Post Conviction Relief • Timeliness of PCRA Appeal • Governmental Interference Exception

Commonwealth v. Davis, PICS Case No. 14-0362 (Pa. Super. Feb. 25, 2014) Bender, P.J. (17 pages).

Where a convict receives an affidavit from a witness at his trial admitting perjury regarding sentencing deals provided by the commonwealth in exchange for his testimony, evidence of which deal was withheld by the commonwealth, such evidence falls under the governmental interference exception, and it was not a requirement of due diligence to obtain evidence of the deals from the transcripts of another proceeding. Vacated.

Appellant Clarence Davis filed this appeal from the denial of his petition for post conviction relief stemming from his conviction of charges of robbery and first-degree murder in 1974. Appellate alleged that he received an affidavit from a witness at his trial, Jerome Watson, in which Watson admitted that he fabricated his inculpatory evidence in exchange for leniency from the commonwealth on other matters; appellant also alleged that another prosecution witness, Michael Diggs, also received a sentencing deal in exchange for his testimony against appellant. Appellant argued that his petition was timely under the governmental interference exception to the time limits for a post-conviction relief petition

The PCRA court rejected appellant’s petition as untimely, finding that appellant’s petition did not fall under the governmental interference exception. The court noted that evidence of Watson’s and Diggs’ sentencing deals came to light at their individual sentencing hearings, which were matters of public record that appellant could have discovered through an exercise of due diligence. Watson also admitted to his perjury in another trial that was also public record, that the PCRA court found appellant could have discovered through due diligence.

The court disagreed with the PCRA court’s findings, noting that, when testifying at appellant’s trial, both Watson and Diggs denied having any deals with the commonwealth, and the commonwealth failed to clarify that such deals existed. Accordingly, the instant court reasoned that appellant had no reason or notice to look for evidence of such deals at Watson’s and Diggs’ sentencing hearings, and that appellant’s efforts were adequately diligent under the circumstances of the instant case. The court held that appellant had sufficiently proven the applicability of the governmental interference exception to the time bar for post-conviction relief claims.

Although the court found merit in appellant’s claims regarding Watson’s and Diggs’ testimony, it rejected his other claims relating to the commonwealth’s failure to turn over evidence, and the unlawful interrogation of appellant’s co-defendant. The court found that appellant had not specifically identified when information relating to these claims had come to light; therefore, the court could not rule that those claims were timely.