Commonwealth v. Treadwell
(Pennsylvania Superior Court, May 2014)
A few months ago, the Pennsylvania Superior Court revisited the issue of whether a PCRA petition based on newly discovered evidence is timely filed, and what is needed to proceed with a successful claim.
In Commonwealth v. Treadwell, the defendant was convicted of shooting and killing a known drug dealer and was sentenced to life in prison. The trial and conviction occurred in 2002. At trial, the prosecution presented testimony of 3 eyewitnesses:
- a man walking with the victim at the time of the shooting,
- a bus driver, and
- a man who, earlier on the day of the shooting, engaged in a drug transaction with the victim and defendant.
Seven years later, in 2009, the first witness, the man who was walking with the victim at the time of the shooting, came forward and indicated that detectives coerced him into identifying the defendant as the shooter. When the witness came forward, he was actually incarcerated with the defendant at State Correctional Institution-Greene, a maximum security prison located in Waynesburg, Pennsylvania.
The timing of when this witness came forward was an issue in the case. The defendant claimed that the witness came forward some time in November 2009 (the defendant filed his pro se PCRA petition on November 18, 2009). The defendant argued that this evidence was exculpatory evidence which was not available at trial but would have changed the outcome of trial. The Superior Court disagreed and denied his petition.
Related: Pennsylvania Post Conviction Relief Act (PCRA) Petition – Newly Discovered Evidence
Legal Analysis – Newly Discovered Evidence & PCRA Petitions
The Pennsylvania Post Conviction Relief Act imposes a strict 1 year time limitation on all PCRA petitions with some limited exceptions. One of those exceptions is the newly discovered evidence exception. If a criminal defendant has newly discovered evidence, but his PCRA petition is past the initial 1 year time limitation, he must conclusively establish that he filed his PCRA petition within 60 days of discovering the new evidence. The key here is that the petitioner must provide sufficient evidence which clearly shows that the petition was filed within 60 days of first learning about the new evidence.
In the Treadwell case, the defendant presented an unsigned statement of the witness which was too vague about when the witness came forward. In the unsigned statement, the witness stated that he came forward “sometime around 2009.” The court held that the statement failed to conclusively establish the timeline.
Winning a Newly Discovered Evidence Claim
In order to present a successfully newly discovered evidence claim, a defendant must basically show that the evidence could not have been obtained by reasonable diligence and would have resulted in a not guilty verdict at trial. The evidence cannot be cumulative or solely impeach the credibility of a witness.
In the Treadwell case, the court found that because the witness was only one of three (each of whom identified the defendant as the shooter), the statement about being coerced would not have made any difference in the outcome of the case.
More: PA Criminal Appeals Law – The Basics of Pennsylvania’s Post Conviction Relief Act Part 1
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