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HOFFMAN v. BURKE (09/27/54)

September 27, 1954

HOFFMAN, APPELLANT,
v.
BURKE



Appeal, No. 39, Jan. T., 1954, from order of Court of Common Pleas of Berks County, in case of Jacob L. Hoffman v. C.J. Burke, Warden, Eastern State Penitentiary. Order affirmed. Habeas corpus proceeding. Order entered dismissing petition, opinion by MAYS, P.J. Relator appealed.

COUNSEL

Leon Ehrlich, with him M. Bernard Hoffman, for appellant.

Edward Youngerman, Assistant District Attorney, with him Henry M. Koch, District Attorney, for appellee.

Before Stern, C.j., Jones, Bell, Chidsey, Musmanno and Arnold, JJ.

Author: Chidsey

[ 378 Pa. Page 652]

OPINION BY MR. JUSTICE CHIDSEY

On June 8, 1942, pursuant to a plea of guilty, entered in open court, the relator, Jacob L. Hoffman, was adjudged guilty of murder in the first degree and was sentenced to life imprisonment in Eastern State Penitentiary. It was not until October 8, 1952, more than ten years later, that the relator questioned the validity of the sentence imposed. He then filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in the Court of Common

[ 378 Pa. Page 653]

Pleas of Berks County alleging that he was illegally detained. A rule to show cause why the writ should not issue was granted and answers were filed by the District Attorney of Berks County and the warden of the Eastern State Penitentiary. After oral argument on the petition and the answers thereto, the court made an order discharging the rule and dismissing the petition. Relator has appealed from that order.

The only issue presented is whether the court below erred in refusing to grant a hearing on the petition for a writ of habeas corpus after issuing a rule to show cause. Under the Habeas Corpus Act of May 25, 1951, P.L. 415, 12 PS § 1901 et seq., where a rule to show cause is allowed, the taking of testimony is not necessary where there is no issue of fact to be decided or when the facts averred by the relator, even if believed, are insufficient to warrant granting the writ. If the petition, answer and original record disclose only questions of law, then in this as in any other civil proceeding, the only hearing necessary is oral argument to hear the relator's views on the legal issues involved: Commonwealth ex rel. Bishop v. Claudy, 373 Pa. 523, 97 A.2d 54.

In his petition the appellant alleged that at the time of the proceeding, as a result of which he is detained, he was not competent to plead. In support of this averment he set forth and relied on a statement attributed to one of the two hearing judges in the original proceeding (Judge MAYS) that "We have a report that this man is a borderline case of psychosis, he doesn't know the difference between right and wrong; and the doctors recommend, and I certainly feel for myself that it is a fine recommendation, that this man be committed to an institution where he will receive medical attention.". The record discloses that

[ 378 Pa. Page 654]

    after the relator pleaded guilty the court held a hearing to determine the degree of guilt. Although the relator was represented then and throughout the entire proceeding by competent counsel, at no time was the defense of insanity raised. The court on its own initiative before passing sentence, had the defendant undergo an examination by Dr. Paul Holmer, a psychiatrist. The psychiatrist's report, along with other ...


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