Comm. v. Murphy, 2018 PA Super 35 (Feb. 20, 2018)

This was an appeal out of Dauphin County. The appellant, Edgar Murphy, Jr., had filed several post-conviction-relief appeals (PCRAs), and the instant one was blatantly untimely.  Murphy had also filed numerous, incoherent, applications for relief with the Superior Court, which the Court denied.  However, it was an assertion in one of Murphy’s applications that the Superior Court took the time to address and to bring clarity to the law.

Specifically, Murphy, a convicted sex offender, had argued that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s decision in Commonwealth v. Muniz—which declared sex-offender registration laws to be punitive and unconstitutional—was a new right that was to be applied retroactively.  Accordingly, provided as much, Murphy argued, his PCRA should have been deemed as timely though it was filed beyond the PCRA’s one-year filing deadline; it fell into the exception to the one-year filing deadline, he argued, commonly referred to as the new-retroactive-right exception.  For clarity, the statute reads like this:

(b) Time for filing petition.–

(1) Any petition under this subchapter, including a second or subsequent petition, shall be filed within one year of the date the judgment becomes final, unless the petition alleges and the petitioner proves that:

*       *       *

(iii) 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.

42 Pa.C.S. § 9545(b)(1)(iii).

The Superior Court disagreed.  Tracking the plain language of the statute, the Superior Court held that it may have found the Muniz case to be retroactive, but the Pennsylvania Supreme Court had yet to do that.  And so long as the statute says that “the right asserted is a constitutional right that was recognized by . . . the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania . . . to apply retroactively,” then Murphy could not rely upon Muniz to make his PCRA timely.

Surely, it’s a technical decision about procedure, but it’s an important decision to serve as a reminder that statutes mean what they say.