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COMMONWEALTH v. BAITY (01/09/68)

decided: January 9, 1968.

COMMONWEALTH
v.
BAITY, APPELLANT



Appeal from order of Court of Oyer and Terminer of Philadelphia County, April T., 1949, Nos. 622, 623, 624 and 625, in case of Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. William E. Baity.

COUNSEL

George Johnson and Melvin Dildine, Assistant Defenders, and Herman I. Pollock, Defender, for appellant.

Alan J. Davis, Assistant District Attorney, Richard A. Sprague, First Assistant District Attorney, and Arlen Specter, District Attorney, for Commonwealth, appellee.

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

Author: Roberts

[ 428 Pa. Page 307]

In Commonwealth v. Garrett, 425 Pa. 594, 597-98, 229 A.2d 922, 925 (1967) we announced the rule that a defendant who had pled guilty at trial could nevertheless challenge an allegedly coerced confession collaterally, provided he could prove that the plea was primarily motivated by the confession.*fn1 We are today faced with the task of settling some of the unresolved problems presented by this rule.

In 1949 appellant, William E. Baity, pled guilty to murder generally in connection with the robbery-murder

[ 428 Pa. Page 308]

    of a Philadelphia bicycle shop owner. He was found guilty of murder in the first degree and sentenced to life imprisonment. No appeal was taken. Altogether, four young men were convicted of this crime and given life sentences, three having pled guilty, the fourth having been found guilty by a jury. In 1966 Baity commenced this action under the Post Conviction Hearing Act; it was his first attempt at collateral relief. Counsel was appointed, and on June 16, 1967 an evidentiary hearing was held in Philadelphia common pleas court before Judge Spaeth.

Appellant made but a single argument at that hearing. He testified that his confession was coerced from him by force, that his trial counsel made no attempt to inform him that such a confession was inadmissible, and that his subsequent guilty plea was therefore the product solely of this tainted evidence. The only other witness at the post-conviction hearing was the surviving member of Baity's two-lawyer-team appointed to defend him in 1949. He testified, in relevant part, that he had spoken to Baity several times before the plea was entered, and that Baity had admitted that the confession was obtained without the use of any force or threats. According to Baity's trial counsel, appellant had informed him that the confession was given after one of the interrogating officers told Baity that Harry Cohen, a co-defendant, had "fingered Baity" as the "trigger man", whereupon appellant claimed that he was only the lookout. Based on this information, counsel advised Baity that his confession was voluntary under the law, that a trial could well result in the death penalty, and that he had an informal understanding with the district attorney to recommend life sentences for those who pled guilty. According to trial counsel Baity's plea was voluntarily entered and came as the direct result of the discussions had between counsel and appellant.

[ 428 Pa. Page 309]

At the conclusion of this hearing Judge Spaeth announced from the bench that he did not believe Baity's version of the 1949 interrogation, a version replete with physical beatings, threats, black jacks, etc. As a result, Baity's petition was denied. Realizing that the court's factual findings would not likely be overturned on appeal, appellant now maintains that the confession was involuntary solely because it had been obtained by "trick", i.e., the story related to Baity that he had been named as the "trigger" man.

Recognizing, as we did in Garrett, the numerous aspects of an impending trial that may influence a defendant to waive the entire ordeal by pleading guilty, we are nevertheless unable to find, in the present case, any factor other than the confession which in Baity's mind motivated the plea. In fact, Baity's trial counsel testified of record at the post-conviction proceeding that it was the confession which prompted appellant to enter the plea of guilty. The following dialogue appears between post-conviction counsel and Mr. Scaricamazza, appellant's original trial counsel: "Q. [By Mr. Johnson] Then did you discuss with him [Baity] the possibility of a guilty plea in this case? A. [Mr. Scaricamazza] Yes. Q. And could you detail the circumstances of that discussion? A. How he came to plead guilty? Q. Yes. A. He had already confessed to a crime. There was no doubt about it of his participation in the crime. He admitted he was the lookout." (Record at 9-10.) Mr. Scaricamazza's entire testimony contains no mention of any other piece of evidence, tainted or not, the knowledge of which might have prompted Baity to enter his plea.*fn2 If Baity's attorney

[ 428 Pa. Page 310]

    had knowledge of any other facts supporting the wisdom of a guilty plea, it is clear that these were never made known to ...


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