Com. v. Sneed

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
Writing for the CourtCastille
Citation899 A.2d 1067
Decision Date19 June 2006
PartiesCOMMONWEALTH of Pennsylvania, Appellant, v. Willie SNEED, Appellee.
899 A.2d 1067
COMMONWEALTH of Pennsylvania, Appellant,
v.
Willie SNEED, Appellee.
Supreme Court of Pennsylvania.
Submitted April 14, 2005.
Decided June 19, 2006.

Page 1068

COPYRIGHT MATERIAL OMITTED

Page 1069

COPYRIGHT MATERIAL OMITTED

Page 1070

Amy Zapp, Esq., Hugh J. Burns, Jr., Esq., Harrisburg, for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

Billy Horatio Nolas, Esq., Philadelphia, for Willie Sneed.

OPINION

Justice CASTILLE.


The instant matter is an appeal by the Commonwealth from the order of the Court of Common Pleas granting Willie Sneed, appellee herein, a new trial and new penalty hearing pursuant to the Post Conviction Relief Act ("PCRA"), 42 Pa. C.S. § 9541 et seq. For the reasons that follow, we affirm the PCRA court's order to the extent that it granted a new penalty hearing, but we vacate the grant of a new trial.

On March 14, 1985, a jury sitting before the Honorable George J. Ivins convicted appellee of first degree murder1 and possession of an instrument of crime.2 According to the facts of record, the convictions arose from an incident occurring in Philadelphia in which appellee shot and killed Calvin Hawkins following appellee being deceived by Hawkins and two other men who sold appellee aspirin instead of cocaine.3 Following his conviction, the same jury found two aggravating circumstances and no mitigating circumstances,

Page 1071

and, accordingly, sentenced appellee to death.4 See 42 Pa.C.S. § 9711(c)(1)(iv) ("[T]he verdict must be a sentence of death if the jury unanimously finds at least one aggravating circumstance ... and no mitigating circumstance ... ."). On direct appeal, this Court affirmed appellee's convictions and sentences. See Commonwealth v. Sneed, 514 Pa. 597, 526 A.2d 749 (1987). Appellee did not file for certiorari in the United States Supreme Court.

On January 16, 1997, appellee filed a timely pro se PCRA petition.5 Inexplicably, counsel was not assigned at that time; thus, appellee's PCRA petition was never reviewed. On July 20, 1999, then-Governor Thomas Ridge issued a warrant scheduling appellee's execution for September 14, 1999. Thereafter, on July 22, 1999, appellee, through newly appointed counsel, filed an emergency motion for a stay of execution. The PCRA court, per Judge Carolyn E. Temin, granted a stay of execution and ordered that an amended PCRA petition be filed. Subsequently, on April 12, 2000, appellee filed an amended PCRA petition raising twenty-five claims of error. Following a motion to dismiss filed by the Commonwealth, the PCRA court granted an evidentiary hearing on two issues: (1) whether the prosecutor at appellee's 1985 trial used his peremptory challenges in a racially discriminatory manner, thus violating Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79, 106 S.Ct. 1712, 90 L.Ed.2d 69 (1986); and (2) whether trial counsel was ineffective for failing to develop and present available mitigating evidence at the penalty hearing. The PCRA court did not pass on the other claims raised. Evidentiary hearings were held approximately sixteen years after the fact on September 10-14, 2001, and on November 6, 2001. On January 4, 2002, the PCRA court granted appellee a new trial based on his Batson claim, and a new penalty hearing based on his ineffectiveness claim. This appeal followed.6

Presently, the Commonwealth challenges both grants of relief. With respect to the grant of a new trial based on an alleged Batson violation, the Commonwealth argues that appellee was not entitled to retroactive application of the new rule of law announced in Batson because he failed to preserve such a claim at trial and on direct appeal. The Commonwealth further claims that the PCRA court erred in granting appellee a new penalty hearing, arguing that the mental health evaluation, upon which the PCRA court relied in awarding relief, was formulated twenty years after the murder took place and failed to consider appellee's conduct at the time of the crime itself. Also, with regard to this second claim, the Commonwealth contends that neither appellee nor his family members provided trial counsel with any indication that appellee suffered a disadvantaged childhood. We address the

Page 1072

Batson issue first because if the grant of a new trial was proper, there would be no need to review the penalty phase ineffectiveness claim.

At the PCRA evidentiary hearing appellee presented evidence in the form of voter registration records that, of the four veniremembers known to be black, the prosecutor, Assistant District Attorney James Long, struck each of them. Appellee was also able to identify, again through voter registration records, that eight of the jurors were Caucasian. No evidence, however, was presented that identified the race of: (1) the remaining jurors; (2) the alternate jurors; (3) the other veniremembers struck by the prosecutor; (4) the veniremembers struck for cause by the court; and (5) the veniremembers struck by defense counsel. In response, the Commonwealth presented testimony from one of the seated jurors who testified that she specifically remembered that at least one of the seated jurors was black. N.T. 11/6/2001 at 3. Additionally, prosecutor Long testified that he never tried a case in front of an all-white jury, N.T. 9/14/2001 at 11, and that he struck the four black veniremembers for non-racial reasons, id. at 15-18.

In its Pa.R.A.P.1925(a) opinion, dated November 25, 2003, the PCRA court first determined that Batson applied retroactively to appellee's trial, even though Batson was decided after that trial, and while appellee's direct appeal was pending with this Court.7 In support of this determination, the PCRA court relied on the United States Supreme Court decision in Griffith v. Kentucky, which held that Batson's "new rule for the conduct of criminal prosecutions is to be applied retroactively to all cases . . . pending on direct review or not yet final, with no exception for cases in which the new rule constitutes a `clear break' with the past." Griffith, 479 U.S. 314, 328, 107 S.Ct. 708, 716, 93 L.Ed.2d 649 (1987).8 The PCRA court then determined that appellee did not waive his Batson claim, even though he did not raise it at trial or on direct appeal, because his trial counsel was also his appellate counsel; therefore, according to the court, collateral review was the earliest possible opportunity for appellee to raise any ineffectiveness claims.

After making these determinations, the PCRA court addressed the merits of the Batson claim as if it were cognizable under the PCRA in its own right, ultimately deciding that appellee retroactively presented a prima facie showing of intentional discrimination, and that the race-neutral explanations for striking the four black veniremembers offered by the prosecutor were pretextual and not credible.9 Notwithstanding

Page 1073

its apparent consideration of this claim as if it were a preserved Batson claim, the PCRA court concluded its discussion of this issue with the following ineffective assistance of counsel analysis:

The evidence shows that the sole record of the striking of the four black jurors was racially motivated and was a violation of Batson, and Counsel was ineffective for not raising this claim on appeal.

PCRA Court Op. at 7.

On appeal, the Commonwealth relies on this Court's decision in Commonwealth v. Tilley, 566 Pa. 312, 780 A.2d 649 (2001), in support of its argument that the PCRA court erroneously granted appellee a new trial based on a waived Batson claim. In Tilley, a Caucasian defendant raised as one of his PCRA claims that the Commonwealth had improperly struck potential black jurors at trial based on their race in violation of Powers v. Ohio, 499 U.S. 400, 111 S.Ct. 1364, 113 L.Ed.2d 411 (1991),10 and Batson, 476 U.S. 79, 106 S.Ct. 1712, 90 L.Ed.2d 69.11 In an attempt to develop this claim, the defendant then filed a discovery motion seeking, inter alia, all data in the Commonwealth's custody concerning the racial composition of the jury empanelled at his trial, and all of the prosecutor's notes relating to jury selection in the case. The PCRA court granted the defendant's discovery request in full. On appeal, following this Court's preliminary decision to exercise jurisdiction pursuant to the Commonwealth's petition for review, we overturned the PCRA discovery order because it was in pursuit of a claim that was unavailable on PCRA review. In so holding, we noted that Powers could not be applied retroactively to the defendant's case because he did not challenge the Commonwealth's use of peremptory challenges at trial and on direct appeal. Tilley, 780 A.2d at 652. In support, this Court reiterated the following principle:

Case law is clear ... that in order for a new rule of law to apply retroactively to a case pending on direct appeal, the issue had to be preserved at "all stages of adjudication up to and including the direct appeal."

Id. (quoting Commonwealth v. Cabeza, 503 Pa. 228, 469 A.2d 146, 148 (1983)). The Commonwealth argues that here, as in Tilley, appellee did not challenge the Commonwealth's use of peremptory challenges at trial or on direct appeal. Thus, according to the Commonwealth, his failure to do so renders his Batson claim waived and thus unavailable on PCRA review.

Page 1074

Furthermore, the Commonwealth contends that the PCRA court's attempt to distinguish Tilley is unconvincing. Specifically, the PCRA court posited that Tilley was distinguishable because "[appellee] is black, his allegation of error is that the Commonwealth excluded black jurors and his direct appeal was open at the time that Batson was decided." PCRA Court Op. at 3. The Commonwealth contends, however, that appellee is in the very same material position as Tilley since appellee, like Tilley, did not raise a claim that the prosecutor struck jurors because of their race until collateral review. Thus, any Batson claim, posed as such, is waived. The Commonwealth further contends that trial...

To continue reading

Request your trial
79 practice notes
  • Commonwealth of Pa. v. Smith
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
    • 29 Marzo 2011
    ...of establishing actual, purposeful discrimination by a preponderance of the evidence. Next, in Commonwealth v. Sneed, 587 Pa. 318, 899 A.2d 1067, 1076–77 (2006), where voir dire occurred before Batson, we rejected the claim that appellate counsel was ineffective for failing to attempt to ra......
  • Com. v. Daniels, No. 410 CAP.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
    • 23 Enero 2009
    ...to satisfy any prong of the ineffectiveness test requires rejection of the claim of ineffectiveness. Commonwealth v. Sneed, 587 Pa. 318, 899 A.2d 1067, 1076 In Commonwealth v. McGill, 574 Pa. 574, 832 A.2d 1014 (2003), this Court clarified the procedure to be followed in forwarding a PCRA c......
  • Com. v. Tedford, No. 456 CAP
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
    • 19 Noviembre 2008
    ...not possibly have known about, so long as counsel's decision not to investigate was reasonable. See Commonwealth v. Sneed, 587 Pa. 318, 899 A.2d 1067, 1083 (2006) ("[C]ounsel cannot be deemed ineffective for not introducing information uniquely 960 A.2d 40 within the knowledge of the defend......
  • Commonwealth v. Hays, No. 36 MAP 2018
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
    • 31 Octubre 2019
    ...at all stages of adjudication up to and including any direct appeal .") (emphasis added); see also Commonwealth v. Sneed , 587 Pa. 318, 899 A.2d 1067, 1076 (2006) ("[i]t is well-settled that in order for a new rule of law to apply retroactively to a case pending on direct appeal, the issue ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
78 cases
  • Commonwealth of Pa. v. Smith
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
    • 29 Marzo 2011
    ...of establishing actual, purposeful discrimination by a preponderance of the evidence. Next, in Commonwealth v. Sneed, 587 Pa. 318, 899 A.2d 1067, 1076–77 (2006), where voir dire occurred before Batson, we rejected the claim that appellate counsel was ineffective for failing to attempt to ra......
  • Com. v. Daniels, No. 410 CAP.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
    • 23 Enero 2009
    ...to satisfy any prong of the ineffectiveness test requires rejection of the claim of ineffectiveness. Commonwealth v. Sneed, 587 Pa. 318, 899 A.2d 1067, 1076 In Commonwealth v. McGill, 574 Pa. 574, 832 A.2d 1014 (2003), this Court clarified the procedure to be followed in forwarding a PCRA c......
  • Com. v. Tedford, No. 456 CAP
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
    • 19 Noviembre 2008
    ...not possibly have known about, so long as counsel's decision not to investigate was reasonable. See Commonwealth v. Sneed, 587 Pa. 318, 899 A.2d 1067, 1083 (2006) ("[C]ounsel cannot be deemed ineffective for not introducing information uniquely 960 A.2d 40 within the knowledge of the defend......
  • Commonwealth v. Hays, No. 36 MAP 2018
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
    • 31 Octubre 2019
    ...at all stages of adjudication up to and including any direct appeal .") (emphasis added); see also Commonwealth v. Sneed , 587 Pa. 318, 899 A.2d 1067, 1076 (2006) ("[i]t is well-settled that in order for a new rule of law to apply retroactively to a case pending on direct appeal, the issue ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT