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COMMONWEALTH EX REL. WEST v. MYERS (09/27/66)

decided: September 27, 1966.

COMMONWEALTH EX REL. WEST, APPELLANT,
v.
MYERS



Appeal from order of Court of Common Pleas No. 2 of Philadelphia County, Sept. T., 1965, No. 3362, in case of Commonwealth ex rel. Sank West v. David N. Myers, Superintendent.

COUNSEL

Sank West, appellant, in propria persona.

Charles Robert Bernsee and Joseph M. Smith, Assistant District Attorneys, and Arlen Specter, 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. Dissenting Opinion by Mr. Chief Justice Bell.

Author: Roberts

[ 423 Pa. Page 3]

This is an appeal from the dismissal of a petition for a writ of habeas corpus. In 1958, appellant was indicted and charged with the offense of murder. Two attorneys were appointed to represent him and he was brought to trial in June of that year. At trial, appellant's plea of guilty to the charge of murder generally was accepted by the court and a hearing held before a three judge panel for the purpose of determining the degree of guilt.*fn1 Appellant was found guilty of murder in the second degree and sentenced to a term of imprisonment of 10 to 20 years. No post-trial motions were filed and no appeal was taken.

In his petition for a writ of habeas corpus, appellant challenged the validity of his guilty plea, and thus his conviction, alleging that his plea was neither voluntarily nor understandingly made. The court below dismissed the petition without a hearing. Our review of the petition and the record of the plea proceedings compels us to conclude that the court below erred in dismissing this petition and that a hearing is required.

The petition is grounded on the allegation that appellant -- being ignorant of the effect of a guilty plea and of the alternatives available to him -- entered a plea of guilty to the charge of murder due solely to the urging of counsel. Appellant alleges that counsel never discussed the matter of pleading with him, never informed him of his right to insist upon trial by jury, never explained the nature of the charges against him, and never told him of the consequences of entering a

[ 423 Pa. Page 4]

    plea of guilty to murder. Unaware of his rights and unable to understand the import of the proceedings, appellant alleges that he was called upon to plead at his trial and, at the prompting of counsel, entered a plea of guilty. He further alleges that the court accepted his plea, proceeded to take testimony, found him guilty of murder in the second degree, and sentenced him to a term of imprisonment of 10 to 20 years, without having inquired if he understood the nature and consequences of his plea. He thus contends that he was deprived of due process of law and is therefore entitled to the issuance of a writ of habeas corpus. The Commonwealth's answer to appellant's petition denied these allegations, averring that appellant's plea was voluntarily and intelligently made.

A habeas corpus court, in determining whether a petition for a writ requires a hearing, must accept as true all allegations of fact contained in the petition which are non-frivolous, specific, and not contradicted by the record, even though those allegations may be controverted by the Commonwealth. Commonwealth ex rel. Hilberry v. Maroney, 417 Pa. 534, 540, 207 A.2d 794, 797 (1965); cf. Commonwealth ex rel. Stevens v. Myers, 419 Pa. 1, 22 n.28, 213 A.2d 613, 625 n.28 (1965); Commonwealth ex rel. Holben v. Russell, 418 Pa. 22, 23, 208 A.2d 861 (1965); Commonwealth ex rel. Wilson v. Rundle, 412 Pa. 109, 111, 194 A.2d 143, 144 (1963). If accepting the petitioner's allegations as true the writ would issue, then it is incumbent upon the court to hold a hearing affording the petitioner the opportunity to establish the truth of his allegations. Ibid.*fn2

[ 423 Pa. Page 5]

It would be unreasonable in the instant case to dismiss appellant's allegations as frivolous, as being unworthy of or beyond relief. Moreover, a review of the record reveals no contradiction of appellant's assertions.*fn3 For the purpose of determining whether a hearing is required on this petition, therefore, the sole issue remaining is whether appellant's allegations, if accepted as true, amount to a denial of due process impeaching his guilty ...


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