Commonwealth v. Derrickson, 537 EDA 2019

CourtSuperior Court of Pennsylvania
Citation242 A.3d 667
Docket NumberNo. 537 EDA 2019,537 EDA 2019
Parties COMMONWEALTH of Pennsylvania v. Rodney DERRICKSON, Appellant
Decision Date30 October 2020

242 A.3d 667

COMMONWEALTH of Pennsylvania
Rodney DERRICKSON, Appellant

No. 537 EDA 2019

Superior Court of Pennsylvania.

Submitted August 24, 2020
Filed October 30, 2020

Michael S. Dugan and William P. Wismer, Media, for appellant.

Frederick J. Stollsteimer, District Attorney, and Andrew S. Kovach, Assistant District Attorney, Media, for Commonwealth, appellee.



242 A.3d 671

Rodney Derrickson appeals from the judgment of sentence, entered in the Court of Common Pleas of Delaware County, following his resentencing subsequent to the decisions of the United States Supreme Court in Montgomery v. Louisiana , ––– U.S. ––––, 136 S. Ct. 718, 193 L.Ed.2d 599 (2016), and Miller v. Alabama , 567 U.S. 460, 132 S. Ct. 2455, 183 L.Ed.2d 407 (2012), which required resentencing for juveniles originally sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole (LWOP). After careful review, we affirm.

The trial court summarized the facts of this case as follows:

In the morning hours of December 14, 1994, Patrick Cassidy, intent on purchasing cocaine, left his home in Exton, Pennsylvania, and drove to the William Penn Housing Project in Chester, arriving sometime around 5 [a.m.]. He stopped his automobile, remaining in the driver's seat with the motor running and the driver's side window down. Mark Harris approached the vehicle and offered to sell marijuana[;] Cassidy said that he wanted cocaine and not marijuana. [Cassidy] had what looked like a hundred dollar bill in his hand. At or about this time, Rodney Derrickson, the defendant, went to the driver's side and asked Cassidy if he wanted cocaine and also asked if he was going to pull off. Derrickson then reached into the car, took the keys out of the ignition, threw them back into the car and demanded that Cassidy give him the money. Instead of turning the money over to Derrickson, Cassidy tried to put it between his legs on the car seat. [Derrickson] then produced a weapon and fired two shots into Cassidy's body. Although mortally wounded, Cassidy apparently located the car keys and attempted to drive away, traveling only a short distance when he struck a parked motor vehicle. The police were called to the scene and found Cassidy dead, in his car. The cause of death was from the extreme loss of blood due to gunshot wounds to the chest and upper left arm.

Trial Court Opinion, 11/27/19, at 1-2.

A jury convicted Derrickson of second-degree murder and robbery on October 12, 1995. Though Derrickson was seventeen years old at the time of the homicide, he was sentenced to LWOP, pursuant to a mandatory sentencing statute. This Court affirmed his conviction on direct appeal, Commonwealth v. Derrickson , 455 Pa.Super. 692, 688 A.2d 1226 (1996) (Table), and our Supreme Court denied his petition for allowance of appeal. Commonwealth v. Derrickson , 548 Pa. 644, 695 A.2d 783 (1997) (Table). From the date he was sentenced through July 4, 2012, Derrickson filed three petitions for relief under the Post Conviction Relief Act (PCRA), 42 Pa.C.S.A. §§ 9541 - 9546, and one petition for Writ of State Habeas Corpus. All of these collateral attacks were denied, and the rulings were affirmed on appeal. On July 5, 2012, Derrickson filed a pro se petition for relief under the PCRA, challenging the constitutionality of his sentence in light of Miller , supra . Derrickson filed additional petitions on August 9, 2012; January 7, 2013; and December 12, 2013, challenging his sentence on constitutional grounds. This Court affirmed the denial of those petitions. See Commonwealth v. Derrickson , 207 EDA 2015 (Pa. Super. filed August 12, 2015) (unpublished memorandum). On February 17, 2016, Derrickson filed a pro se PCRA petition challenging his sentence in light of Montgomery , supra . On November 1, 2018, the trial court granted Derrickson's petition and vacated his judgment of sentence. The court held a resentencing hearing on that same date and

242 A.3d 672

continued Derrickson's sentencing to November 8, 2018, so that the court could have additional time to consider, inter alia , the fifty-six defense exhibits appended to Derrickson's sentencing memorandum. On November 8, 2018, the court imposed a sentence of thirty years’ to life imprisonment, making him eligible for parole in approximately four years. Derrickson filed a post-sentence motion on November 16, 2018, arguing that the court should reconsider his sentence and grant him immediate parole eligibility. A hearing was held on that motion on November 27, 2018, and the court denied the motion on January 30, 2019. Derrickson timely appealed; both he and the court have complied with Pa.R.A.P. 1925.1

On appeal, Derrickson presents the following issues for our review, which we have renumbered for ease of consideration:

1. Whether the mandatory life maximum sentence for [s]econd[-d]egree [ ] [m]urder is illegal, constituting cruel and unusual punishment, in violation of Article 1[,] Section 13 of the Pennsylvania Constitution and the 8th and 14th Amendments to the United States Constitution, in that it is imposed without any penological justification whatsoever, such as retribution, rehabilitation[,] or incapacitation[;] deprives [Derrickson] of his right to an individualized sentence as a juvenile[;] is disproportionate to the crime[;] and [ ] is the same maximum sentence imposed on one who commits [f]irst[-d]egree [m]urder, which is more serious because it requires proof of specific intent to kill and premedi[t]ation.

2. Whether the sentence imposed on [Derrickson] is illegal, where the decision in Miller [, supra ,] invalidated mandatory life imprisonment for juveniles and struck down the only statutory scheme in Pennsylvania for sentencing juveniles convicted of murder, leaving a sentence for the lesser[-]included third[-]degree murder as the only lawful sentence for [Derrickson].

3. Whether reliance by the [c]ourt on 18 Pa.C.S.A. [§] 1102.1, rendered the sentence imposed illegal, as [Derrickson] was deprived of an individualized sentence, as required by the 8th and 14th Amendments to the United States Constitution and Article 1[,] Section 13 of the Pennsylvania Constitution.

4. Whether the sentence imposed upon [Derrickson] is illegal, where it was imposed without meaningful and adequate consideration [of] sentencing factors set out in Miller [, supra ,] as required by Commonwealth v [ ]. Machicote , [651 Pa. 738] 206 A[.]3d 1110 ([Pa.] 2019). Those factors are: the defendant's chronological age and its hallmark features [including:] immaturity, impetuosity[,] and failure to appreciate [ ] risks and consequences; the defendant's family and home environment from which he cannot usually extricate himself—no matter how brutal or dysfunctional[;] the circumstances of the homicide offense, including the extent of the defendant's participation in the conduct and the way that familial and peer pressures may have affected him; the impact of the defendant's immaturity in dealing with the criminal justice system; [and] the defendant's rehabilitation and the prospects for further rehabilitation. [ ]

5. Whether the sentence imposed upon [Derrickson] is overly harsh and manifestly excessive, as it was imposed based
242 A.3d 673
upon consideration of the seriousness of the offense and [Derrickson's] prior juvenile record, without consideration of [his] rehabilitation while confined and his prospects for further rehabilitation.

Appellant's Brief, at 4-6.

Derrickson's first four issues on appeal implicate the legality of his sentence. We note that:

The legality of a criminal sentence is non-waivable, and this Court may raise and review an illegal sentence sua sponte . Because the legality of a sentence presents a pure question of a law, our scope of review is plenary, and our standard of review is de novo. If no statutory authorization exists for a particular sentence, that sentence is illegal and must be vacated.

Commonwealth v. Pi Delta Psi, Inc. , 211 A.3d 875, 889-90 (Pa. Super. 2019) (internal citations, quotation marks, emphasis, and ellipses omitted). Moreover, "in reviewing a constitutional claim, we face a pure question of law, for which our standard of review is de novo and our scope of review is plenary." Id. at 886 (citation and internal quotation marks omitted).

In his first claim, Derrickson argues that the court erred in sentencing him to a maximum sentence of life in prison because that sentence is not individualized to him, as is required by Miller , supra . Moreover, he claims that because Pennsylvania courts have previously recognized that parole is punishment,2 and because his sentence amounts to either imprisonment or parole for life, Derrickson did not receive an individualized sentence. Appellant's Brief, at 18-19.

Derrickson acknowledges our decision in Commonwealth v. Seskey , 170 A.3d 1105 (Pa. Super. 2017), where we held that a mandatory maximum life sentence is required for resentencing juvenile offenders convicted of second-degree murder based upon our reading of our Supreme Court's decision in Commonwealth v. Batts , 640 Pa. 401, 163 A.3d 410 (2017) ( Batts II ).3 Derrickson attempts to distinguish his case from Seskey , and states that Batts II , upon which the Seskey...

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    ...II , 163 A.3d at 484. The sentencing court is not required to consider the Miller factors in such cases. See Commonwealth v. Derrickson , 242 A.3d 667, 2020 WL 6373356, at *8 (Pa. Super. 2020), citing Lekka , 210 A.3d at 355.At the resentencing hearing on February 13, 2019, Appellant presen......
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    ...sentencing factor and failed to state sufficient reasons for imposing a sentence in the aggravated range. See Commonwealth v. Derrickson, 242 A.3d 667, 680 (Pa. Super. 2020) ; Commonwealth v. Macias, 968 A.2d 773, 776 (Pa. Super. 2009).However, we conclude that Appellant's claim that the tr......
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    ...sentencing factor and failed to state sufficient reasons for imposing a sentence in the aggravated range. See Commonwealth v. Derrickson, 242 A.3d 667, 680 (Pa. Super. 2020); Commonwealth v. Macias, 968 A.2d 773, 776 (Pa. Super. 2009). However, we conclude that Appellant's claim that the tr......
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