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COMMONWEALTH v. STOKES (07/27/67)

decided: July 27, 1967.

COMMONWEALTH
v.
STOKES, APPELLANT



Appeal from order of Court of Oyer and Terminer of Delaware County, June T., 1962, No. 415, in case of Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Robert Stokes.

COUNSEL

Mervyn R. Turk, First Assistant Defender, for appellant.

Vram Nedurian, Jr., Assistant District Attorney, with him Ralph B. D'Iorio, Assistant District Attorney, John R. Graham, First Assistant District Attorney, and Paul R. Sand, District Attorney, for Commonwealth, appellee.

Bell, C. J., Musmanno, Jones, Cohen, Eagen, O'Brien and Roberts, JJ. Opinion by Mr. Justice Roberts. Mr. Chief Justice Bell dissents.

Author: Roberts

[ 426 Pa. Page 267]

Following a plea of guilty,*fn1 appellant Robert Stokes was convicted of murder in the second degree and sentenced to a term of imprisonment of not less than 7 1/2 nor more than 15 years. On August 3, 1966 appellant filed an application for collateral relief under the Post Conviction Hearing Act*fn2 alleging, inter alia, that he had been denied his absolute right to counsel on appeal*fn3 and that his guilty plea had been unlawfully induced.*fn4 On August 15, 1966 the petition was dismissed by the court below without a hearing and appellant prosecuted this appeal.

Appellant's allegation that he was denied the right to appeal his conviction is not well founded. A plea of guilty to murder generally is sufficient of itself to sustain a conviction of murder in the second degree. Commonwealth ex rel. Bostic v. Cavell, 424 Pa. 573, 576, 227 A.2d 662, 664 (1967). Thus the only issues which would have been available for appellant to challenge

[ 426 Pa. Page 268]

    on direct review would have been the validity of the plea and the lawfulness of the sentence.*fn5 But since both these claims are cognizable in a collateral proceeding, the denial of the right to appellate review, even if true, would not be prejudicial. See Commonwealth ex rel. Davis v. Russell, 422 Pa. 223, 220 A.2d 858 (1966).

The sentence imposed is obviously authorized by The Penal Code.*fn6 Accordingly appellant is entitled to relief only if he can show that his guilty plea was unlawfully induced. See Commonwealth v. Welch, 425 Pa. 591, 229 A.2d 737 (1967). At the same time he is entitled to a hearing on this issue if, accepting as true all allegations of fact which are non-frivolous, specific, and not controverted by the record, his plea would be vitiated. See Post Conviction Hearing Act, Act of January 25, 1966, P. L. (1965) 1580, § 9, 19 P.S. § 1180-9 (Supp. 1966); accord Commonwealth v. Wood, 425 Pa. 612, 230 A.2d 729 (1967); Commonwealth ex rel. West v. Myers, 423 Pa. 1, 222 A.2d 918 (1966).

In its brief opinion, the court below, the same judge having presided at appellant's guilty plea hearing, stated: "In accepting the plea of guilty in this case, the Trial Judge is satisfied that the defendant knew what he was doing, that no confession was used at the time of the trial and that he committed [the crime] as charged. Since his petition does not state what constitutional rights were abridged, we cannot comment

[ 426 Pa. Page 269]

    upon this phase of the case." Yet in seemingly dismissing the petition for want of particularity, the court below ignored the clear command of § 7 of the Post Conviction Hearing Act which provides: "The court may grant leave to amend or withdraw the petition at any time. Amendment shall be freely allowed in order to achieve substantial justice. No petition may be dismissed for want of ...


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