By Burt Rose
2014 WL 1040502, 2014 PA Super 54
Superior Court of Pennsylvania
COMMONWEALTH of Pennsylvania v.Alfredo REYES–RODRIGUEZ, Appellant, 2121 EDA 2013 3/18/14
Appeal from the PCRA Order June 28, 2013 in the Court of Common Pleas of Northampton County, Criminal Division at No(s): CP–48–CR–0001684–2006, CP–48–CR–0003501–2006, CP–48–CR–0001683–2006.
BEFORE: ALLEN, STABILE, and STRASSBURGER
OPINION BY STRASSBURGER, J.:
Appellant was charged with sexually assaulting three minor victims. After a trial by jury, the Appellant was found guilty of criminal attempt to commit rape, aggravated indecent assault, endangering the welfare of children (EWOC), indecent assault, and corruption of minors. On May 14, 2007, the trial court imposed consecutive standard range sentences on all counts creating an aggregate term of incarceration of 14 1/2 to 29 years.
Appellant’s main PCRA claim was that counsel was ineffective for failing to request an appropriate jury instruction, that the trial court failed to instruct the Jury that character evidence alone may be sufficient to raise reasonable doubt.
When character evidence is offered, “[a] criminal defendant must receive a jury charge that evidence of good character (reputation) may, in and of itself, (by itself or alone) create a reasonable doubt of guilt and, thus, require a verdict of not guilty.” Commonwealth v. Neely, 561 A.2d 1, 3 (Pa.1989). In this case, the jury was offered the following charge with respect to character evidence.
Now, during this trial, you have also heard the defense offer evidence asserting that the defendant’s reputation is held by some residents in the apartment building that he is a good father. The law recognizes that a person of good character is not likely to commit a crime that is contrary to that person’s nature. You must weigh and consider the evidence presented by the defense with regard to the defendant[‘]s reputation as a good father along with other evidence in this case.
Notably absent from this charge is the portion of the suggested standard jury instruction that reads “[e]vidence of a good character may by itself raise a reasonable doubt of guilt and require a verdict of not guilty.” Pa. Suggested Standard Jury Instructions (Crim) § 3.06. In Neely, supra, our Supreme Court mandated that this instruction be given when character evidence is offered. Therefore, counsel was ineffective for failing to object to the trial court’s not including this instruction for the jury.
Due to the mandatory and critical nature of this instruction, the issue has arguable merit and counsel could have had no reasonable basis for his failing to request it. Additionally, Appellant was clearly prejudiced under these circumstances where Appellant’s character was squarely at issue in the case. Accordingly, the Court reversed the order of the PCRA court on this basis.