Judge: Handerhan can proceed with ineffective counsel claim
HARRISBURG - A former Mount Carmel police officer imprisoned after pleading guilty to possessing child pornography can proceed with claims his counsel was ineffective while he seeks to have his conviction and sentence overturned.
Judge William W. Caldwell ruled Wednesday in favor of Blaine Handerhan, ordering the federal government to respond to two of his claims.
Caldwell agreed with the government attorney who sought to have Handerhan's appeal dismissed, saying a valid guilty plea waives claims of an illegal search or a violation of Miranda rights. However, he says the defendant's appeal is different in that it alleges his former counsel was ineffective in having not pursued claims based on these rights.
The former police lieutenant is locked up at a federal prison in Fort Dix, N.J., after pleading guilty to a charge of possession of child pornography - a plea he says he gave reluctantly due to the stress of defending himself against the allegations. Police say more than 147,000 images and 1,200 video files were discovered on his personal computer at his home in Swatara Township, Lebanon County. Handerhan says peer-to-peer file sharing software allowed remote access to his machine. He was sentenced in August 2012 to serve eight years.
Handerhan's appeal filed in February includes allegations that attorney Matthew Gover failed to file motions to dispute the legality of a search warrant and to suppress statements made to police allegedly given in violation of his Miranda rights. Gover gave up law altogether while Handerhan's case headed toward sentencing after he was diagnosed with brain cancer, according to the appeal.
The government was ordered by Caldwell to file a supplemental brief addressing these two claims, after which Handerhan will be allowed to respond.