Pennsylvania Superior Court Ruling: Commonwealth v. Hawkins

Com. v. Hawkins, J. No. 1524 WDA 2019

Commonwealth v. Hawkins is an appeal following the denial of a post-conviction relief act petition.

The defendant was arrested after police responded to his apartment following a complaint of domestic abuse. The police were let into the apartment by someone other than the defendant and observed the defendant and controlled substances and drug paraphernalia. It was the defendant’s position that the person who let the police in did not reside in his apartment and therefore did not have authority to grant consent to enter the apartment. At trial, defense counsel did not file a motion to suppress.

The defendant filed his PCRA petition claiming ineffective assistance of counsel. At the PCRA hearing, several witnesses were called, however Ms. Domo, the woman who granted consent for the police to enter the apartment, was notable absent from the hearing. In a PCRA hearing for ineffective assistance of counsel, the attorney is presumed to be effective. The burden is on the defendant to prove that counsel was ineffective. In this case, in order to establish that counsel was ineffective, the defendant was required to prove that if his attorney had filed a motion to suppress, the Commonwealth would have been unable to prove that Ms. Domo validly consented to the entry and search. Because the defendant did not present Ms. Domo as a witness, there is no evidence to suggest that consent was not valid.

In the absence of such evidence, the court cannot conclude that her consent was anything but valid. As such, the defendant cannot succeed on his ineffective assistance of counsel claim. On a secondary issue, the defendant claims that his warrantless arrest was improper because the police did not observe a recent injury on the complainant. Under the law, police have the right to immediately arrest without a warrant when there is a claim of domestic violence and “recent physical injury.” Here the court finds that the term recent physical injury is not defined in the statute and the term recent is highly depend upon the context in which it is being used. In this case, the injury was two or three days old and the court found that the delay in reporting in domestic cases is common and therefore the observable black eye was still recent for purposes of the law.

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