State PCRA Deadline — Per State Supreme Court

In the case of Commonwealth v. Jones, 2012 Pa. LEXIS 2258, 4-6 (Pa. Sept. 28, 2012) the court addressed the lagging issue of serial PCRA petitions, including a second or subsequent one, and when they must be filed. The court ruled that in accordance with the statute, the filings must be completed within one year of the date the petitioner’s judgment of sentence became final, unless he pleads and proves one of the three exceptions outlined in 42 Pa.C.S. § 9545(b)(1). The These exceptions are: “(i) the failure to raise the claim previously was the result of interference by government officials with the presentation of the claim in violation of the Constitution or laws of this Commonwealth or the Constitution or laws of the United States; (ii) the facts upon which the claim is predicated were unknown to the petitioner and could not have been ascertained by the exercise of due diligence; or (iii) the right asserted is a constitutional right that was recognized by the Supreme Court of the United States or the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania after the time period provided in this section and has been held by that court to apply retroactively.” 42 Pa.C.S. § 9545(b)(1)(i)-(iii). Commonwealth v. Howard, 788 A.2d 351, 354 (Pa. 2002).

Importantly, the court further restricted PCRA filings that stem after discovered evidence “discovered during” federal PCRA, or as they are known in federal court, Habeas Corpis petitions. In this case, Jones alleged the discovery he received pursuant to the 2005 federal court order provided him with newly-discovered evidence which satisfied the “governmental interference” exception to the time-bar. See 42 Pa.C.S. § 9545(b)(i), (ii). Specifically, he contended many facts he learned about one of the Commonwealth’s key witnesses, Rodney Carson, could have been used to impeach Carson at trial. Therefore, he concluded the Commonwealth committed Brady violations by failing to disclose these allegedly exculpatory facts prior to trial.

The Jones state court PCRA judge dismissed the petition as untimely for appellant’s failure to file it within the 60-day period required for petitions subject to an exception. See 42 Pa.C.S. § 9545(b)(2). It is important to understand that this is the triggering date for any PCRA relief. The Jones court holds that: “A state court sentencing judgment becomes final at the conclusion of direct review by this Court or the United States Supreme Court, or at the expiration of the time for seeking such review. 42 Pa.C.S. § 9545(b)(3). The PCRA’s timeliness requirements are jurisdictional; therefore, a court may not address the merits of the issues raised if the petition was not timely filed. The timeliness requirements apply to all PCRA petitions, regardless of the nature of the individual claims raised therein. Murray, at 203. The PCRA squarely places upon the petitioner the burden of proving an untimely petition fits within one of the three exceptions. The PCRA further requires a petition invoking one of these exceptions to “be filed within 60 days of the date the claim could have been presented.” 42 Pa.C.S. § 9545(b)(2). On appeal from the denial of PCRA relief, this Court decides “whether the findings of the PCRA court are supported by the record and free of legal error.” Commonwealth v. Jones, 2012 Pa. LEXIS 2258, 4-6 (Pa. Sept. 28, 2012).

Chief Justice Castile joins in this opinion, but writes separately to address a vexing problem with state PCRA cases that have also been dealt with in Federal court. In his mind, “the point of federal habeas review is not to go on fishing expeditions to find new facts and claims not already presented in state court; federal courts are to review only the federal constitutional claims properly presented to state courts, while showing required deference to the reasonable decisions of the sovereign state courts.” Citing to the new federal Habeas Corpus statute ,28 U.S.C.] § 2254(d)(1), Chief Justice Castile concludes that federal review “ is limited to the record that was before the state court that adjudicated the claim on the merits. Section 2254(d)(1) refers, in the past tense, to a state-court adjudication that ‘resulted in’ a decision that was contrary to, or ‘involved’ an unreasonable application of, established law. This backward-looking language requires an examination of the state-court decision at the time it was made. It follows that the record under review is limited to the record in existence at that same time i.e., the record before the state court.” “Section 2254(b) requires that prisoners must ordinarily exhaust state remedies before filing for federal habeas relief. It would be contrary to that purpose to allow a petitioner to overcome an adverse state-court decision with new evidence introduced in a federal habeas court and reviewed by that court in the first instance effectively de novo.” Commonwealth v. Jones, 2012 Pa. LEXIS 2258, 10-13 (Pa. Sept. 28, 2012)

Essentially, our Supreme Court is now enforcing the legislative instruction to limit all PCRA relief to that which was before the trial court at the time of the trial and any evidence that is brought forth at the appropriate time within the state court PCRA rule. The Court is tired of the 10 year PCRA federal and state court proceedings which essentially become new trial many years after the criminal proceedings.

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