Com. v. Rollins

Decision Date29 September 1999
Citation558 Pa. 532,738 A.2d 435
PartiesCOMMONWEALTH of Pennsylvania, Appellee, v. Saharris ROLLINS, Appellant.
CourtPennsylvania Supreme Court

Edward M. Dunham, Philadelphia, Daniel W. Cantu'-Hertzler, Robert Brett Dunham, Philadelphia, for Saharis Rollins.

Catherine Marshall, Philadelphia, for Com.

Robert A. Graci, Harrisburg, for Office of Atty. Gen.

Before FLAHERTY, C.J., and ZAPPALA, CAPPY, CASTILLE, NIGRO, NEWMAN and SAYLOR, JJ.

OPINION

CAPPY, Justice.

Saharris Rollins ("Appellant") appeals from the denial of his petition filed pursuant to the Post Conviction Relief Act ("PCRA"), 42 Pa.C.S. § 9541 et seq. For the reasons that follow, we affirm.1

The facts of this matter are laid forth in detail in this court's opinion on direct appeal. Commonwealth v. Rollins, 525 Pa. 335, 580 A.2d 744 (1990). In brief, Appellant arrived at the home of Violeta Cintron ("Violeta") at approximately one o'clock in the morning on January 22, 1986. Appellant had come to Violeta's house looking for Violeta's husband, Jose Carrasquillo ("Carrasquillo") with whom Appellant had conducted drug deals in the past. Appellant requested some cocaine from Violeta. When Violeta was about to hand over the cocaine, however, Appellant announced that he wished to trade methamphetamine for the cocaine rather than pay cash. Violeta refused this offer, and Appellant left the premises. Appellant returned to Violeta's house a few minutes later, this time armed with an automatic handgun and demanded the cocaine from Violeta. Raymond Cintron ("Raymond"), Violeta's brother, dropped Violeta's one year old son whom he had been holding and began wrestling with Appellant for control of the gun. Several shots were fired in the ten by eleven foot room, hitting Raymond as well as a stereo speaker, a lamp and a wall. Raymond fell to the floor after which Appellant picked him up and fired more shots into Raymond's body. Appellant fled the scene. While fleeing, Appellant came face-to-face with Dalia Cintron ("Dalia"), one of Violeta's sisters, and pointed his gun at her as he made his escape. Raymond subsequently died from these gunshot wounds.

Appellant was arrested three days after he killed Raymond as the result of his involvement in another shooting incident. On January 25, 1986, Appellant arrived at the home of Richard Campbell ("Campbell"). Campbell, who had been warned of Appellant's arrival, greeted Appellant with a shotgun; a gunfight immediately ensued in which Appellant was wounded. Appellant was picked up by police a short distance from the Campbell residence. Ballistic tests later revealed that the weapon Appellant used in the Campbell shooting was the same one used to kill Raymond.

Appellant was tried before a jury for crimes stemming from the shooting of Raymond; he was found guilty of murder in the first degree, robbery and possession of an instrument of crime. A penalty hearing was subsequently convened. The jury found two aggravating circumstances: that the killing was committed while in the perpetration of another felony,2 and the killing created a grave risk of harm to others.3 The jury also found one mitigating circumstance: that Appellant had no significant history of prior criminal convictions.4 The jury determined that the aggravating circumstances outweighed the mitigating circumstance and sentenced Appellant to death. This court affirmed the judgment of sentence on direct appeal. Rollins, supra.

Appellant next filed the instant PCRA petition on November 12, 1996 which the PCRA court denied without holding a hearing.5

The appeal to this court then followed. His first claim is that the PCRA court erred when it denied him relief without a hearing. Appellant acknowledges that a PCRA judge may dispose of a PCRA petition without a hearing pursuant to Pa. R.Crim.P. 1507(a) when the petition raises no "genuine issues concerning any material fact...."6 Yet, he contends that the PCRA judge below erred as this petition did indeed raise such genuine issues of material fact. Appellant baldly contends that the issues he raises in his voluminous brief will support his contention. As we find that none of these issues, which will be discussed in full infra, raises a genuine issue of material fact, we deny Appellant's first claim.

Appellant's remaining claims are of trial court error, prosecutorial misconduct, and ineffective assistance of counsel. As Appellant's issues of trial court error and prosecutorial misconduct were not raised on direct appeal, they are waived. See Commonwealth v. Albrecht, 554 Pa. 31, 720 A.2d 693, 700 (1998). The only issues that remain are the claims of ineffective assistance of counsel.7

As the starting point for our review of an ineffective assistance of counsel claim, we presume that counsel is effective. Commonwealth v. Cross, 535 Pa. 38, 634 A.2d 173 (1993). To overcome this presumption, Appellant must establish three factors. First, he must show that the underlying claim has arguable merit. Commonwealth v. Travaglia, 541 Pa. 108, 661 A.2d 352, 356 (1995). Second, Appellant must prove that counsel had no reasonable basis for his action or inaction. Id. In determining whether counsel's action was reasonable, we do not question whether there were other more logical courses of action which counsel could have pursued; rather, we must examine whether counsel's decisions had any reasonable basis. Commonwealth v. Pierce, 515 Pa. 153, 527 A.2d 973, 975 (1987). Finally, Appellant must establish that he has been prejudiced by counsel's ineffectiveness; in order to meet this burden, he must show that "but for the act or omission in question, the outcome of the proceedings would have been different." Travaglia, 661 A.2d at 357. "If it is clear that Appellant has not met the prejudice prong of the ineffectiveness standard, the claim may be dismissed on that basis alone and the court need not [initially] determine whether the first and second prongs have been met." Id.

Appellant's first ineffectiveness claim is a broad one. He contends that the inexperience of his trial counsel, in itself, is sufficient to establish that counsel was ineffective. We reject this claim as we have previously stated that the mere inexperience of counsel is not equivalent to ineffectiveness. Commonwealth v. Williams, 537 Pa. 1, 640 A.2d 1251, 1264 (1994). Rather, Appellant must make out all three prongs of an ineffectiveness claim in order to be granted relief.

Appellant next raises a series of ineffectiveness claims related to the selection of his jury. His first such claim is that trial counsel failed to "life-qualify" the jurors.8 Although trial counsel is permitted to life qualify the jury, "such questions... are not required and counsel is not ineffective for failing to pose them." Commonwealth v. Hardcastle, 549 Pa. 450, 701 A.2d 541 (1997). Furthermore, where counsel fails to life-qualify jurors, counsel is not ineffective where jurors assured counsel and the court they would follow the dictates of the law. Commonwealth v. Carpenter, 533 Pa. 40, 617 A.2d 1263, 1269 (1992).

Appellant claims that by failing to life-qualify the jury, counsel allowed an unfair and partial jury to be impaneled. Appellant identifies four jurors who expressed beliefs which should have indicated to counsel that they were biased. Appellant's ineffectiveness claim must fail since all of these jurors stated that they could decide this matter fairly in accordance with the law. N.T. 2/17/87 at 683 (Juror Mary McMenamin) and at 730 (Juror Helen Megrail); N.T. 2/18/87 at 773 (Juror Malaysia Williams) and at 872-873 (Juror Charles Hengstler). Thus, pursuant to Carpenter, supra, counsel was not ineffective. Next, Appellant contends that trial counsel was ineffective in exercising his peremptory strikes where he should have instead struck the jurors for cause, thus preserving his peremptory strikes. Of the twenty-one peremptory strikes that Appellant utilized9, Appellant contends that five jurors indicated that they had drug-related biases that would affect their ability to determine the matter and thus could have been stricken for cause. Appellant is incorrect. All five of these jurors indicated that they could be fair and impartial and would not decide to convict Appellant merely because of the drug-related nature of this crime. N.T. 2/10/87 at 184-185 (venireperson Charles Rudio); N.T. 2/11/87 at 320-21 (venireperson Theresa Pirrone); N.T. 2/13/87 at 477-79 (venireperson Joanne Marks) and at 511 (venireperson Drew Mihicko); N.T. 2/18/87 at 786-87 and 794-95 (venireperson William Stone). Thus, this claim has no merit.

Next, Appellant claims that counsel was ineffective for failing to pursue the claim that the trial court judge erred when he struck five prospective jurors for cause due to their inability to follow the law regarding the death penalty. It is within the trial court's discretion to strike a juror for cause, and such a decision will not be disturbed absent a showing of abuse of discretion. Commonwealth v. Fisher, 545 Pa. 233, 681 A.2d 130 (1996).

All five jurors indicated that their views on the death penalty were such that they would be unable to apply the law as instructed to them by the judge. N.T. 2/13/87 at 427-28 (venireperson Regina Waiters) and at 458-59 (Ruth McAdams) and at 492-95 (venireperson Florine Freeland); N.T. 2/18/87 at 765-66 (Alan Solomon) and at 806-08 (John Bazzani). It is axiomatic that where a prospective juror expresses views that would "prevent or substantially impair the performance of his [or her] duties as a juror in accordance with his instructions and his oath," that venireperson may be dismissed for cause. Commonwealth v. Holland, 518 Pa. 405, 543 A.2d 1068, 1073 (1988) (citing Wainwright v. Witt, 469 U.S. 412, 105 S.Ct. 844, 83 L.Ed.2d 841 (1985)). Appellant argues, however, that it was error for the trial court not to allow the...

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