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COMMONWEALTH EX REL. BELL v. RUSSELL (06/24/66)

SUPREME COURT OF PENNSYLVANIA


decided: June 24, 1966.

COMMONWEALTH EX REL. BELL, APPELLANT,
v.
RUSSELL

Appeal from order of Court of Common Pleas of Venango County, Jan. T., 1965, No. 17, in case of Commonwealth ex rel. William C. Bell v. H. E. Russell, Superintendent.

COUNSEL

William C. Bell, appellant, in propria persona.

Harry W. Gent, Jr., District Attorney, for appellee.

Bell, C. J., Musmanno, Jones, Eagen, O'Brien and Roberts, JJ. Opinion by Mr. Justice Roberts. Mr. Justice Cohen took no part in the consideration or decision of this case.

Author: Roberts

[ 422 Pa. Page 233]

This is an appeal from an order of the Court of Common Pleas of Venango County denying appellant's petition for a writ of habeas corpus.

Appellant, while represented by counsel, was tried in November of 1959, and found guilty of murder in the second degree. He was sentenced to serve a term of imprisonment of 10 to 20 years. No appeal was taken from the judgment of conviction or sentence.

Appellant now contends that his conviction should be set aside on the ground that his confession, admitted

[ 422 Pa. Page 234]

    at trial, was obtained in the absence of counsel during pretrial police interrogation in violation of Escobedo v. Illinois, 378 U.S. 478, 84 S. Ct. 1758 (1964). We find no merit in this contention.

In Johnson v. New Jersey, 384 U.S. 719, 86 S. Ct. 1772 (1966), the Supreme Court of the United States held that Escobedo was not to be given retrospective application.*fn1 Accordingly, appellant's trial having occurred prior to the decision in Escobedo, his reliance upon that case will not support the issuance of a writ of habeas corpus. Moreover, appellant does not assert, and the record does not reveal that his confession was otherwise tainted. See Crooker v. California, 357 U.S. 433, 78 S. Ct. 1287 (1958); Cicenia v. LaGay, 357 U.S. 504, 78 S. Ct. 1297 (1958); Commonwealth ex rel. Mullenaux v. Myers, 421 Pa. 61, 217 A.2d 730 (1966).*fn2

Appellant next contends that his constitutional rights were infringed by the refusal of the court below to appoint counsel at the hearing upon his habeas corpus petition.

In considering this contention, we begin with the proposition that, absent unusual circumstances, there

[ 422 Pa. Page 235]

    is no constitutional right to the assistance of counsel in habeas corpus proceedings. Flowers v. Oklahoma, 356 F. 2d 916 (10th Cir. 1966); United States ex rel. Wissenfeld v. Wilkins, 281 F. 2d 707, 715 (2d Cir. 1960); Dorsey v. Gill, 148 F. 2d 857 (D.C. Cir.), cert. denied, 325 U.S. 890, 65 S. Ct. 1580 (1945); Commonwealth ex rel. Dickerson v. Rundle, 411 Pa. 651, 192 A.2d 347 (1963). However, even in the absence of constitutional compulsion, we are of the view that the far better practice is to appoint counsel, especially where the issue presented requires an ability to organize complex factual data, or to elicit testimony in a logical and orderly fashion. See United States ex rel. Wissenfeld v. Wilkins, supra.

In the instant case, no factual issue is presented by appellant's petition, since the sole contention there raised is controlled as a matter of law by the decision of the Supreme Court of the United States in Johnson v. New Jersey, supra. Under such circumstances, we are unable to conclude that the court below abused its discretion in denying appellant's request for the appointment of counsel.

Moreover, appellant's petition for writ of habeas corpus was filed, considered and denied prior to March 1, 1966, the effective date of the new Post Conviction Hearing Act, Act of January 25, 1966, P. L. 1580, 19 P.S. ยงยง 1180-1 to 1180-14.*fn3 Thus, appellant, at the time of the proceedings below, had no statutory right to the appointment of counsel at the hearing upon his petition.

[ 422 Pa. Page 236]

Accordingly, we hold that the order of the court below denying appellant's petition for writ of habeas corpus is affirmed.

Order affirmed.

Disposition

Order affirmed.


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