Appeal from order of Court of Oyer and Terminer of Philadelphia County, April T., 1962, No. 3131, in case of Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Sherman Walters.
John W. Packel and Melvin Dildine, Assistant Defenders, and Herman I. Pollock, Defender, for appellant.
Joel S. Moldovsky and Michael J. Rotko, Assistant District Attorneys, 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 Cohen took no part in the consideration or decision of this case.
On August 2, 1962, while represented by counsel, appellant entered a plea of guilty to murder generally. The Commonwealth certified that the crime rose no higher than murder in the second degree. Walters was eventually convicted of this offense and received a sentence of ten to twenty years imprisonment. No direct appeal was taken. Subsequently, appellant filed a petition under the Post Conviction Hearing Act alleging (1) that his guilty plea was not knowingly and intelligently entered; (2) that a coerced confession was used at the degree of guilt hearing, and furthermore that this confession motivated the entry of his plea; and (3) that trial counsel abandoned him immediately after trial without informing appellant of any appeal rights as required by Douglas v. California, 372 U.S. 353, 83 S. Ct. 814 (1963). An evidentiary hearing, with counsel, was held before Judge Sporkin who
dismissed the petition, holding that appellant had failed to establish that his plea was invalid, or that his confession was coerced. Judge Sporkin made no finding on the Douglas claim.
In this appeal from the denial of relief below, Walters raises only the Douglas issue.
The Commonwealth relies heavily upon Commonwealth v. Stokes, 426 Pa. 265, 232 A.2d 193 (1967) where this Court faced squarely the problem of the direct appeal from a conviction of second degree murder following a guilty plea. We said there of the alleged Douglas violation: "A plea of guilty to murder generally is sufficient of itself to sustain a conviction of murder in the second degree. [Citation omitted.] Thus the only issues which would have been available for appellant to challenge on direct review would have been the validity of the plea and the lawfulness of the sentence. 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."*fn1
Pa. at 267-68, 232 A.2d at 194. Quite simply, therefore, it is contended by the Commonwealth that since appellant has not raised any claim as to the validity of his sentence, and since the guilty plea issue has already been heard below, resolved against appellant, and has not been appealed, a direct appeal is unnecessary under Stokes, even conceding that Walters was denied his Douglas rights.*fn2
Appellant candidly acknowledges the compelling nature of the Commonwealth's position, as well as the controlling nature of Stokes, but urges this Court to reconsider its holding in that case. It is appellant's contention that the appellate review of a hearing under the Post Conviction Hearing Act is not a satisfactory substitute for a direct appeal to this Court because there is no absolute right to oral argument in appeals from collateral proceedings, nor is appellate counsel made mandatory in these cases. Furthermore, appellant claims that, in addition to the legality of sentence and the validity of the guilty plea, an individual who pleads guilty to murder generally and is convicted of murder in the second ...