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

By Burt Rose

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The Superior Court of Pennsylvania has issued an Opinion in the matter of COMMONWEALTH of Pennsylvania v. Gregory R. SAUNDERS, Appellant, 2013 WL 150811, 2013 PA Super 9, 2137 EDA 2012 (Jan. 15, 2013). This was an appeal from a PCRA Order of Judge Osborne of the Court of Common Pleas of Delaware County, Criminal Division, CP–23–CR–0003314–2003. The Judges were BENDERLAZARUS and COLVILLE. Judge Lazarus wrote the Opinion for the Panel.

On August 17, 2004, a jury convicted Saunders of robbery, burglary, firearms not to be carried without a license, and criminal conspiracy. The trial court sentenced him to 19 to 38 years’ incarceration. The Superior Court affirmed Saunders’ judgment of sentence on June 20, 2008. Commonwealth v. Saunders, 959 A.2d 468 (Pa.Super.2008). Saunders did not file a petition for allowance of appeal with the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

Saunders filed his first pro se PCRA petition on September 9, 2008, and counsel was appointed on October 20, 2008. On March 9, 2009, counsel filed a no-merit letter pursuant to Commonwealth v. Turner, 518 Pa. 491, 544 A.2d 927 (Pa.1988) andCommonwealth v. Finley, 379 Pa.Super. 390, 550 A.2d 213 (Pa.Super.1988). On March 12, 2009, the court issued a Pa.R .Crim.P. 907 notice of intent to dismiss without a hearing. Saunders did not respond, and the court dismissed the petition on June 17, 2009. Saunders filed an appeal, which the Court dismissed on March 17, 2010, due to the failure to file a brief.

On May 23, 2012, Saunders filed a second pro se PCRA petition alleging that his direct appeal counsel was ineffective for failing to raise the ineffectiveness of his trial counsel, and that his first PCRA counsel was ineffective for failing to raise his direct appeal counsel’s ineffectiveness. The trial court determined that the petition was untimely and dismissed the petition.

On appeal, Saunders argued that a recent United States Supreme Court decision, Martinez v. Ryan, 132 S.Ct. 1309, 182 L.Ed.2d 272 (2012), supported his claim that a petitioner is permitted to file a second PCRA petition within sixty days of discovering the ineffectiveness of his PCRA counsel. However, the Panel held that Martinez v. Ryan does not supply an exception to 42 Pa.C.S. § 9545 to the extent of allowing state defendants to raise PCRA counsel’s ineffectiveness from the initial PCRA proceedings for waiving claims that could have been raised in that first initial phase.

In Martinez, the United States Supreme Court held that where, under state law, claims of ineffective assistance of trial counsel must be raised in an initial-review collateral proceeding, a procedural default will not bar a federal habeas corpus court from hearing a substantial claim of ineffective assistance at trial if, in the initial-review collateral proceeding there was no counsel or counsel in that proceeding was ineffective. Martinez recognized that for purposes of federal habeas corpus relief, inadequate assistance of counsel at initial-review collateral proceedings may establish cause for a prisoner’s procedural default of a claim of ineffective assistance of trial counsel. While Martinez represents a significant development in federal habeas corpus law, Judge Lazarus ruled that “it is of no moment with respect to the way Pennsylvania courts apply the plain language of the time bar set forth in section 9545(b)(1) of the PCRA.”

Because Saunders failed to establish any of the exceptions to the PCRA’s requirement that all petitions be filed within one year of the date a petitioner’s judgment of sentence became final, his PCRA was dismissed.

Note: Saunders represented himself in this appeal.


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