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Posted by on Jan 31, 2018 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

Com v. Wholaver: PCRA death penalty appeal yields nothing of interest

The unanimous Court rejected the arguments of a PCRA petitioner in Com v. Wholaver. As regular followers of the Court are aware, all death penalty cases result in a direct appeal to the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, even on collateral review. These cases often yield little of interest to the practitioner, and this case is such an example.

Wholaver challenged his conviction for murder on eleven different grounds, including inadequate assistance of counsel, a Brady violation, prosecutorial misconduct, striking a juror for cause, hearsay, and “corrupt and polluted source” instructions. Justice Baer does the yeoman’s work of laying out the exhaustive(ing?) arguments of the petitioner in this case, and reviews the law in each of these areas.

The “corrupt and polluted source” claim is the most interesting: where a conspirator to a crime is called at trial, the defendant may request an instruction to the jury explaining the unreliability of the testimony of a conspirator to the crime. Here the Court notes that the trial judge’s instructions on how to weigh credibility included discussion of plea deals of a witness discussed in evidence, and finds no error.

As always, this case is important as it reflects the Commonwealth’s dedication to ensuring that no one is wrongly convicted of murder; unfortunately, the opinion offers little beyond that in this case.

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