Post-Conviction Relief • Exculpatory Evidence • Ineffective Assistance of Counsel

Commonwealth v. Clark, PICS Case No. 14-0081 (C.P. Washington Jan. 22, 2014) O’Dell-Seneca, P.J. (8 pages).

Where a defendant moves for post-conviction relief on the basis of exculpatory evidence that contradicts his own sworn testimony, such motion is frivolous.

Defendant Matthew Clark was found guilty of aggravated assault and sentenced to nine to 18 years of incarceration. Clark’s public defender filed a motion for new trial on the basis that a new witness had presented himself to the public defender the day before. Soon after, the public defender withdrew and conflicts counsel was appointed.

Clark filed a series of pro se PCRA petitions, alleging constitutional violation, ineffective assistance of counsel and the existence of exculpatory evidence, later alleging that his guilty plea was unlawfully induced, that the government obstructed his right to appeal, and that his sentence was unlawful. Clark’s conflicts counsel successfully petitioned to withdraw, so the court appointed new counsel to represent Clark on his first timely PCRA claim, which was dismissed.

Clark filed a second timely PCRA petition, and new counsel was appointed. Clark later filed a notice for ineffective assistance of counsel. Clark’s counsel attached a letter explaining that Clark was no longer entitled to court-appointed counsel; counsel later withdrew, after which the instant court dismissed the PCRA petition.

The court found that all but one of Clark’s claims in his second PCRA had been previously litigated in his first claim and was therefore waived. The court found that the sole preserved issue was the alleged confession of another individual, Nathaniel Jackson, to the crimes Clark was convicted for; however, the court noted that Clark had previously admitted under oath to being at the scene of the crime and seeing another individual, Kevin Ledbetter, take out a gun and start shooting. Consequently, the court found this claim frivolous and considered a hearing unwarranted.

The court also found Clark’s ineffective assistance of counsel claim frivolous, noting that a successful showing requires the petition to prove that the underlying claim is of arguable merit. The court noted that Clark’s counsel was correct in that Clark was only entitled to court-appointed counsel on his first petition for post-conviction relief; because Clark had filed multiple petitions, he was no longer entitled to court-appointed counsel, and as a result his ineffective assistance of counsel claim had no merit.