Appeal from order of Court of Common Pleas of Greene County, March T., 1965, No. 76, in case of Commonwealth ex rel. Donald Grover Mullenaux v. David N. Myers, Superintendent.
Donald Grover Mullenaux, appellant, in propria persona.
W. Bertram Waychoff, District Attorney, for appellee.
Bell, C. J., Musmanno, Jones, Eagen, O'Brien and Roberts, JJ. Opinion by Mr. Justice Roberts.
In 1946, appellant, Donald Grover Mullenaux, then fifteen years of age, entered a plea of guilty to a bill of indictment charging him with murder in the fatal stabbing of Kathryn Inghram Fletcher, his foster mother. At the arraignment and throughout the proceedings which followed, appellant was represented by court appointed counsel. A hearing, without jury, was subsequently held to determine the degree of guilt and to affix the penalty. He was adjudged guilty of murder in the first degree and sentenced to life imprisonment. No post trial motions were filed and no appeal was taken from the judgment of sentence.
In December 1965, appellant filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus challenging his conviction. The
petition was dismissed without a hearing by the court below and this appeal followed.
In his habeas corpus petition, appellant seeks to impeach his conviction first on the ground that a written confession introduced at the 1946 hearing was obtained by means of threats and coercion. The admission of this allegedly tainted confession, he urges, renders his conviction invalid. We find no merit in this contention.
At the hearing on appellant's plea of guilty, no objection was interposed to the introduction of the confession. No steps were taken to apprise the court that the voluntary nature of appellant's confession was in contention. Under such circumstances, we have held that the admissibility of the confession may not be challenged in a subsequent proceeding. Commonwealth ex rel. Knowles v. Rundle, 419 Pa. 300, 213 A.2d 635 (1965); Commonwealth ex rel. Johnson v. Myers, 419 Pa. 155, 213 A.2d 359 (1965); Commonwealth ex rel. Blackshear v. Myers, 419 Pa. 151, 213 A.2d 378 (1965); Commonwealth ex rel. Fox v. Maroney, 417 Pa. 308, 207 A.2d 810 (1965); cf. Henry v. Mississippi, 379 U.S. 443, 447-48, 85 S. Ct. 564, 567 (1965).
While we are reluctant to preclude consideration of constitutional contentions on their merits, to permit the present challenge would unreasonably subserve the public interest in the maintenance of orderly judicial processes and the finality of judgments. Had the issue been properly raised in the 1946 hearing, the voluntariness of the confession could have been then litigated and the confession excluded, if found tainted, without the invalidation of the entire proceeding.
The importance of an insistence on a timely challenge is demonstrated by the facts of the instant case. Appellant alleges that he was threatened that his failure to give a written confession would result in the ...