CRIMINAL LAW

Post-Conviction Relief Act • Exceptions to Time Bar

Commonwealth v. Johnson, PICS Case No. 14-0424 (C.P. Berks March 14, 2014) Keller, J. (12 pages).

Where facts asserted in an untimely PCRA petition were known to the defendant at or shortly after trial, and a recently-decided opinion did not amount to a new “fact”, a defendant could not prove an exception to the one-year filing requirement for PCRA petitions. Dismissed.

Defendant James Johnson filed, in July 2013, his third pro se PCRA petition stemming from his conviction for murder, aggravated assault, reckless endangerment, robbery, possessing an instrument of crime, and related conspiracy counts in 2002. In his third PCRA petition, defendant alleged various ineffective assistance of counsel and constitutional violation claims.

The court noted that any PCRA claim, including a subsequent claim, had to be filed within one year of the date judgment became final. However, the court noted that this one-year jurisdictional limitation had three statutory exceptions: the failure to raise the claim was the result of illegal governmental interference; the facts upon which the claim was based were unknown to the defendant and could not be ascertained by due diligence; the right asserted was a new constitutional right recognized after the one-year period.

The court found that defendant’s third PCRA petition was patently barred by the one-year jurisdictional limitation; however, defendant argued that he qualified for the “newly discovered facts” and “new constitutional right” statutory exceptions.

The court found that defendant’s PCRA petition contained no newly discovered facts; all of the facts alleged were known or should have been known to defendant at the time of trial or shortly thereafter. Moreover, the court held that the recently decided U.S. Supreme Court opinions cited in defendant’s petition did not constitute new facts for the purposes of the newly discovered fact exception.

Furthermore, the court held that defendant’s cited recent Supreme Court opinions did not constitute new constitutional rights for the purposes of the exception. The court found that the precedents of the opinions either applied only to federal proceedings, or were not explicitly retroactive in effect; accordingly, defendant asserted no new constitutional right applicable to him.

Because defendant brought his PCRA petition outside of the one-year limit, and because he failed to establish the applicability of any of the statutory exceptions to the one-year limit, the court dismissed defendant’s PCRA petition for lack of jurisdiction.