CRIMINAL LAW

Post-Conviction Relief Act • Interstate Agreement on Detainers Act • Speedy Trial

Commonwealth v. Destephano, PICS Case No. 14-0423 (Pa. Super. March 7, 2014) Lazarus, J. (13 pages).

Where a prisoner awaiting trial pursuant to the Interstate Agreement on Detainers Act was discharged from his sentence in the state of his incarceration, the time limits of the IAD no longer applied, and he was not entitled to post-conviction relief for violation of the IAD or ineffective assistance of counsel for failure to seek relief under the IAD. Affirmed.

Defendant appealed from the dismissal of his PCRA petition stemming from conviction for theft and criminal conspiracy. In his PCRA petition, defendant argued that his sentence was illegal because it was imposed in violation of the time limitations of the Interstate Agreement on Detainers Act.

After defendant was charged in Pennsylvania, he was incarcerated on unrelated charges in North Carolina. In August 2011, defendant filed a notice pursuant to the IAD seeking disposition of his Pennsylvania indictments. Defendant was transferred to Pennsylvania on Sept. 16, 2011, and bail was set on Nov. 2, 2011. While awaiting trial, defendant was discharged from his sentence in North Carolina on Nov. 29, 2011. Defendant ultimately pled guilty and was sentenced to his theft charge on Aug. 21, 2012.

Defendant argued that his sentence was imposed in violation of the timeliness requirement of IAD Articles III and IV — specifically, the commonwealth had to bring the defendant to trial within, respectively 180 days from Aug. 30, 2011, or Feb. 27, 2012; or 120 days from Nov. 2, 2011, or March 1, 2012. However, defendant did not plead guilty and was not sentenced until Aug. 21, 2012.

The court noted that the question of whether the time limits of the IAD applied once a defendant’s sentence in the sending state had been discharged was one of first impression in Pennsylvania.

The court further noted that the plain language of the relevant articles of the IAD consistently made reference to “prisoners” and “term of imprisonment”. The court held this to mean that, once an individual was discharged from his sentence in the sending state, the terms of the IAD no longer applied, nor would the stated aims of the IAD continued to be served by its application.

In support of his argument, defendant cited Commonwealth v. Merlo, and Snyder v. Sumner, a Ninth Circuit case. However, the court found that both Merlo and Snyder were inapplicable to defendant’s case, as in both cited cases the defendants were still subject to the sentence in the sending state, either by incarceration or parole. The court further found that other states that had addressed the same facts as defendant’s case had ruled that once the the prisoner was released from his sentence, the IAD no longer applied.

The court ruled that once defendant’s sentence in North Carolina was discharged, he ceased to be a “prisoner” for the purposed of the IAD, and Pennsylvania was no longer required to comply with the time limitations of the IAD.