For the Defense - Volume 3, Issue 1 - 2018 - 31

Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
Decisions
Commonwealth v. Pruitt, 162 A.3d 394 (Pa. 2017)
(Berks County). Counsel ineffective for failing
to gain a better understanding of DNA analysis
offered against defendant at trial, but, in light of
other overwhelming evidence of guilt presented
at trial, counsel's ineffectiveness did not prejudice
defendant.
In a capital prosecution for rape and murder,
trial counsel was ineffective for failing to
investigate, understand, and rebut the prosecution
expert's DNA report and testimony. Of note, the
prosecution DNA expert opined that there was
between a one in 1.5 billion and a one in 39
billion chance that a person other than defendant
contributed to a sample of genetic material
taken from the victim's inner thigh. Before trial,
however, trial counsel failed to, among other
things, consult with his own expert in order to
prepare for cross-examination of the prosecution
expert and/or potentially present opposing expert
testimony. Consequently, trial counsel could not
(and did not) seriously challenge the prosecution
expert's testimony. But when post-conviction
counsel consulted an expert, that expert found
myriad flaws in the DNA analysis presented by
the prosecution expert at trial, and ultimately
concluded that the genetic sample taken from
the victim contained insufficient DNA to yield a
reliable analysis.
Regarding prejudice, the Court noted, "were
this a case in which identity [of the perpetrator]
was in controversy, we would likely find prejudice
to be manifest." But defendant's identity as the
killer had "never seriously been put into contest"
given that defendant admitted to the police that
he perpetrated a violent attack upon the victim.
Moreover, other physical evidence also proved the
fact of rape. Thus, defendant could not establish a
reasonable probability that the verdict would have
been different had his trial counsel provided more
able stewardship relative to the DNA evidence.
Commonwealth v. Cousar, 154 A.3d 287 (Pa.
2017) (Philadelphia County). Court excused PCRA
counsel's failure to include with the PCRA petition
an affidavit from trial counsel explaining the

strategic basis (if any) for trial counsel's alleged
failures, because PCRA counsel requested an
affidavit from trial counsel, but trial counsel
declined to cooperate.
Before trial, the Commonwealth moved to
consolidate three cases against the defendant,
including two separate murder cases and a
third case involving an armed home-invasion
robbery (at the scene of which defendant was
captured). Of note regarding the connection
between the three cases: three bullet fragments
were removed from the body of murder victim
#1; one bullet was removed from the body of
murder victim #2; and a handgun, which the
Commonwealth argued was the murder weapon
in the two murder cases, was recovered at
the scene of the home invasion. Importantly,
however, police investigators prepared conflicting
reports about whether the same handgun was
actually used in both murders (with one of the
reports concluding that two different guns were
used). Though trial counsel opposed the motion
to consolidate, he inexplicably failed to use
the conflicting ballistics reports to undermine
the basis for the Commonwealth's request for
consolidation. Trial counsel likewise failed to
use the conflicting reports to undermine the
prosecution's ballistics evidence at trial. The
trial court ultimately granted the motion to
consolidate, defendant was convicted of murder,
and defendant was then sentenced to death.
PCRA counsel alleged that trial counsel
provided ineffective assistance for failing
to use the ballistics reports to oppose the
consolidation motion and/or undermine the
ballistics evidence at trial. The PCRA court
denied relief without a hearing. On appeal,
the Commonwealth argued that defendant's
PCRA petition was properly dismissed because
defendant relied on "boilerplate assertions"
that there was no reasonable or strategic basis
for counsel's failure to challenge the ballistics
evidence. This argument was grounded in the
fact that defendant did not include with his
petition an affidavit by trial counsel explaining
his strategy. The Supreme Court ultimately
overlooked defendant's failure to include an
affidavit from trial counsel because PCRA counsel

Vol. 3, Issue 1

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For The Defense

31



Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of For the Defense - Volume 3, Issue 1 - 2018

Contents
For the Defense - Volume 3, Issue 1 - 2018 - 1
For the Defense - Volume 3, Issue 1 - 2018 - 2
For the Defense - Volume 3, Issue 1 - 2018 - Contents
For the Defense - Volume 3, Issue 1 - 2018 - 4
For the Defense - Volume 3, Issue 1 - 2018 - 5
For the Defense - Volume 3, Issue 1 - 2018 - 6
For the Defense - Volume 3, Issue 1 - 2018 - 7
For the Defense - Volume 3, Issue 1 - 2018 - 8
For the Defense - Volume 3, Issue 1 - 2018 - 9
For the Defense - Volume 3, Issue 1 - 2018 - 10
For the Defense - Volume 3, Issue 1 - 2018 - 11
For the Defense - Volume 3, Issue 1 - 2018 - 12
For the Defense - Volume 3, Issue 1 - 2018 - 13
For the Defense - Volume 3, Issue 1 - 2018 - 14
For the Defense - Volume 3, Issue 1 - 2018 - 15
For the Defense - Volume 3, Issue 1 - 2018 - 16
For the Defense - Volume 3, Issue 1 - 2018 - 17
For the Defense - Volume 3, Issue 1 - 2018 - 18
For the Defense - Volume 3, Issue 1 - 2018 - 19
For the Defense - Volume 3, Issue 1 - 2018 - 20
For the Defense - Volume 3, Issue 1 - 2018 - 21
For the Defense - Volume 3, Issue 1 - 2018 - 22
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For the Defense - Volume 3, Issue 1 - 2018 - 26
For the Defense - Volume 3, Issue 1 - 2018 - 27
For the Defense - Volume 3, Issue 1 - 2018 - 28
For the Defense - Volume 3, Issue 1 - 2018 - 29
For the Defense - Volume 3, Issue 1 - 2018 - 30
For the Defense - Volume 3, Issue 1 - 2018 - 31
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