Click here to see part one of this article discussing the Montgomery decision.
Facts and Background of Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Appellee v. Justin Secreti, Appellant (Superior Court of Pennsylvania, 2016)
In 1993, when Secreti was 16 years old, he and 2 co-defendants broke into a home, robbed and murdered the husband and wife in the home. Secreti pled guilty to several crimes including 2 counts of first-degree murder, aggravated assault, robbery and burglary. Secreti was sentenced to automatic life imprisonment without possibility of parole on each murder offense. Secreti timely filed his first PCRA petition, and the court denied the petition. Secreti filed a second PCRA, which was also denied.
On August 15, 2012, Secreti filed a third PCRA petition after the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Miller v. Alabama, which held that it was unconstitutional to sentence juveniles to life imprisonment without parole.
Related: PCRA Petitions in Philadelphia Criminal Cases
Though PCRA petitions must be filed within 1 year of the date the underlying judgment becomes final, there are three exceptions to this rule pursuant to 42 Pa.C.S.A. Section 9545(b)(1).
Secreti asserted one of the exceptions per 42 Pa.C.S.A. Section 9545(b)(1)(iii), which provides:
The right asserted is a constitutional right that was recognized by the Supreme Court of the United States or the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania after the time period provided in this section and has been held by that court to apply retroactively.
In addition, in order to assert the timeliness exception, Secreti had to file a petition within 60 days of the date the claim could have been presented. Thus, the 60 day period started to run from the date of the Supreme Court decision in Miller.
Secreti’s petition was again denied on December 1, 2014 because the court followed the PA Supreme Court’s ruling in Cunningham, which held that the Miller ruling should be not applied retroactively.
On April 7, 2015, Secreti timely filed a notice of appeal. Then in January 2016, the United States Supreme Court issued the Montgomery decision.
The PA Superior Court said that Secreti’s case was an example of the unique situation where the petition was filed after Miller and before Montgomery. The court ultimately held that the best resolution was to “interpret Montgomery as making retroactivity under Miller effective as of the date of the Miller decision.”
However, the 60 day rule did not run from the date of the Miller decision. Because the Montgomery decision was needed to clarify Miller, the court went on to say it would use “the date of the Montgomery decision solely to measure the 60-day rule of Section 9545(b)(2) (requiring petitioner asserting timeliness exception to file petition within 60 days of date claim could have been presented). Miller remains the lodestar for substantive constitutional law on this subject such that the retroactivity determination will be deemed to have existed at the time the pending petitions were filed.”
Help With Your PCRA Petition
If you or a loved one was sentenced to life without parole as a juvenile and have questions about how the Montgomery case may affect you, call David Nenner, a Philadelphia criminal lawyer who has extensive criminal trial experience. Mr. Nenner has been selected by Super Lawyers as a “Top Rated Criminal Defense Attorney in Philadelphia, PA.
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