A blog of the Philadelphia Bar Association’s Criminal Justice Section

By Burt Rose

The Superior Court of Pennsylvania has decided the matter of COMMONWEALTH of Pennsylvania v. John LEGGETT, Appellant, No. 225 WDA 2010, 2011 WL 682848, 2011 PA Super 40 (Feb. 28, 2011). This was an appeal from an Order entered in the Court of Common Pleas of Erie County, Criminal Division, CP-25-CR-0000685-1999, 00685 OF 1999. The case was before Judges STEVENS, BOWES, and SHOGAN. Judge Stevens wrote the Opinion.

Appellant invoked the timeliness exception in 42 PaCS 9545(b)(1)(iii) to claim that the United States Supreme Court’s holding in Melendez-Diaz v. Massachusetts, 129 S.Ct. 2527 (2009), is an after-recognized constitutional right that should be applied retroactively to his case. For an after-recognized constitutional right, the sixty-day period begins to run upon the date of the underlying judicial decision. Therefore, as Melendez-Diaz was decided on June 25, 2009, this Appellant was required to file his PCRA petition on or before August 24, 2009 to invoke his claim within 60 days of the date the claim first could have been presented.

In Melendez-Diaz, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the admission of certificates of forensic analysis against a criminal defendant without allowing the defendant the opportunity to cross-examine the scientists who prepared these out-of-court testimonial statements violated the defendant’s right of confrontation in the Sixth Amendment sur Crawford v. Washington, 541 U.S. 36, 124 S.Ct. 1354 (2004). The majority in Melendez-Diaz expressly provided that its holding was not new, but stated that the decision involved little more than the application of its holding in Crawford. Also, the Supreme Court expressly provided that its decision in Crawford, upon which Melendez-Diaz relies, shall not apply retroactively to cases already final on direct review. Whorton v. Bockting, 549 U.S. 406, 417-421 (2007).

Appellant contended that the sixty-day time period did not begin to run until the Melendez-Diaz decision become available to him in the prison library on July 30, 2009 and that his petition should be deemed to be timely filed as he mailed his pro se PCRA petition from the prison on September 13, 2009. However, the Court held that a prisoner’s ignorance of the law will not excuse his failure to file a PCRA petition within sixty days of the filing of the judicial decision which he claims established an after-recognized constitutional right. Sine the Appellant has not shown that the timeliness exception contained in subsection 9545(b)(1)(iii) applied, the PCRA dismissal order was affirmed..

Free legal research available on State and Federal court appointed cases from the Student Research Center. http://www.philadelphiabar.org/page/CJResearch?appNum=4

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