did not oppose the stay of execution, the Commonwealth did oppose the request for specific counsel. The trial court granted the motion for stay and appointed John DiSantis, Esquire, from the Chester County Conflict Counsel list to represent Appellant. On November 12, 1998, Mr. DiSantis filed an amended PCRA petition on behalf of Appellant. Several continuances were requested by Appellant, and finally, on July 13, 2000, an evidentiary hearing was held. On September 15, 2000, Thomas J. Wagner, Esquire, from the Chester County Conflict Counsel list was appointed to represent Appellant due to Mr. DiSantis' withdrawal from the list. On October 19, 2000, the PCRA court denied relief. Significantly, the PCRA court determined that numerous claims raised in the PCRA petition were previously litigated or waived because they were not supported by any testimony or evidence at the PCRA hearing. The PCRA court did, however, address four claims of trial counsel's alleged ineffectiveness during the penalty phase and two constitutional claims asserted in the petition. On November 16, 2000, Mr. Wagner filed a notice of appeal on behalf of Appellant.

In May of 2000, Christi A. Charpentier, Esquire, entered her appearance on behalf of Appellant. Ms. Charpentier subsequently filed a brief in this Court.

In order to be eligible for PCRA relief, a petitioner must plead and prove by a preponderance of the evidence that his conviction or sentence arose from one or more of the errors listed at 42 Pa.C.S. § 9543(a)(2) and that the issues have not been finally litigated or waived. Commonwealth v. Morales, 549 Pa. 400, 701 A.2d 516 (1997). A claim is deemed previously litigated under the PCRA if the highest appellate court in which the petitioner could have had review as a matter of right has ruled on the merits of the issue. 42 Pa.C.S. § 9544(a)(2). An allegation is deemed waived "if the petitioner could have raised it but failed to do so before trial, at trial, during unitary review, on appeal or in a prior state postconviction proceeding." 42 Pa.C.S. § 9544(b). We further note that, pursuant to Commonwealth v. Albrecht, 554 Pa. 31, 720 A.2d 693 (1998), the relaxed waiver rule is no longer applicable to PCRA appeals, and therefore, any claims that have been waived by Appellant are beyond the power of this Court to review under the terms of the PCRA.

In his first issue, Appellant acknowledges this rule of waiver, asserting that to overcome waiver, he must demonstrate PCRA counsel's ineffectiveness in failing to present any of the claims being raised for the first time in this appeal. He cites this Court's decision in Commonwealth v. Albrecht, 554 Pa. 31, 720 A.2d 693 (1998) in support of his claim that he is entitled to raise PCRA counsel's alleged ineffectiveness to this Court on appeal from the denial of PCRA relief. He then argues, in very general terms, that PCRA counsel was ineffective in failing to conduct a complete and thorough investigation and in failing to present evidence supporting the claims counsel did raise at the evidentiary hearing.

Generally, new claims are not permitted to be raised on appeal. See Commonwealth v. Bond, 572 Pa. 588, 819 A.2d 33 (2002)

(finding that claims of trial court error which could have been raised on direct appeal by new counsel or raised in the PCRA court, but were not, are waived). See also, Pa.R.A.P. 302(a). However, this Court has consistently held that a defendant in a capital case may challenge the stewardship of PCRA counsel on appeal to this Court because it is his only opportunity to do so. Commonwealth v. Pursell, 555 Pa. 233, 724 A.2d 293 (1999); Commonwealth v. Albrecht, 554 Pa. 31, 720 A.2d 693 (1998). Accord Commonwealth v. Jones, 572 Pa. 343, 815 A.2d 598, 609-10 (2002) (Opinion Announcing the Judgment of the Court, Castille, J.) (recognizing the tension between the one-year filing requirements of the PCRA and the judicial rule embraced in Commonwealth v. Hubbard, 472 Pa. 259, 372 A.2d 687 (1977), "we will not hold that the new claims of PCRA counsel ineffectiveness are unreviewable on this appeal and must be pursued in a second PCRA filing in the court below" because the Commonwealth has not argued that the claims should be...

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