Commonwealth v. Simpson

Citation66 A.3d 253
PartiesCOMMONWEALTH of Pennsylvania, Appellee v. Rasheed SIMPSON, Appellant.
Decision Date26 March 2013
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania

66 A.3d 253

COMMONWEALTH of Pennsylvania, Appellee
Rasheed SIMPSON, Appellant.

Supreme Court of Pennsylvania.

Submitted June 3, 2008.
Decided March 26, 2013.

[66 A.3d 257]

Louis M. Natali Jr., Turner & McDonald, P.C., Philadelphia, for Rasheed Simpson.

Hugh J. Burns Jr., Philadelphia District Attorney's Office, Philadelphia, Amy Zapp, PA Office of Attorney General, Harrisburg, for Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.



Justice TODD.

In this capital case, Rasheed Simpson appeals the order of the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas dismissing without a hearing his petition for relief under the Post Conviction Relief Act (“PCRA”), 42 Pa.C.S.A. §§ 9541–46. We affirm in part, vacate in part, and remand for further proceedings as directed.

A. Factual Background

We recited the facts in support of Appellant's conviction at length in his direct appeal.

[66 A.3d 258]

Commonwealth v. Simpson, 562 Pa. 255, 259–63, 754 A.2d 1264, 1266–68 (2000). Accordingly, we reiterate here only those facts necessary for a proper understanding of Appellant's claims.

On the evening of December 8, 1993, Appellant and three confederates, Allister Durrante, Malik Bowers, and an unidentified man, abducted Andrew Haynes (“Haynes” or “the victim”), a minor drug dealer also known as “The Dread” because he wore his hair in dreadlocks, from near the intersection of 18th and Tioga Streets in North Philadelphia. They forced Haynes into a van and drove him to an apartment where their friend, Raheema Washington, resided. There, they beat the victim and demanded he give them money. After Washington expelled them from her apartment, Appellant spoke with Aloysius Hall and Haynes' brother Selvan on the phone, and demanded $20,000 within 15 minutes. If he and his confederates were not paid, Appellant threatened, they would kill Haynes. See N.T., 12/11/97, at 21 (Aloysius Hall's testimony that the kidnapper said he “needs $20,000 in 15 minutes or the Dread is dead”). After repeated phone calls between the kidnappers and Haynes' family, Haynes was killed by four bullets to the back of his head. His body was found in a vacant lot at 18th and Somerset Streets in North Philadelphia.

Appellant was not arrested until July 1996, after Washington gave a statement to the police implicating him in the crime. He was charged with murder in the first degree, kidnapping, robbery, conspiracy, and possession of an instrument of crime. He then proceeded to a jury trial jointly with one of his co-conspirators, Malik Bowers.1

At trial, the evidence connecting Appellant to the crime was as follows. First, Washington testified that Appellant had been in the group of kidnappers who brought the victim to her apartment on the evening of December 8, 1993. N.T., 12/12/97, at 13–18. Second, Hall testified that the kidnapper who spoke with him on the phone referred to a robbery against Hall which Appellant had committed and, when Hall responded by asking “if it [was] Rasheed?” the kidnapper responded affirmatively. N.T., 12/11/97, at 21. Third, a week after the murder, Montgomery County Police Officer James Slavin investigated a car which lacked a license plate in the parking lot of the Cheltenham Mall in Cheltenham, Pennsylvania, and discovered a firearm. After Officer Slavin and other officers staked out the car, Bowers, Washington, and others returned to the car; Bowers refused to cooperate with officers and was arrested. Officer Slavin's notes identify the other passengers as Washington, Cameron Thompson, Will Shepard, and the driver, Medeya Clark. Id. at 112–13. However, none presented identification, and Washington testified that Appellant was one of the passengers. N.T., 12/12/97, at 26.2 Appellant's theory of the case was that he was not involved in the crime.

On December 17, 1997, Appellant and Bowers were both convicted of the aforementioned charges. At the joint penalty phase hearing, the Commonwealth cited three statutory aggravating factors in arguing that a capital sentence was appropriate: Haynes had died while being held for ransom; Appellant had a significant history of violent felony convictions; and Appellant had been convicted of another homicide.

[66 A.3d 259]

3See42 Pa.C.S.A. §§ 9711(d)(3), (9), (11). Appellant argued a capital sentence was inappropriate because of his age, his character, and the circumstances of the crime. See42 Pa.C.S.A. §§ 9711(e)(4), (8). On December 22, 1997, the penalty-phase jury determined the Commonwealth had established all three aggravating factors listed above. The jury considered Appellant's age as a mitigating factor 4, but determined the three aggravating factors outweighed that mitigating factor and, thus, sentenced him to death.

Subsequent to Appellant's initial conviction, we heard his direct appeal and affirmed both his conviction and his judgment of sentence. Simpson, supra. In so doing, we rejected Appellant's challenges to the weight and sufficiency of the evidence offered to support his conviction; the admission of a witness' statement about Appellant's alleged propensity for violence; the capital murder instruction offered to the jury; the prosecuting attorney's penalty-phase inquiry regarding the possibility Appellant would eventually receive a pardon; and the prosecuting attorney's guilt-phase summation characterizing the murder of Haynes as an “execution.” Appellant's trial counsel continued to represent him on direct appeal.

Appellant filed a pro se petition for relief under the PCRA on September 17, 2001. Counsel was appointed and filed an amended petition on July 9, 2002, and a supplemental amended petition on January 29, 2003. The Commonwealth filed a motion to dismiss on June 24, 2004. Appellant filed a reply on April 12, 2005, and, on October 18, 2005, the PCRA court granted the Commonwealth's motion without a hearing, concluding Appellant's petition raised no genuine issues of material fact.5 The instant appeal followed. 6

In its opinion explaining its dismissal of Appellant's petition without a hearing, the PCRA court denied relief as to all 15 of the arguments Appellant presses in the instant appeal, as well as one argument which Appellant appears to have abandoned.7 We discuss the PCRA court's rationales below. 8

[66 A.3d 260]

B. Legal Background

Before turning to the merits of the 15 issues raised by Appellant on appeal, as several of his claims concern ineffective assistance of counsel, we begin with a summary of the legal framework governing PCRA petitions raising such claims. As noted above, Appellant's trial counsel continued to represent him on direct appeal. Accordingly, though Appellant's direct appeal was litigated prior to our decision in Commonwealth v. Grant, 572 Pa. 48, 813 A.2d 726 (2002), Appellant did not have an opportunity to raise claims of trial counsel's ineffectiveness on direct appeal. In this context, the proper framework in which to consider Appellant's issues is the “performance and prejudice” analysis set forth in Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 104 S.Ct. 2052, 80 L.Ed.2d 674 (1984), and Commonwealth v. Pierce, 515 Pa. 153, 157, 527 A.2d 973, 975 (1987).

The defendant's right to counsel guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution and Article I, § 9 of the Pennsylvania Constitution is violated where counsel's performance “so undermined the truth-determining process that no reliable adjudication of guilt or innocence could have taken place.” Commonwealth v. Rios, 591 Pa. 583, 600, 920 A.2d 790, 799 (2007) (internal quotation marks omitted). In this regard, we apply a three-pronged test for determining whether trial counsel was ineffective, derived from our application in Pierce, 515 Pa. at 157, 527 A.2d at 975, of the performance and prejudice test articulated by the United States Supreme Court in Strickland, 466 U.S. at 687, 104 S.Ct. 2052. The Pierce test requires a PCRA petitioner to prove: (1) the underlying legal claim was of arguable merit; (2) counsel had no reasonable strategic basis for his action or inaction; and (3) the petitioner was prejudiced—that is, but for counsel's deficient stewardship, there is a reasonable likelihood the outcome of the proceedings would have been different. Pierce, 515 Pa. at 158–59, 527 A.2d at 975. If a petitioner fails to prove any of these prongs, his claim fails. Commonwealth v. (Christopher) Williams, 594 Pa. 366, 378, 936 A.2d 12, 19–20 (2007). Moreover, counsel is presumed to be effective, and a petitioner must overcome that presumption to prove the three Strickland/ Pierce factors. Commonwealth v. Singley, 582 Pa. 5, 19, 868 A.2d 403, 411 (2005).

Where a PCRA petition does not raise a “genuine issue[ ] of material fact,” the reviewing court is not required to hold an evidentiary hearing on the petition. Commonwealth v. Clark, 599 Pa. 204, 212, 961 A.2d 80, 85 (2008); Pa.R.Crim.P. 909(B). Thus, to entitle himself to a hearing, an appellant must raise an issue of fact, which, if resolved in his favor, would justify relief.

[66 A.3d 261]

Commonwealth v. D'Amato, 579 Pa. 490, 513, 856 A.2d 806, 820 (2004) (citations omitted). Here, the PCRA court concluded Appellant's petition raised no genuine issues of material fact, and so dismissed it without a hearing. We review this determination for an abuse of discretion. Commonwealth v. (Ronald) Collins, 585 Pa. 45, 70, 888 A.2d 564, 579 (2005).


Initially, we consider the Commonwealth's arguments, offered throughout its brief, that Appellant does not adequately state or develop his claims and allegations of ineffectiveness, and, accordingly, those allegations are waived. 9 The Commonwealth asks us to conclude that most of Appellant's allegations of ineffectiveness are, essentially, boilerplate claims of ineffectiveness. The Commonwealth asserts that this is inadequate to support our review of the merits of the ineffectiveness claim.


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