Com. v. Meehan

Decision Date15 July 1993
Citation427 Pa.Super. 261,628 A.2d 1151
PartiesCOMMONWEALTH of Pennsylvania v. Michael P. MEEHAN, Appellant.
CourtPennsylvania Superior Court

Mary M. Killinger, Executive Asst. Dist. Atty., Norristown, for Com., appellee.

Before ROWLEY, President Judge, and CIRILLO and BROSKY, JJ.

BROSKY, Judge.

This is an appeal from the order of the lower court denying appellant's request for collateral relief under the Post Conviction Relief Act (PCRA), 42 Pa.C.S.A. §§ 9541-9546. 1 The sole issue presented for review is whether appellant validly waived his constitutionally guaranteed right to be represented by counsel at the PCRA hearing. In addition to the issue raised in his brief, appellant has filed a pro se application for relief in which he requests the appointment of new counsel. For the reasons set forth below, we affirm the order of the PCRA court and deny appellant's pro se application for relief.

Since appellant's pro se filings have created undue complexity and confusion in this case, we will recount the relevant facts and procedural history because an understanding of these matters is crucial to our disposition of this appeal. Appellant, Michael Meehan, was employed as a manager at Snuffy's Tavern located in Pottstown, Pennsylvania. On the morning of May 11, 1987, James Sheehan, the owner of Snuffy's Tavern, confronted appellant regarding a shortage in the bar's weekend receipts. Appellant quit his job and departed from the bar. Appellant later returned to the bar armed with a gun. Although Mr. Sheehan asked appellant to leave the bar, appellant refused and a physical altercation ensued in which appellant repeatedly struck and kicked Mr. Sheehan in his head and upper torso. As a result of the beating inflicted by appellant, Mr. Sheehan sustained a broken nose as well as bruises and cuts which required thirty-three sutures to close. Appellant also suffered bruises, swollen lips and blackened eyes in the fight. Appellant was thereafter arrested and charged with various offenses arising out of this incident.

Although appellant was scheduled for arraignment on these charges, he failed to appear and a bench warrant was issued for his arrest. Due to appellant's absence, the Commonwealth requested and was granted an extension of time in which to bring appellant to trial.

In December 1987, the Montgomery County authorities learned that appellant was incarcerated in Morris County, New Jersey. Upon discovering appellant's location, a detainer was filed with the New Jersey authorities. New Jersey retained control over appellant until he was paroled; appellant was then returned to Pennsylvania pursuant to the detainer. At a hearing conducted in May 1988, the trial court revoked the bench warrant because appellant's failure to appear was apparently due to his incarceration. A public defender, Fiorindo Vagnozzi, Esq. was appointed to represent appellant. Mr. Vagnozzi was later permitted to withdraw his representation.

Appellant failed to appear at the next scheduled proceeding and a bench warrant was again issued for his arrest. Appellant was subsequently located in the Lycoming County Prison where he was incarcerated on unrelated charges. At a hearing held in January 1989, the bench warrant was revoked because the Commonwealth had failed to send notice of the proceeding to appellant's correct address. Bench warrants were again issued in February and July of 1989, but were later revoked by the trial court.

Appellant was finally brought before the court on the instant matter in August 1989 at which time a public defender, Joseph Hylan, Esq., entered his appearance on appellant's behalf. Although Mr. Hylan was the designated attorney of record, appellant contacted Mr. Vagnozzi by letter and instructed him to file a Rule 1100 petition to dismiss the charges. Mr. Vagnozzi was further requested to advise appellant of any plea offers by the Commonwealth. Mr. Vagnozzi filed a Rule 1100 petition in which he asked that appellant be released on nominal bail. Mr. Vagnozzi also met with appellant and the district attorney and successfully negotiated a plea bargain pursuant to which appellant would plead guilty to one count of simple assault in exchange for the prosecutor's agreement to nol pros the remaining charges. The prosecutor also agreed, due to appellant's insistence, that appellant would be given a sentence of two years' probation. Appellant entered his plea on August 29, 1989 and the plea bargain was accepted by the court. Appellant was immediately sentenced to probation in accordance with his agreement. Appellant neither sought to withdraw his plea nor filed a direct appeal.

When appellant later discovered that his guilty plea had collateral consequences with respect to other unrelated charges, appellant filed two pro se PCRA petitions on March 29, 1990 and April 23, 1990 alleging that his guilty plea was unlawfully induced by trial counsel and that trial counsel was ineffective in failing to apprise appellant of his right of appeal and in neglecting to file a motion to dismiss the charges under Rule 1100, the Interstate Agreement on Detainers Act and the Uniform Criminal Extradition Act. Appellant's petitions further contained boilerplate allegations that his constitutional and due process rights had been violated and that trial counsel had failed to protect appellant's rights in accordance with the ABA standards of defense. The trial court summarily dismissed both petitions without appointing counsel. Appellant thereafter initiated a timely pro se appeal to this court. In its opinion, the trial court acknowledged its error in dismissing appellant's petitions without appointing counsel and suggested that the case be remanded so that counsel could be appointed.

Appellant withdrew his appeal in response to the trial court's opinion. David Huganir, Esq. was thereafter appointed to represent appellant. However, appellant was dissatisfied with Mr. Huganir because he previously had been a member of the public defender's office. Appellant consequently filed a pro se motion for the appointment of new counsel. The lower court denied this request and appellant timely filed a pro se appeal therefrom. Appellant also filed a pro se motion for recusal with the lower court. In response, the trial court entered an order explaining that the appeal deprived the court of jurisdiction to act upon the recusal motion. Appellant subsequently withdrew his appeal after he received assurances that no conflict of interest actually existed between Mr. Huganir and the public defender's office.

A supplemental PCRA petition was filed on appellant's behalf on July 12, 1990. 2 The supplemental petition essentially repeated all of the grounds for PCRA relief set forth in 42 Pa.C.S.A. § 9543. However, the petition contained more specific allegations that all prior counsel 3 who represented appellant were ineffective: (1) in failing to investigate and prepare an adequate defense to the charges; (2) in failing to follow appellant's instructions; (3) in failing to ensure that appellant received the benefit of his plea agreement; 4 (4) in failing to file a motion to withdraw the plea after discovering that the agreement had been breached; and (5) in failing to file a timely appeal. Appellant also alleged that he was entitled to relief because Mr. Vagnozzi was unauthorized to act on appellant's behalf. 5

A hearing on the above petitions was held on September 30, 1991. At the hearing, appellant agreed to withdraw his motion for recusal of the trial judge. Post Conviction Hearing Transcript (P.C.H.T.) 9/30/91 at 39-40. Post-conviction counsel, the district attorney, appellant and the trial judge additionally reviewed the scope of the hearing and appellant's continued representation by Mr. Huganir. During this discussion, appellant agreed that the hearing should primarily focus on Mr. Vagnozzi's alleged ineffectiveness in failing to file a Rule 1100 motion to dismiss the charges and the fact that counsel improperly induced appellant's guilty plea. Although appellant initially agreed to proceed with counsel, he subsequently interrupted Mr. Huganir's examination of Mr. Vagnozzi and informed the court that he wanted to represent himself. The court gave appellant the option of proceeding pro se or continuing with Mr. Huganir as his counsel. Appellant chose to proceed pro se.

At the conclusion of the hearing, the lower court indicated that the case would be taken under advisement. Appellant's petition was denied by order entered on October 2, 1991. However, the PCRA court never advised appellant of his appellate rights by certified mail as mandated by Pa.R.Crim.P., Rule 1508(e), 42 Pa.C.S.A. Appellant filed this untimely pro se appeal on November 6, 1991.

Since lodging his appeal, appellant has inundated this court with myriad pro se filings. Appellant first filed an application for remand on February 11, 1992. 6 The petition was denied by order entered on May 29, 1992. 7 Appellant next filed an application for relief in August, 1992 followed by a request for the appointment of appellate counsel which was filed in September, 1992. Appellant also filed a motion for stay of proceedings in November, 1992. 8 By order entered on December 18 1992, this court denied appellant's motion for stay but granted his request for appellate counsel. Dominic Centrella, Esq., who currently represents appellant, was thereafter appointed. Appellant continued his pro se filings despite the fact that Mr. Centrella had entered his appearance. In January, 1993 appellant filed another application for relief which was denied by order entered on May 3, 1993. Appellant's most recent filing is the application for relief which is currently before us for disposition.

We must first ascertain whether we have jurisdiction to entertain the appeal. See Commonwealth v. Doleno, 406 Pa.Super. 286, 288, 594 A.2d 341, 342 (1991). As indicated...

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    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Western District of Pennsylvania
    • 24 March 1997
    ...the time for filing a notice of appeal, a petition for allowance of appeal, or a petition for review"); Commonwealth v. Meehan, 427 Pa.Super. 261, 628 A.2d 1151, 1155 (1993) (appeal periods cannot be enlarged except in the case of fraud or breakdown of the process of a court), appeal denied......
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