Huntingdon man loses appeal claiming innocence

A Huntingdon County man who is serving a state prison sentence after pleading no-contest to four DUI charges has lost his appeal in which he contended he was “actually innocent,” according to Pennsylvania Superior Court decision issued last week.

Huntingdon County President Judge George Zanic in 2016 sentenced Mark Adam Henderson, 37, to a prison term of 84 to 168 months after the defendant had entered a no-contest plea to four counts of DUI and four counts of driving while his license was suspended.

Henderson was found eligible for the Department of Corrections Recidivism Risk Reduction Incentive, a program that, upon completion, would reduce his minimum term in prison to 70 months.

In that same proceeding. Henderson was placed on probation for 10 years on two counts of forging prescriptions.

He wanted to withdraw his pleas in 2016, a move that was denied by Zanic and was dismissed by the Pennsylvania Superior Court.

Henderson asked the appeals court to review the fact that he testified in his post-conviction hearing that he was “actually innocent” of the charges.

In addressing his innocence claim, the Superior Court panel stated, “(Henderson) ignores the fact that he pled nolo contendere (no-contest) to the charges on which he was sentenced.”

Such a plea is treated by the courts as a guilty plea, although the defendant is not admitting his guilt.

He therefore waived his right to challenge anything but the legality of his sentence and the validity of his plea, the panel found.

In his most recent petition, dismissed by Zanic on July 16, Henderson claimed also the judge did not consider a landmark U.S. Supreme Court case issued in 2016 called Birchfield v. North Dakota, which declared that warrantless blood tests and state laws punishing suspects for not submitting to a blood test are unconstitutional.

Henderson argued his attorney was ineffective for not contesting the legality of his sentence under the Birchfield decision.

However, the Superior Court pointed out Henderson admitted that he had agreed to the blood draw involved in his cases.

The Superior Court panel pointed out that Henderson in his post-conviction hearing did not challenge the legality of his sentence or his consent to the blood draw used in each case.

If he wanted to argue his case under Birchfield, he should have raised it in the initial stages of the case, the court stated.

“Significantly, (Henderson) did not maintain in a pre-trial suppression motion or otherwise present any claim that his pre-arrest blood draw and subsequent testing were performed involuntarily without his consent or were coerced,” the panel, which included Judges Jacqueline O. Shogan, Paula Fransisco Ott and Correale Stevens, stated.

Henderson is an inmate in the State Correctional Institution at Coal Township, Northumberland County.