City man loses Superior Court appeal

A former Altoona man who claimed prosecutors and police withheld exculpatory information from his defense attorney has lost his appeal to the Pennsylvania Superior Court.

Derrick Dawson, 35, was sentenced by Blair County President Judge Elizabeth Doyle to a prison term of 33 to 66 years after being convicted by a jury on three cocaine sales that occurred in August and September 2011.

He is incarcerated in the State Correctional Institution in Huntingdon.

Dawson’s case was unusual because he was given a long sentence typically reserved for the leaders of drug organizations, but Doyle during sentencing explained that Dawson was receiving a stiff sentence because even at a young age of 26 he had a history of drug dealing dating back to when he was 14 years old and living in his native Philadelphia.

When he appeared before her for sentencing in 2012, he had already served a two- to four-year term for drug dealing in Blair County.

After being paroled to Philadelphia, he returned to Altoona and once again began selling drugs, according to the information that was reported during his sentencing.

Doyle stated Dawson was a danger to the community.

Since his sentence, Dawson had filed three post conviction petitions, the latest in which he raised eight issues complaining that Doyle dismissed his appeal without a hearing because it was untimely, meaning it has not been filed within one year following the final disposition of his case that occurred in 2014.

His most recent petition was filed in 2019.

Among the issues he raised was that the prosecution failed to disclose information about his case that could have been used to test the credibility of the police investigation that led to his arrest.

He contended that he learned this new information from a fellow inmate indicating investigators knew that a confidential informant was illegally purchasing drugs while working for law enforcement.

A Superior Court opinion issued late last week by Judge Daniel D. McCaffery focused on Dawson’s claims about the informant’s illegal drug activities.

It was determined that the informant named by Dawson had nothing to do with the three drug sales on which Dawson was sentenced. That informant was working for police investigating a Baltimore-to-Altoona cocaine ring.

It was pointed out Dawson was convicted for sales that occurred on Aug. 18, Aug. 25 and Sept. 21, 2011 — all involving a different informant.

The Superior Court opinion reasoned that Dawson was attempting to overcome the time bar on his appeal by claiming government interference with his right to appeal by not revealing the information about the informant and by noting the information represented “newly discovered evidence” which had not been available at time of his trial.

Dawson, the Superior Court opinion stated, “cannot demonstrate the Commonwealth interfered with his ability to present his claim when the evidence the Commonwealth purportedly withheld had nothing to do with the present convictions.”

The same reasoning applied to Dawson’s claim of newly discovered evidence, McCaffery explained.

The evidence relating to the informant’s alleged illegal activities “is completely irrelevant to (Dawson’s) convictions in the present cases,” the judge concluded.

The McCaffery opinion was joined by Judge James G. Colins. Judge Mary Jane Bowes concurred with the opinion.

In the end, the three-judge panel upheld Doyle’s dismissal of Dawson’s appeal as untimely.


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