were made by the defendants because of promises of leniency by federal and local agents. I am unconvinced that the defendants came before me in open court and entered their pleas of guilty under the cloak of ignorance, misunderstanding and unwillingness.
From all the appearances of the defendants before me, and from their testimony and demeanor at these times, I find no credence in their present contention that they pleaded guilty before me because they thought they had to do so after making their statements before the law enforcement officers and because they thought their attorney desired them to do so. I have examined further their assertion that their counsel advised them to plead guilty because, with the evidence which the Government possessed, they would be "cut to ribbons" by the prosecutor if they went to trial. This is not supported by the evidence.
The defendants further contend that the Government has insufficient evidence upon which to convict them and that therefore this is a reason for allowing a change of plea. If the defendants had demonstrated the existence of improper factors which induced either or both of them to enter a plea which they did not want to enter, they would have had grounds for recalling their pleas. Machibroda v. United States, 368 U.S. 487, 82 S. Ct. 510, 7 L. Ed. 2d 473, 1962; Friedman v. United States, supra; United States v. Maroney, 230 F. Supp. 468 (W.D.Pa., 1964).
My concern here is not whether the defendants made an error in choice or a misjudgment of what proof they believed the Government had against them in the pending charge for bank robbery. Oftentimes convictions are had where there is no evidence to convict, but where defendants, from a sense of judgment or conscience or other reasons, submit themselves to criminal justice. The concern of the law under such circumstances is that, as in all other cases, the guilty be punished, but that it be done within the protections provided by the Constitution and the law. Although it does not appear here from the evidence of the defendants that they did not commit the crimes for which they are presently charged, there is no assertion by them that whatever evidence the Government does have is either erroneous or baseless. But this is my lesser concern than that these defendants with one other who was associated with them, came to the law enforcement officers, at the very beginning, of their own volition and after they had been properly warned and cautioned, each separately made statements of guilt in the participation of the bank robbery; that this attitude as expressed in their statements continued for many months after the statements were made and after each of the three had entered pleas of guilty in open court under cautioning; that one of these had already been sentenced and sent for study; that eventually all three had been brought together in the Allegheny County Jail for the purpose of testifying against two others who had been named as accomplices, and each of the three defendants in turn chose not to testify and assumed the Constitutional protection against incriminating himself; that this was done with such a similitude of concerted action as to indicate plan and conformance by all three; and that thereafter, each of the three defendants presented motions for change of plea from guilty to not guilty.
I do not say that the defendants do not have rights to move to change their pleas. I merely enumerate the sequence of events as an indication for which I believe the reasons to be why motions for change of pleas were made, and as such being the more convincing than all the reasons given by the two defendants here.
The Constitutional provisions, which the defendants claim were violated, are foundation rocks of public policy; however, they do not command the abandonment of public safety. Neither do they require an arbitrary interpretation under all circumstances so as to provide a one-sided view or a one-sided interpretation against protective law and order. All that the courts are required to do is to make certain that those accused of crime have been clothed with Constitutional protections, and once that has been done, that the law be permitted to continue to act by due process.
The defendants Ptomey and Young were here given constitutional protection throughout, and while they had made statements of confessions, these were not relied upon for convictions. The acts of the defendants themselves by their pleas of guilty were the convictions against them. The imposition of the sentence was the only judicial act remaining. Machibroda v. United States, supra; Kercheval v. United States, 274 U.S. 220, 223, 47 S. Ct. 582, 71 L. Ed. 1009, 1927. Now the defendants seek, in effect, a reversal of their convictions. But like any other convictions they should not be set aside unless there is legal reason to do so. It is as our Court of Appeals stated in Hudgins v. United States, 340 F.2d 391, C.A.3, 1965,
"This is because a plea of guilty stands as a plea to the indictment and 'is itself a conviction.' Kercheval v. United States [274 U.S. 220, at 223, 47 S. Ct. 582, at 583, 71 L. Ed. 1009 (1927)]; Gawantka v. United States, 327 F.2d 129 (3 Cir. ), cert. denied, 377 U.S. 969, 84 S. Ct. 1650, 12 L. Ed. 2d 738 (1964); United States v. Williams, 212 F.2d 786 (7 Cir., 1954); United States v. Gallagher, 183 F.2d 342 (3 Cir. 1950), cert. denied, 340 U.S. 913, 71 S. Ct. 283, 95 L. Ed. 659 (1951)."
While when given within constitutional protection, a plea of guilty is admissible in evidence against a defendant to support a conviction against him, confessions were not here used as evidence against these defendants. Their convictions were founded on their pleas of guilty as presented in open court in the presence of their attorney, and after they had been properly advised, cautioned and questioned as to their understanding of their actions which they were about to take and of the voluntariness of such actions.
It was, therefore, incumbent upon the defendants in support of their motions for the withdrawal of their pleas of guilty to present lawful reasons. I have examined very carefully all that has been here presented, and I am unable to find any facts or legal reasons which would support the defendants' motion.
What I presently search for is any undue influence or illegal processes by which the defendants may have been induced or unknowingly persuaded into an involuntary submission of entering a plea of guilty before me in open court. If such evidence appears, I may well be persuaded that such undue influence amounted to violations of the defendants' constitutional protections. It was, therefore, incumbent upon me not only to grant hearings upon the motions as presented by them but to searchingly inquire for credible evidence of such possible constitutional infringements.
I am not convinced that any unlawful or illegal violation of the Constitution has been here involved. I am not convinced that the defendants' pleas of guilty were not entered basically and fairly. Both defendants were represented by able counsel. Each defendant was asked a series of questions by the United States Attorney and myself which elicited answers from the defendants showing their pleas were entered understandingly and with the information and advice of counsel, and with full knowledge of the maximum penalty which could be imposed by the sentencing court.
I am convinced that the defendants acted voluntarily without any influences or inducements or promises and without any fear or coercion. Under these circumstances I cannot fairly and reasonably allow the defendants' motion to withdraw their respective pleas of guilty. It will, accordingly, be denied.
© 1992-2004 VersusLaw Inc.