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COMMONWEALTH v. RITCHEY (09/05/68)

decided: September 5, 1968.

COMMONWEALTH
v.
RITCHEY, PETITIONER



Petition for leave to appeal from order of Superior Court, Oct. T., 1967, No. 996, affirming order of Court of Quarter Sessions of Centre County, Dec. T., 1958, Nos. 63 and 64, in case of Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. William Ritchey.

COUNSEL

William Ritchey, appellant, in propria persona.

Charles C. Brown, Jr., District Attorney, for Commonwealth, appellee.

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

Author: Roberts

[ 431 Pa. Page 270]

Appellant's petition under the Post Conviction Hearing Act was dismissed by the hearing court and the denial of relief was affirmed per curiam by the Superior Court. We granted leave to file a petition for allocatur to examine appellant's claimed denial of his right to counsel.

Petitioner was one of three inmates in the State Correctional Institution at Rockview, Centre County, who escaped on October 29, 1958. All three were apprehended the next day in Harrisburg and on November 18, 1958 all three appeared in court. Petitioner and Kenneth John Wagner were without counsel; Paul Custalow had retained Attorney Thomas Gill to represent him. At the outset of the hearing the following colloquy took place: "The Court: Q. Do either of you gentlemen desire counsel? A. By Mr. Wagner: No, sir. By Mr. Ritchey: No, sir. Q. You understand that you are entitled to Counsel if you would like to have it? A. By Mr. Wagner: No. By Mr. Ritchey: No. The Court: Let the record show that Mr. Gill, Attorney for

[ 431 Pa. Page 271]

Mr. Custalow, explained to all three of the defendants their Constitutional rights and right of Counsel. Would you please do that, Mr. Gill? (Mr. Gill consults with all three defendants and then states to the court that the defendants, Mr. Wagner and Mr. Ritchey, have indicated that they do not desire counsel.)" The indictments were then handed to the defendants and written pleas of guilty were entered thereon by each defendant. Appellant did not prosecute an appeal from the entry of the guilty plea.

Appellant filed a habeas corpus petition in late 1964, alleging among other things that he had been represented by ineffective counsel, that he had been denied his requests for counsel at the preliminary stages of the proceedings, that he had no counsel and that the "appointment" of counsel had been merely for the purpose of lending legality to the proceedings. This petition for a writ of habeas corpus was dismissed. That determination was affirmed by the Superior Court. Relief subsequently was denied by this Court and the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania.

In December 1966 appellant filed the present petition under the Post Conviction Hearing Act. This petition differs from the earlier one in that petitioner contends at this juncture that he was never informed of his right to free counsel if he was indigent.*fn1

[ 431 Pa. Page 272]

The Sixth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, which is applicable to criminal proceedings in state courts, requires that the accused be given the assistance of counsel at every critical stage of a criminal prosecution. White v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 59, 83 S. Ct. 1050 (1963); Gideon v. Wainwright, 372 U.S. 335, 83 S. Ct. 792 (1963). We have held repeatedly that the hearing on a guilty plea is such a critical stage. Commonwealth ex rel. Fairman v. Cavell, 423 Pa. 138, 222 A.2d 722 (1966); Commonwealth ex rel. O'Lock v. Rundle, 415 Pa. 515, 204 A.2d 439 (1964). In the latter case we said: "Surely, such a hearing is a ...


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