Doyle requests own order be vacated by Superior Court
Judge says her dismissal of Miller’s petition was ‘premature’
The Pennsylvania Superior Court has vacated an order filed in June by President Judge Elizabeth A. Doyle at the judge’s request.
The unusual opinion was issued last week by a three-judge panel of the appeals court in a case involving an Altoona woman who is serving a 15- to 30-year state prison sentence for her part of a drug organization that operated locally in 2010 and 2011.
The defendant, Natasha Qiana Miller, 38, received the lengthy prison sentence for her role in a Baltimore to Altoona drug ring.
She was considered one of the leaders of the ring, who worked with her longtime boyfriend Damion Floyd of Baltimore to bring kilograms of cocaine into the Altoona area.
According to the testimony during multiple trials involving members of the organization, the cocaine was brought to the former Corner Bar and Grille at 1001 Eighth Ave., where it was processed for distribution.
Officers with the West Drug Task Force broke up the organization in late 2011 after months of investigation that was part of Operation Last Call.
More than two dozen leaders and distributors with the organization were arrested.
Floyd, with the help of Miller and others, operated his drug organization from prison.
According to the facts elicited at her sentencing, she handled the organization’s money but had no part in processing, packaging or street sales.
Doyle initially sentenced Miller to 16 to 32 years, but the sentence was later reduced because the mandatory sentences imposed were found to be unconstitutional.
Miller discontinued her appeals in 2014, but on June 14, 2019, she filed a motion for reconsideration of her sentence because, she contended, she was illegally indicted prior to entering her guilty pleas in 2012.
Doyle dismissed her petition in an order issued June 28, 2019.
The defendant, acting as her own attorney, then filed an appeal with the Superior Court.
It was at this point that the appeals court requires the various parties in the case to file legal briefs justifying their respective positions.
Doyle, according to the Superior Court opinion, requested the court to vacate her June order and send the case back to Blair County because she determined Miller was in fact entitled to representation by an attorney, which she did not have when preparing her request for a new sentence.
The Blair County president judge pointed out the June filing by Miller was her first post-conviction petition, and, she stated, “A criminal defendant has a right to representation of counsel for purposes of litigating a first PCRA petition through the entire appellate process.”
Also, she concluded, an indigent defendant (one who can’t afford an attorney) has the right to counsel, particularly in a case like Miller’s where the filing may be untimely.
However, there are exceptions to the time limits for contesting a case and an attorney would help the defendant determine if any of those exceptions are related to her case, Doyle explained.
Doyle indicated that her dismissal of the Miller petition was “premature.”
She asked the Superior Court to vacate her order and send the case back to Blair County.
The three-judge panel that included Victor P. Stabile, Deborah A. Kunselman and Dan Pelligrini granted Doyle’s request but clarified, “We make no determination as to the merits of Miller’s claims.”
Miller is incarcerated at the State Correctional Institution at Cambridge Springs.