Pennsylvania v. Small (majority)Annotate this Case
Ordinarily, a petitioner seeking relief under the Pennsylvania Post Conviction Relief Act (“PCRA”), has to file the petition within one year of the date upon which his or her judgment of sentence becomes final. The PCRA set forth three exceptions to this one-year limitation. Among these is the “newly discovered fact” exception, which rendered a petition timely when the petitioner establishes that “the facts upon which the claim is predicated were unknown to the petitioner and could not have been ascertained by the exercise of due diligence.” Interpreting this provision, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has held that the newly discovered fact exception was limited by a presumption relating to matters of public record, pursuant to which a court may find that information available to the public is not a fact that is “unknown” to the petitioner. In this case, the superior court reversed the PCRA court’s order granting relief to Appellant Elwood Small, reasoning, inter alia, that the Supreme Court's holding in Commonwealth v. Burton, 158 A.3d 618 (Pa. 2017) did not apply to Small because he was represented by counsel some years earlier, in separate post-conviction proceedings, and thus could not be considered pro se for purposes of Burton. Although the Supreme Court ultimately concluded Small was not entitled to relief, it nonetheless was persuaded by Small’s frontal challenge to the public record presumption: "Small’s assertion of newly discovered facts is not foreclosed pursuant to a categorical presumption regarding matters of public record. However, because the Commonwealth has established that the factual record does not support Small’s position on the statutory requirements, Small nonetheless cannot establish the applicability of an exception to the PCRA’s time bar, and the PCRA court accordingly lacked jurisdiction to award him relief upon his substantive claims."