Com. v. Szuchon

Decision Date04 November 1993
Citation633 A.2d 1098,534 Pa. 483
PartiesCOMMONWEALTH of Pennsylvania, Appellee, v. Joseph Thomas SZUCHON, Appellant.
CourtPennsylvania Supreme Court

William R. Cunningham, Dist. Atty., Anthony R. Himes, Asst. Dist. Atty., Erie, for appellee.




This is the appeal of Joseph Thomas Szuchon (Appellant) from the order of the Court of Common Pleas of Erie County denying Appellant's second counseled petition for collateral relief under the Post Conviction Relief Act (PCRA) 1 following the imposition of a death sentence. 2

On October 23, 1981, following a jury trial, Appellant was found guilty of murder of the first degree, three counts of kidnapping, two counts of terroristic threats, and two counts of recklessly endangering another person. All charges arose from the slaying of Judy Lynn Snyder and the incidents surrounding her murder on April 14, 1981. In the penalty phase of Appellant's trial, the same jury imposed a sentence of death.

Following the denial of post-verdict motions on May 3, 1983, Appellant was sentenced to death for the first degree murder, and to consecutive sentences of ten to twenty years imprisonment on the kidnapping convictions, five to ten years of imprisonment on the terroristic threats convictions, and one to two years of imprisonment on the reckless endangerment charges.

Appellant received an automatic appeal in this court pursuant to 42 Pa.C.S. §§ 9711(h)(1) and 722(4), and Pa.R.A.P. 702(b). We affirmed the convictions and upheld the sentence of death at Commonwealth v. Szuchon, 506 Pa. 228, 484 A.2d 1365 (1984), and reargument was denied on January 16, 1985.

Appellant filed his first petition pursuant to the Post Conviction Hearing Act (PCHA), 42 Pa.C.S. §§ 9541 et seq., which was denied on February 27, 1987, without a hearing. Appellant then appealed to the Superior Court which affirmed the denial of PCHA relief on February 29, 1988, Commonwealth v. Szuchon, 377 Pa.Superior Ct. 657, 541 A.2d 1155 (1988) and we denied further review. Commonwealth v. Szuchon, 521 Pa. 620, 557 A.2d 723 (1989).

Appellant's current petition under the Post Conviction Relief Act (PCRA), 42 Pa.C.S. §§ 9541 et seq., was also denied without a hearing by the Court of Common Pleas of Erie County on March 6, 1992, and this appeal followed.

Appellant raises two issues for our review. The first is whether Appellant was entitled to a hearing on his second PCRA petition on his claim that trial counsel was ineffective, during the penalty phase of the trial, for introducing evidence regarding Appellant's prior robbery conviction.

Appellant also argues that he was entitled to a hearing on his second PCRA petition because trial counsel was ineffective, again during the penalty phase of the trial, for failing to object to the sufficiency of the evidence admitted to establish the existence of aggravating circumstance seven of the death penalty statute, (i.e., knowingly creating a grave risk of death to another person in addition to the murder victim) 42 Pa.C.S. § 9711(d)(7).

In order for Appellant to establish a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel, he must first demonstrate that the underlying claim is of arguable merit; that counsel's action or inaction was not grounded on any reasonable basis designed to effectuate his interest; and that the commission or omission so undermined the trial that the verdict is unreliable. Commonwealth v. Carpenter, 533 Pa. 40, 617 A.2d 1263 (1992); Commonwealth v. Pierce, 515 Pa. 153, 527 A.2d 973 (1987).

Initially we note that Appellant does not allege facts to demonstrate that the ineffectiveness "so undermined the trial that the verdict is unreliable" and on that basis alone we could affirm the order of the trial court.

Furthermore, Appellant fails to meet our requirement that the issues now raised are issues which have not been previously litigated. Carpenter, 533 Pa. at 46, 617 A.2d at 1266. Indeed, a review of Appellant's direct appeal establishes that the underlying issues presented by Appellant have already been decided by this Court and thus cannot be relitigated.

Appellant's first issue which regards the introduction of a prior robbery conviction to establish the mitigating circumstance that Appellant had no significant criminal history has been reviewed by this Court. In the opinion of the Court authored by Mr. Justice Larsen, it was noted that "it was placed on the record that appellant entered a plea of guilty to a charge of robbery in 1974. The court, correctly, left it to the jury to determine whether or not this constituted a 'significant history of...

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32 cases
  • Com. v. Jermyn
    • United States
    • Pennsylvania Supreme Court
    • February 25, 1998
    ...justice occurred which no civilized society can tolerate, or (b) that he is innocent of the crimes charged. Commonwealth v. Szuchon, 534 Pa. 483, 487, 633 A.2d 1098, 1099-1100 (1993) (citation omitted). There was no argument to the PCRA court that Jermyn is innocent of the killing of his mo......
  • Com. v. Beasley
    • United States
    • Pennsylvania Supreme Court
    • March 18, 2009
    ...also applies to the analysis of claims of counsel's ineffectiveness during the penalty phase of a capital case. See Comonwealth v. Szuchon, 534 Pa. 483, 633 A.2d 1098 (1993). Here, Appellant does not assert that he is actually innocent of the murder. Therefore, in order to establish that a ......
  • Com. v. Travaglia
    • United States
    • Pennsylvania Supreme Court
    • August 21, 1995
    ...a strong prima facie showing is offered to demonstrate that a miscarriage of justice may have occurred.' " Commonwealth v. Szuchon, 534 Pa. 483, 487, 633 A.2d 1098, 1099 (1993) (citing Commonwealth v. Lawson, 519 Pa. 504, 549 A.2d 107 (1988).) This standard is met if Appellant can "demonstr......
  • Peterkin v. Horn
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Eastern District of Pennsylvania
    • November 6, 2001
    ... ... In so holding, the Court noted: ...         We conclude from [ Commonwealth v. Szuchon, 534 Pa. 483, 633 A.2d 1098 ... Page 355 ... (1993), Commonwealth v. Travaglia, 541 Pa. 108, 661 A.2d 352 (1995) and Commonwealth v. Beasley, ... ...
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