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UNITED STATES EX REL. COLLINS v. MARONEY

July 5, 1968

UNITED STATES of America ex rel. John L. COLLINS, E-1873
v.
James F. MARONEY, Superintendent



The opinion of the court was delivered by: HIGGINBOTHAM

 Relator originally filed a petition for habeas corpus in the Western District of the United States District Court, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The petition was dismissed by a Judge of that Court, and an appeal taken to the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. The matter has been assigned to me following a remand by the Court of Appeals. 382 F.2d 547 (3rd Cir. 1967). Relator had been incarcerated in a state penitentiary near Pittsburgh, but the matter was remanded to this Court since all of the incidents in question and therefore all of the potential witnesses were located in Philadelphia.

 In 1950 Collins pleaded guilty to murder generally and was sentenced to life imprisonment for his participation in a taproom hold-up during which a patron was struck in the head by one of Collin's accomplices and subsequently died. No appeal was taken. In 1965 Collins sought habeas corpus in the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County and was denied relief without a hearing. This was affirmed by the State Supreme Court; Commonwealth ex rel Collins v. Maroney 420 Pa. 631, 217 A.2d 739 (1966). Having thus exhausted his state remedies, and being incarcerated at the State Correctional Institution at Pittsburgh, Collins filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania. This petition, too, was denied without a hearing. On appeal, the Court of Appeals, per curiam, vacated the judgment of the District Court and remanded directing that a hearing be held on his allegations to determine the answers to the following four questions on which turn his right to the writ:

 
[1] "Whether by the plea of guilty, Collins waived his right to question the constitutional infirmity of his confession. * * *"
 
[2] "(If) it is found that Collins did not waive his right to challenge his confession * * * whether the confession was coerced. * * *"
 
[3] "(If) the confession is found to have been coerced * * * whether the coerced confession induced, and thus tainted Collins' guilty plea.
 
[4] (Assuming) that a coerced confession did not induce the plea of guilty * * * whether the plea of guilty was voluntary * * *"

 After a full day's hearing and extensive written briefs from counsel for the relator and for the Commonwealth, all of which have been carefully reviewed, for the reasons set out below, I conclude that (1) Collins did not waive his right to challenge the constitutional infirmity of the confession; (2) the confession was involuntary and therefore coerced, *fn1" and (3) the coerced confession did induce and thereby taint the plea.

 I.

 At about 7 P.M., on January 16, 1950, petitioner and two associates - Frank Smith and Jesse Young - held up a taproom in Philadelphia (N.T. 14, 25) *fn2" During the course of the hold-up in which Collins was unarmed and acted as lookout, Smith struck one of the patrons, William Hill, on the side of the head with his gun (N.T. 22, 75-76, 79). The three men escaped with $57.00.

 After being treated at St. Joseph's Hospital, Hill was returned to the police station and questioned about the robbery. During the questioning, Hill felt ill and asked to be taken back to the hospital. He collapsed as he was entering the police van and was pronounced dead on arrival at the hospital (N.T. 77-80).

 Collins was first questioned at about 3:30 A.M., on January 17th, according to his testimony. *fn4" At that time he neither asked nor was there any discussion of whether he could or could not have the assistance of counsel. (H.C. 42, 51). He was questioned for about one and one-half hours in the detectives' room, and then returned to a cell downstairs. About an hour later he was brought back to the detectives' room and the interrogation was resumed (H.C. 44). It was continued for about two hours before he was again returned to his cell (H.C. 45, 47). That afternoon the interrogation resumed; however, the record is unclear as to the pattern which it took. Prior to the time that any statement was made by Collins, it was clear to the police that he was a heavy narcotics user (H.C. 119).

 Shortly before 6:30 P.M., Collins made an oral statement which he wrote out in longhand and signed immediately thereafter (N.T. 88-89, 136; H.C. 131, 138). The next morning another statement was taken from Collins, typed out by the police and signed by him (N.T. 92, 95, 141-143). Collins testified that he gave the statement because he was sick and in severe pain from withdrawal symptoms, that his repeated requests for a doctor were denied and that finally one of the officers - ...


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